Impulse Control vs. The 13 Year Old Brain

Your teenagers impulsiveness is out of control. What are you going to do? Well, let's talk about
that today on Tips on Teens. My name is Kent Tussant. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist
who specialize in helping kids, teens and families to live happier lives. I lead two organizations
teen Therapy Center and the nonprofit at 501 organization Child and Teen Counseling, both
here in Woodland Hills, California. Every Wednesday noon, I jump onto Facebook Live to answer
your parenting questions. Let's answer today's. My son is 13, and he's having severe impulse
control problems. He's always doing stuff he knows he shouldn't be doing, but does it anyway.
Recently, he stole our credit card to make some in game purchases in a video game he was playing.
We hid our cards, and he found them. Again, he feels horrible, and he knows it's wrong, but he
just can't seem to stop himself. How do we correct this kind of behavior? Thank you very much
for your question. I don't think you correct it

quickly. Unfortunately, he is 13, has a 13 year old brain, and he may have some attention issues,
but let's talk about why his brain is different than yours. Again, he's 13, and again, all 13
year olds are like this, not just him. So his brain is different than yours because he has a developing
prefrontal cortex. What is that? That's an area right behind the forehead, and it handles basically
the executive functioning of the brain. Everything we would connect with a mature, responsible
adult ability to regulate impulses and regulate emotions, the ability to see cause and effect.
That's basically what the prefrontal cortex does. And that is not working very well in your
13 year old son or your 13 year old daughter or your 16 year old. It gets better as they get older,
but 13, it's going crazy. And that doesn't really fully develop until roughly 25 years of age.
It does slow down around 18 or so, but 13 to 17, even twelve to 17, there's a lot of brain development.
That's why when you say,

do your homework, and he says, Right. And you come back 20 minutes later and he hasn't done any
homework, and he's been on minecraft and said, you say, what are you doing? Why did you do that?
He says, I don't know. Because he doesn't know. He really doesn't know. He didn't think. And
again, that's part of the brain that's not really connecting. So how do you deal with this? You
have a 13 year old with an impaired brain. Again, not his fault. All 13 year olds have impaired
brains. You had an impaired brain, too, at 13, and right now you're saying, but Kent, I wasn't
nearly this bad. And maybe you're right. Everyone is different. But maybe you're seeing your
adolescence through your 13 year old eyes. And when you were 13, you didn't realize how impulsive
and forgetful and what a knucklehead you were. Ask your parents. They'll tell you anyways.
So what do you do about this? Number one, have calm conversations about this. I know it's easy
to blow up and get angry because you're frustrated.

Any parent will be frustrated. It's okay. You are a human being. You're going to get frustrated.
But once we get angry, as you probably know by now, it doesn't help. It doesn't inspire him to
reach greater heights of maturity. It just beats him down. So as best you can, stay calm, talk
about the situation. What is it he's really wanting? He's wanting to buy these income purchases.
So how do you help him start earning the money? It's not as quick as stealing the money, I get that.
But he doesn't really want to steal. He's already told you he feels horrible about it, and he
probably feels horrible about it at the time. He just can't stop himself. So how does he start
earning an allowance, let's say, to buy the in game purchases that maybe everyone feels are
okay if he does it on the level, on the up and up? I'm just realizing that I should have probably
put this in the body of the Facebook Live. I'll put it in the text. But I have two articles that
I wrote several years ago about allowance.

One is why you want to have an allowance for a teenager. Another one is one way to do it. Read them,
take what works for you, and incorporate into what best serves your son or your daughter. If
you're someone else watching it, there's no one way to do this. There's a thousand ways to do
this, but it's how do you make a system where your kid feels incentivized, where they're earning
and they're striving and they're reaching greater heights of maturity? Will he be perfect?
No, he will not. He will be very imperfect. However, if you give it time and enough boundaries
around him, maybe he will start to succeed again. I think you may need to be diligent about locking
your purse and your wallet and your credit card statements in the safe for now, because we just
can't trust him. He can't trust himself not to go and find those. You may also have to limit his
screen use. These are all big topics that we don't have time for in this little video. But anyways,
find ways for him to earn the money.

Find ways to make sure you're having connection with him, where he feels connected to you and
safe with you, where you guys are enjoying your time together, not just talking about homework
and chores. So he is more likely to feel safe to open up to you, to be more honest with you, and to
keep in mind your point of view and your values. Anyways, it's a big topic. I'd love to talk to
you more about this, but time's earning. We got to go. Again. My name is Kent Tussant with Teen
Therapy Center and the nonprofit Child and Teen Counseling. This is tips on teens. In fact,
if you like this, you can always join our Facebook group, tips on Teens. And if you'd like me to
answer your question, email us at Thank you very much,
and I'll see you guys next Wednesday. Bye bye. You it. Where's the finish button? There it is.


If your thirteen year old is doing all the things they’re not supposed to do and they can’t stop, it’s kind of sort of not their fault. Thirteen year olds have no impulse control! No really, we’re not just saying that… they don’t. 

It turns out that the human brain does not develop fully until age 25. So the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for impulse control and emotional regulation is just not up and running yet. And certainly not in your 13 year old at the level it would need to be to make them stop doing whatever it is that’s causing havoc in your home. 



Don’t worry though, it gets better. By the time kids are 18, there’s at least enough development to give harried parents some relief. But in the meantime, how do you deal with those impaired thirteen year old brains with no impulse control? We have answers for you in this Tips on Teens:

“My son is 13 and he’s having severe impulse control problems. He’s always doing stuff he knows he shouldn’t be doing, but does it anyway. Recently he stole our credit card to make some in-game purchases in a video game he was playing. We hid our cards and he found them again. He feels horrible and he knows it’s wrong but he just can’t seem to stop himself. How do we correct this kind of behavior?”

Clinical Director Kent Toussaint answers your parenting questions every Wednesday at 12:00pm in our weekly segment Tips On Teens on Facebook Live. Have questions about parenting kids and teens? Send them to: We love to hear from you!

Head on over to our Facebook page every Wednesday at 12:00pm to watch LIVE!  Check out our page here –

If you have more questions or would like more information, please contact our Clinical Director, Kent Toussaint at 818.697.8555.