Impulsive Teen Behavior

Tips on Teens #031

Our last article, Adolescent Brain Development talked about how a teen’s thought process is impaired due to the prefrontal cortex being underdeveloped during the teen years.  The above illustration is an example of how a teenager struggles with making wise decisions. 

Teenager impulsivilty leading to police arrest

My teenager would never do something so foolish!  Good kids don’t take the car in the middle of the night, do they?

That’s an assumption that may be not be entirely accurate.  Even “good kids” make choices that can seem out of character.  After all, those risky choices seem more appealing the more exciting they are.  So your honors student might get stuck in the following thought process:

I can’t believe that Tyler just broke up with my best friend.  What a jerk!  She was crying so hard on the phone and I can’t believe that my Dad just took my phone away in the middle of my conversation with her.  I hate his stupid phone rules!  He doesn’t even care that she’s hurting and I’m the only one who can help her.  Am I the only one who cares about other people?  I know she won’t survive if she’s all alone tonight.  I’m not going to let his stupid rules stop me from being a good friend.  I’ll just wait until Mom and Dad are asleep.  I know exactly how to drive the car; I watch them all the time. They’ll never know.  And she lives so close… it can’t be that hard.  I know she would do this for me.

Oh my gosh!  Do you really think that my teenager would take such stupid risks?  They always think that their problems are The End of the World!

Teenagers are naturally impulsive.  They just can’t help it.  Hopefully, you’ve been able to establish and maintain an open and respectful communication with your kid, which will help him to have the ability to self-reflect before making rash choices.  The more respected your teenager feels by you, the more likely your teen will return that respect and not push the boundaries too far to extremes.  

However, I must confess that in my career as a therapist working with teenagers, I have known several teens who have taken Mom or Dad’s car out in the middle of the night without their parents knowing.  Most of those teens did not have their license and were too young to drive but felt more than justified in their actions.  And yes, some of these kids were top students whose parents never expected a thing… until of course that honors student was in police custody.

I don’t think my kid would ever do that.  But just in case… what can I do to make sure that my teen doesn’t take the car at night?

I hope you do have a great relationship with your kid.  But good kid or not, you’ll never truly know when that impulse hits to help a friend or to meet that special someone.  Maybe the impulse to fly free will grab ahold of your kid.  Perhaps you might want to take the precaution of keeping your car keys in your bedroom while you sleep. Temptation can sometimes be tempered by a lack of opportunity.  

Remember that adolescence is a temporary mental disorder… and it will pass within a few years.

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