Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Parenting the Undeveloped Prefrontal Cortex

Seventh grade was the time of the change. My son decided that he did not need school. It was a waste of time. I had this same situation with my older son and was able to turn him around. The younger one is a different story all together and the struggle between us continues.

I heard about a brain study that shows development continues through our early 20’s. I did not connect this to what my son and I were going through because I saw him as stubborn, angry and unmotivated. I thought “there is nothing wrong with his brain! He knows exactly what he is doing!” All the parenting techniques I have learned over the years failed. I found myself saying over and over that I ran out of ideas and I didn’t know how to reach him.

Last night he wanted to watch the football game at his friend’s house. I said no. He battled back. We went back and forth for awhile. I then pushed my nose up with my finger to make a pig nose and he laughed. He laughed! And he let up on going to his friend’s house. I also told him if he said another word he would be in the house for the weekend (that is what really shut him up). Yet I saw hope. For the first time we ended our argument with happiness. He left singing: no means no when no means no.

The brain study mentioned that the brain develops from the back to the front. The frontal lobes of the brain are used for reasoning and problem solving. The frontal lobes help put the brakes on a desire for thrills and taking risk -- a building block of adolescence; and, they're also one of the last areas of the brain to develop fully. REASONING and PROBLEM SOLVING are the LAST to DEVELOP!

Time-lapse Imaging (15 yr time span)
Brain Tissue Changes in Development

That crack of laughter we shared last night opened me to realize that he is a really good person. And I remembered the brain study.  I realized that my definition of my son is skewed because it is his undeveloped brain that drives him to make poor choices and to lack the ability to reason. With this new awareness, I can be more relaxed and not so serious around him. I will remember that it is his undeveloped brain that is getting in his way of understanding why I am saying no to his request. I will share this brain study with him and explain that it is my job to fill in where his brain is not yet developed. (I can’t wait to see how this lands on him! J ) I also learned that I can use laughter as a  tool to distract him from being unreasonable.

The bottom line here fellow parents: Your teenager is good. Don’t trust that they will make the best decisions for themselves because they do not have the equipment to do it. They need us to help them along. The trick is finding a way to give them that help without them getting bent out of shape. Trial and error is called for here. My son is now 16 years old. I have been trying to get through to him for three years. I am not sure this will work and I will give it a try.

BTW~ he is itching to drive and I am scared to DEATH!