Adolescence brings shift in decision-making, problem solving

Last updated: August 11. 2014 1:15PM - 648 Views

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Teenage years can only be described as challenging, and both parents and teens have real-life experiences to illustrate just how challenging.

The one thing that sets the quality and ability of young people apart, more than anything else, is their decision-making skills. Adolescence brings a real shift in decision-making and parents are often left wondering just what their child is thinking.

Though it’s little comfort to concerned parents, there are real medical reasons why teenagers think they’re invincible and discount the consequences of their choices. Using magnetic resonance imaging, the National Institute of Mental Health has found the teenage brain is not a finished product, but a work in progress.

Until recently, most scientists believed the major “wiring” of the brain was completed by as early as the age of 3, and that the brain was fully mature by the age of 10 or 12.

Research on brain development now indicates the part of the brain that influences decision-making and problem-solving doesn’t fully develop until early adulthood. The frontal lobes, which help put the brakes on desire for thrills and risk-taking, are among the last areas of the brain to develop.

In calm situations, teens can reason as well as adults, but pressure or stress can hijack their ability to make good decisions. So how can parents help their teens make better decisions? Listed are steps that parents can take to help their teens develop their decision-making skills. After helping them define the problem, parents should teach teens there are six primary steps to decision making:

• List the choices.
• Think about the pros and cons of each choice.
• Assess the likelihood of the consequences actually happening.

• Compare the consequences and their importance.

• Decide and act.

• Evaluate the consequences, both expected and unexpected.

For teens, the first step can be the most difficult because they often only see either/or choices. Inexperienced teens may have a tough time seeing there are other options. Teens also worry about their friends’ reactions to their decisions.

The bottom line is that sometimes a parent needs to make the final decision — that is something even most young people will admit. But it’s important to involve teens in decisions on matters that directly affect them.

Teens feel fairness has more to do with being treated equitably than simply getting their way. Most teens want parents to take them seriously, ask for their opinions, and listen to them instead of criticizing. If teens feel they have no control or power in the decisions important to them, they are more likely to feel angry, be rebellious, and make rash decisions.

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