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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Teenagers, Their Brains are Different

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: May 2nd 2007

There are always a certain number of parents who, once their children reach the ages of thirteen and fourteen make the mistake of believing that they are fully responsible and adult. This is a mistake that can have fatal consequences. A study done in the psychology department at Temple University in Philadelphia revealed what most of intuitively knew about adolescents. The study showed the results of research on the adolescent brain and behavior. The parts of the brain responsible for impulse control, delayed gratification and good judgment is not fully developed until adulthood is reached at around twenty years of age. This explains why teenagers engage in risky behavior. Given the chance to win peer approval and to experience thrill and excitement, they will take dangerous chances while driving, dealing with the opposite sex, smoking cigarettes, using drugs and ditching school.

The implications for parents are that they must maintain controls over their teenagers, restricting what they are exposed to and limiting their chances of getting into trouble. I remember that my wife and I stood our ground one night when our then teenage daughters wanted to drive to an "alcohol free night club" for adolescents late at night and in a neighboring state. They were very persuasive and very angry because we refused to allow them to go without one of us driving them and picking them up afterwards. They even offered the "solution" that one of their friends (a fellow teenager) could drive. Wow, what a solution. In the end, they went because we drove and picked them up when the event was over. It was not that we did not trust them. Rather, we believed they were too young to use good judgment driving late at night and going some place where alcohol free drinks could turn into real drinks.

The bottom line is that it is necessary for parents to know where their teenagers are at all times, who they are with and be familiar with their friends and the parents of their friends.

Of course, there is always a balance that parents must strike between being appropriately limiting without being dictatorial and over controlling. Irrational over control and dictatorship will only make teenagers rebellious. However, talking things over, using logic but remaining firm, are extremely important for parents. Another vignette from our past was the time when one of our daughters, then thirteen years old, was caught smoking cigarettes. We grounded her for the weekend and kept her with us. She missed an important party that she wanted to attend. Although she was angry at us when she was grounded and she thought we were being "unfair" she thanks us to this day. Now she is a thirty three year old woman, athletic and non smoking. She was recently reminiscing about this and told us in no uncertain terms that our holding firm with her that weekend stopped her from becoming a smoker. By the way, we explained why we disapproved of her smoking. We had lost several deeply loved relatives to lung cancer as a result of cigarettes.

There is an old saying about raising teenage children that "parents must pick their battles." It is the really important things that parents must hold firm about. The important things have to do with life, limb and health that adolescents, as smart as they are, often make poor choices about.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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