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Why Teens Make Bad Decisions and How Parents Can Help Them

They're not to blame. Their brain has not fully developed yet.

Teenagers often engage in behavior that tends to be “terribly dumb”, from getting excessively intoxicated at a friend's party to making some seriously poor choices about their clothes.

However, scientists now understand why: until early adulthood, the areas of the brain that regulate decision-making do not fully develop yet.

Thanks to their developing brains, teenagers are more likely to be reactive in making decisions and are less likely to think through the consequences of their actions. But parents can encourage their adolescent children to learn and use sound decision-making skills.

Reach out to JarvisHypnotherapy if your adolescent child is struggling with a serious issue or if you need professional help in dealing with your teens better.

What teens know is different from what they do.

From a young age, the majority of children have an awareness of "right" and "wrong" behavior. As their language skills improve, youngsters are able to explain clearly why some behaviors are unpleasant or unacceptable.

However, it has been found that children and adolescents make poor choices when under pressure, going through stress, or when they want to get the attention of their peers.

So, it makes sense to assume that a 15-year-old is aware of the dangers of violating curfews, lying, substance abuse, or promiscuity. However, they are less skilled at choosing not to do these behaviors when peers who they want to impress are around and are coaxing them.

The distinction between "cold" and "hot" situations can be used to explain the discrepancy between what teens know and what they decide. Decisions in cold situations are made while our emotional arousal is minimal. Teenagers are capable of making thoughtful decisions during "cold" times.

On the other hand, hot situations are when one makes decisions during times of high emotional arousal (i.e., one is feeling anxious, excited, angry, or troubled).

Teenagers are more likely to engage in sensation-seeking and risk-taking behaviors in hot situations because they lack self-control and aren't thinking through the potential repercussions of what they are about to do.

The impact of emotional arousal on decision-making is best demonstrated when teens are able to discuss, for instance, the negative effects of taking drugs and drinking alcohol, but then engage in those very behaviors while with friends.

To help you understand your adolescent children, read:

The biology behind teens' bad choices.

According to brain studies, the frontal lobe, which takes charge of sensation seeking, impulse control, consequential thinking, and emotional reactions, doesn't fully develop and mature until our early to mid-20s.

Psychosocial maturity describes the correlation between brain development and the likelihood of making bad decisions, especially in hot situations.

According to research, adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are significantly less psychosocially mature than those between the ages of 18 and 23, who are likewise less mature than those between the ages of 24 and older.

As a whole, psychosocial immaturity in teenagers increases their tendency to:

- make decisions or choose impulsively

- prioritize immediate gratification or short-term gains

- seek thrill and take risk-taking actions

- have difficulty postponing gratification

- be easily influenced by peer pressure

- overlook the consequences of their decisions

Key steps for parents to help their teens make better decisions.

For teenagers to grow into confident, self-assured adults with good social and emotional well-being, gradual increases in self-reliance and practice with independent decision-making are essential. Although parents are aware that making poor decisions is a normal part of growing up, most only wish to shield their teens from making extremely bad, or (criminal) illegal, choices.

Developing good decision-making skills is achievable, and there are six vital steps parents can utilize that foster better decision-making in teens:

1- Be informed of forthcoming events that may require teenagers to make choices. Ask them about their expectations for the activities, such as whether they expect to drink alcohol or be pressured by peers to drink.

2- Explore with them healthier and safer options in situations that could be risky or demand a choice from them (such as missing the train home or friends becoming drunk).

3- Encourage your teens to pause and reflect. Help them recognize "when in the moment" to briefly leave a situation in order to make decisions without being directly pressured by those around them. For instance, they can go to the restroom, make a phone call, or text a family member.

4- Give teens a guideline or framework for making decisions. Although they are unable to analyze all the possible outcomes of a scenario, you can ask them if they would consider letting you know about their decision by asking themselves, "Would I want Dad/ Mom/ Grandma/ Grandpa to know about what I'm going to do here?"

5- Remind your teen to seek help. They don't have to make decisions on their own. Make sure they keep the contact information of relatives (parents, siblings, other family members) or friends who they can reach to discuss options if they find themselves in a challenging or uncomfortable situation.

6- Use setbacks or blunders as opportunities for learning. Teens are prone to making poor decisions. Discuss with them how to make better decisions in the future and where the bad choices came from using these real-life examples.

Do you wish your teen child to learn how to make better choices in the face of stress, peer pressure, and other difficult situations? JarvisHypnotherapy can help!

To get a better perspective of the struggles your teenager is going through, here are some helpful insights from JarvisHypnotherapy: Understanding Teens' Feelings After Break Up & How to Help Them Cope.


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