Why teenagers make some bad choices

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Teenage is the period in a child’s life when he or she is able to process knowledge, learning, and experience to a certain ‘limited’ degree. It is that period when a child is almost unable to make the best decisions as a result his/her limited cognitive ability and life experiences. You are probably wondering (as a parent) why your teenage child at home, or (as a teacher) why your teenage students are unable to appreciate the rationality, logic, and wisdom in candid advice, but instead tend to be confident in their own ideas and beliefs; despite how obviously mistaken they are. You probably wonder why they don’t see things the way you see them, and why they are not slow to making wrong choices. Teens tend to believe that they are old enough to make the best decisions and that life is much easier than it actually is. This, of course, makes it difficult for parents and older people to convince them otherwise. 

If you are wondering why many teenagers make choices that are clearly ridiculous to older and matured people, they (the teenagers) can’t entirely be blamed. Teenagers’ brains are still in their developmental stages; adolescents do not have high-functioning cognitive ability. They also lack the sufficient life experiences which could have helped them to make better choices. It should be noted that the teenage pr adolescence is the intermediate stage between preteen and adulthood. Preteens are more enchanted by flying fairies, having superhero powers, and other kinds of fantasies. Adults have their perspectives and mentality more grounded in reality. While teenagers or adolescents have their brains a little more developed/advanced than preteens, their brains are significantly less developed than adults. 

Teenagers, while they tend to surprise us with their intelligent inputs in family matters and world events, still find the world less threatening, and therefore have some degree of illusions and false expectations. The teenage brain is still developing, and is supposed to reach full development when a child is about his/her mid-twenties. It is, according to studies and research in psychology, believed that the brain reaches full development at age 25. This means that until then, a child will still be limited in his cognitive ability. 

This is how the brain works. When a child is born into this world, the child has so little cognitive ability that it is unable to understand the intricate nature of reality. Every child, however, is born with the tendency to drift towards pleasure and away from pain, and to avoid pain and threat through fear, simply because that part of the brain responsible for alerting a child to perceived threat and danger is high-functioning at such a tender age. The ‘amygdala’ responds to perceived threats and dangers, and triggers the fight or flight response; it is responsible for our fears and aggressions. While the amygdala is developed at a tender age, the part of the brain responsible for cognitive reasoning, impulse control, and empathy is far from being developed. This part of the brain, known as the ‘Prefrontal cortex’, does not develop fully until the age of 25. 

Since the prefrontal cortex is still developing, adolescents are more likely to reason less intelligently, make more impulsive choices, and show little to no appreciation of other people’s kind acts towards them. While the prefrontal cortex is in its development stage, and the amygdala is fully functional, teenagers are more likely to act whimsically and capriciously, take uncalculated risks, and make some choices they are bound to regret much later. It should also be noted that as the amygdala triggers fear and aggression, the reward center of the brain is also fully functional, which perfectly explains why toddlers, preteens, and teenagers gravitate towards pleasurable acts, without thinking about the possibly dangerous consequences. 

Another factor that contributes to teenager’s poor choices is insufficient life experiences. Since most teenagers are still under the loving care and provision of their caregivers, most battles in life are fought for them; they don’t have to worry about the electric bills, the house rent, school fees, medical bills, and so on. ‘Prosperity’ at such stage of their lives therefore makes it difficult for them to appreciate the good things they have; especially when their selfish nature sets in. They easily come to believe that they will always be protected and provided for, as though life were a bed of roses. As they grow older and increasingly more independent, they experience more hardship and begin to learn from bitter experiences. This learning process tends to make them more reflective, cognitive, and more appreciative of the good things of life. 

Finally, while parents expect their teenage children to act like grown-ups and be able to see things from their own perspectives, they should understand that there are factors that limit their children’s ability to do so. Their teenage children are still learning through experiences, most of which are new and unusual to them. They are learning to manage their puberty experiences, hormones, and their false ideals about love, as these are perfectly normal for their age. Parents may therefore focus on building trust with their children and instill family values. Education is also very important. A child brought up with quality moral education is more likely to make less poor choices than another child lacking in this area. A strong relationship with your child can lead to a trusting relationship, and therefore allows your adolescent to trust your guidance until they develop the ability needed to make more intelligent decisions.