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The Teen Brain

While your teen will most likely learn to drive between the ages of 15 and 17, one in three teens delay getting their license until they turn 18. This is a time of growing independence, when your teen becomes relatively self-sufficient as you watch from an increasing distance. Your challenge is to closely supervise your child’s driving activities while loosening the reigns elsewhere. Since the consequences of driving mistakes are great, boundaries have to be tighter. Thankfully, the heart of parenting teens – noticing and rewarding responsibility – remains the same. An understanding of the teen brain helps you in understanding their mind as they learn to drive.

Teens need close supervision until they have at least one year of experience driving on their own, as a driver’s highest lifetime risk of crashing occurs immediately following the learner phase of driving and licensure. It’s important to know that the boundaries they require (and secretly crave) are not just to compensate for their inexperience behind the wheel. They need rules and monitoring to protect them from unsafe situations that their still-developing brains cannot. 

Think of your teen’s brain as an exciting, rapidly-changing work in progress, one that needs to be both nurtured by new ideas and experiences and protected from harmful substances and situations. Different parts of the brain mature at different rates. The amygdala, a walnut-shaped area deep in the brain, is involved in emotions and reactions, and develops more early on. The situation is similar with the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain that seeks pleasure and reward. This causes teens to exhibit exaggerated responses for medium or large rewards. These areas both develop sooner than the prefrontal cortex, the center of thinking that helps control mood and decision-making, which may not fully mature until roughly age 25. This mismatch in development explains why your teen thinks rationally much of the time but may be impulsive when emotions are high, such as when hanging out with friends.

Teens may look like adults, but they are not quite yet. They are still developing, physically and emotionally. That’s why they need your support, especially in helping them to think through tough social situations and in setting protective boundaries. It’s best to work on building these skills routinely when your teen is calm so that they come naturally when emotions are high, resulting in safer decision-making for you and your beloved teen. 

The Teen Brain

Download the TeenDrivingPlan
Practice Guide

Download the TeenDrivingPlan
Goal Guide

Download the TeenDrivingPlan
Logging and Rating Tool
Download theTeenDrivingPlan Parent Guide
Download theTeenDrivingPlan Parent Guide
Download theTeenDrivingPlan Parent Guide
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