Your Changing Teen
The Teen Brain
Your teen will likely learn to drive between the ages of 15 and 17. 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.
Teens need close supervision until they have at least one year of experience driving on their own. But 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. To understand why, it’s important to know how the teen brain works.
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. It develops sooner than the prefrontal cortex, the center of thinking that helps control mood and impulses. This mismatch in development (the prefrontal cortex may not fully mature until around age 25) 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.
Your teen may look like an adult, but he’s not. He’s still developing, physically and emotionally. That’s why he needs your support, especially in helping to think through tough social situations and to set protective boundaries. It’s best to work on building these skills when your teen is calm so that they come naturally when emotions are high.