You know when you look at your adolescent child who has just done something inexplicable, and you ask, “What were you thinking?”
How to put this? That's a really dumb question. I can only say that (about it being dumb) because I’ve asked it so many times of my soon-to-be teen. Every time I do, I hope he’ll stop and think about having, say, juggled water balloons in the house and respond, “Wow, I’m so sorry, Mom. I was thinking it would be interesting to juggle water balloons. But you were right — you always are! You told me not to do it in the house because water balloons can break and make a mess on the floor, and what do you know, they did!”
Nope. Any normal teen will look at you and answer, “I don’t know!”
And why do they say that? Because they aren’t. Thinking.
Turns out, it’s often not entirely the teen’s fault. (Most of the time.) While their behavior can be puzzling, exhausting, or crazy-making, maybe we should cut our adolescent-challenged kids some slack: Sometimes they go all Dr. Jekyll and Teen Hyde-y on us because their brains make them do it.
According to a recently aired NPR report, “Teens may actually not be able to help engaging in questionable behavior.” Research over the past decade makes a strong case that older kids aren't simply at the mercy of out-of-control hormones, but also of rapidly developing brains. At around age 12, the prefrontal cortex — the true "thinking" part of the brain that controls everything from considering consequences to exhibiting self-control — is “going through this amazing pruning and rewiring and shift,” says James Chattra, a pediatrician in Redmond, Wash. With all that intense rejiggering, says Chattra, about half the “thinking” neurons are “wiped out.” This can make it pretty easy — even for the sweetest, smartest, most levelheaded kid — to temporarily lose his mind.
I say parents, and teachers, of teens get a (free) class (in Hawaii) on understanding their brains, and how to best survive these challenging years without everyone losing their minds. Crazy? I know. What am I thinking?