Parenting a teen demands diligence and patience.

Immaturity in Teens

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

Most parents can look back on their high school days with some embarrassment when they think of their childish antics and choices. Teens can be mature one moment -- opening a door for an elderly adult -- or immature the next by making fun of a peer's new outfit. Teens need guidance and direction from parents, teachers and other caring adults to leave behind acts of immaturity, according to the USAA Educational Foundation.

1. The Teen Brain

The teen brain has yet to develop to the point that it can maturely deal with temptations, stresses and challenges. Brain circuitry involved in the intensity of emotional reactions is continuing to evolve during the teen years. For example, functional brain imaging research proposes that a teenager's response to emotionally charged images and circumstances are heightened compared to younger children and adults, reports the National Institute of Mental Health. Intensified emotional responses might help explain why teens act rashly. Teens will sometimes engage in risky behaviors -- trying a new drug -- that even they feel is "too risky" only because they want the nod of approval by their peers.

2. Expert Insight

Some areas of the brain mature faster than others. The prefrontal cortex, the brain area in charge of cognitive analysis and the moderation of “correct” behavior in social circumstances, might not completely develop until age 24, explains Dr. Andrew Garner, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. However, the amygdala, known for playing a major role in processing emotions, seems to be fully developed at a much younger age. If a teen is asked whether trying cocaine is a good idea, the prefrontal cortex of his brain would prompt him to say no. But when the same teen is offered cocaine at a party, the amygdala might encourage him to say "yes" before the prefrontal cortex realizes what he's agreed to, explains Garner.

3. Learning from Immature and Risky Behavior

Testing the waters can be a practical and productive part of adolescence because it teaches the consequences of behaviors and actions in various settings, according to the American Psychological Association. Problems occur when a teen misjudges his ability to maturely handle new circumstances. For example, a teen might decide in the heat of the moment that it's fine to engage in unprotected sex because getting his girlfriend pregnant or catching a sexually transmitted disease would "Never happen to him."

4. Recommendations

Trying to understand your teen's views -- even when you disagree with his beliefs -- requires an open mind, points out the USAA Education Foundation. Distinguishing between immature acts or behaviors from your teen’s basic character is recommended when discussing his irresponsible or risky actions. For example, you might say "You're usually so honest and trustworthy, can you help me understand what motivated you to cheat on your math exam?" Commend your teen when he makes a mature decision such as turning down a party invitation when he knows drugs and alcohol will be available.

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