If you are feeling frustrated with your teenager's constant impulsive decision making, rest assured that you are not alone. The good and bad news is that, in some ways, your teenager truly cannot help her behavior. Some aspects of impulsiveness are a result of brain development, and only time will solve the issue. As a parent, understanding your teenager's brain development and how it affects her impulsiveness will help you teach your teenager to practice good decision making even as her brain is still moving toward full development.
It would make sense that a teenager's brain is simply more developed than a child, but less than adults. However, the truth of teenage brain development is fair more complicated. It is true that the human brain does not complete development until the late teenage years or even into an adult's early 20s, but there also major differences that are present in a teenage brain but not in an adult's.
Teenagers are great at soaking up the latest technology or cramming for a test the next day because their brains react well and quickly to environmental stimuli. However, the flip side of this high susceptibility to stimuli is that teenagers are easily distracted and are also highly susceptible to negative stimuli that may lead to bad decision making. Moving quickly from one source of stimulus to another often leaves little time for a teenager to process all the details of a situation and make an informed decision.
While children respond well to rewards, studies show that teenagers are even more likely to use the promise of rewards in the decision making process. Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to show that parts of the brain show increased activity when rewarded while playing video games. Teenagers are even more sensitive to rewards than younger children and often make impulsive decisions that promise a short-term reward without considering the long-term consequences of their actions.
The process that controls a teenagers reaction to rewards is called the incentive processing system, which develops rapidly once puberty begins. The process that regulates impulses and develops logic is the cognitive control system. The CCS develops on a much slower curve, not completing its development until the early to mid-20s in most adults. Teenagers are then left with a brain that seeks out short-term rewards, but lacks the capability of realizing long-term consequences.