Inside the Teenage Brain

Single moms ask me all the time, "What the heck is going on inside my teenager's brain?"

To so many parents, it feels like just yesterday that their towering teenager was a cooing bundle of joy swaddled in a bassinet.

But now that tiny bundle of joy seems pretty grown up. On top of it, your teen can be a bit mouthy, argumentative and difficult to interact with. Further...they want independence. So many of the moms I work with struggle to determine how much freedom is appropriate.

It is easy to feel like you can, or even should, back off on the parenting. After all, the kids are going to be on their own soon anyway...right? They really don't need you as much.

Or do they?

Actually, recent statistics on human development indicate that these are the years your child needs you more than ever.

But flying solo when parenting can be stressful and scary -- especially when the subjects in question are teenagers!

Teenagers often make poor choices, act impulsively, and struggle to connect the dots of life. Turns out...that is perfectly normal. When we peak inside the teenage brain we see that their neurons and synapses are not yet fully connected.

This means that biologically, a teenager cannot correctly connect all the dots. Their brain is not yet fully developed.

My mom always says, "They don't have any sense until they are about 25." While she came to this conclusion on her own after raising 4 kids, when we look at the infographic, it turns out that she was right.

Why is this important to understand?

When you understand what is happening inside the teenage brain you can shift your perspective. Your child’s brain is not fully developed as a teen, or even when they are in their 20’s. (Eeek gads!) Instead of thinking of them as defiant, uncooperative, or irresponsible, think of them as children who are still developing. Still growing. Because they are.

All this means you still need to be fully present as a parent. Your job is still to watch, guide, provide structure, set boundaries, and deliver love, affection and support. (Even though they may not want any of it.)

Why is this happening...

Due to their still-developing noggins, teenagers simply don’t have the biological capabilities to handle decisions and judgment calls like adults can (most adults anyway), no matter how many experiences they’ve had or how good you know them to be.

A teenager’s frontal lobe, the part that controls judgment and restraint, is not fully developed. Because of this, teens are at higher risk for car accidents, have difficulty managing peer pressure, and do not quite see the world the way it is.

Their pre-frontal cortex, which helps distinguish emotions and helps them to be rational, may actually make them seem more argumentative, less logical, and more susceptible to dramatic episodes.

Understand that your teenager isn’t capable of handling emotions or understanding consequences as well as an adult, and at the same time, they are more susceptible to stress. 

So what do you do?

Talk to your teenager and let them know that you’re here to listen without judgment. The last thing you want to do is alienate your child by overreacting, so understand that your child may not always make rational decisions, which is not only normal, it should be expected! 

Unfortunately, your teen may prefer to cocoon during this time, making conversation much more difficult. To help you out, I have created 50 easy teen-tested and approved conversation starters. Just click to download.  Remember...these are conversation starters. It's up to you to keep the conversation rolling. 

Establishing boundaries is still extremely important at this age. It is difficult for your child to make sound judgement calls. Boundaries provide the support and protection they need. 

Stay on duty. You may be tempted to hand over complete independence to your teen (along with the car keys!) as he or she gets older.  However, due to the unique pressures of the teenage years, and the fact that even the most capable teens simply do not have brains that function like adults, you are still on deck.

Bookmark this page and return to this infographic (from again and again as you and your children work together to successfully navigate the teen years. 

Need a little help getting inside that teenage brain?

Inside the Teenage BrainCourtesy of