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Why does my teen seem so irresponsible?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
The teenage brain isn't equipped to handle what seem like life's simplest decisions. Such as: Should you jump off the roof into a swimming pool? Hitch a ride with someone who's drunk? E-mail 10 people a picture of yourself wearing nada? Smart-mouth the teacher on the first day of school?

The thing is, it's not the kid, it's the kid's brain. And although by age 9 or 10 that brain is the same size as yours, the self-regulatory centers -- the decision zones that govern judgment and impulsivity and should scream, "Hello?! You could break both your legs jumping off a roof!" -- are the last to reach maturity. That doesn't happen until age 24 (later for men). Result? The adolescent brain has adult-size pleasure and sensation centers without adult-level control. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

So how do you keep your kids safe until age 24? Saying, "What were you thinking?" afterward doesn't work. Instead, you need to get them to practice a bit of delayed gratification. As in: You'll have more fun (be more popular, win more games, get along with the principal) if you don't go for the immediate gain (for example, being the center of attention for 5 seconds before breaking both legs).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.