Why teenagers rebel, act stupid, and why this is a good thing

Teenagers, as a rule, are rebellious, don’t listen to their parents, do stupid, reckless, dangerous things, and are generally a huge pain for parents to deal with. An article in the National Geographic, based on recent research into brain functioning, explains why all of this happens, and more importantly, explains why this is actually good for the teenager (as long as one of the reckless things does not kill him/her).

The article is long, and parts are rather boring, but some parts, especially on the second page, are quite insightful.

I’ll summarize with very broad, simplistic strokes:

  • Yes, teenagers do take more dangerous risks than most other age groups
  • They do understand the dangers involved (so you telling them “Don’t you know what could happen?” is not particularly useful)
  • The main difference between teenagers and others is that they value the rewards (gained from taking the risks) much more than adults
  • Teenagers take more risks in the company of their friends/peers. In other words, they value “social rewards” and “peer recognition” quite a lot – much more so than adults
  • In general, this is evolution’s way of encouraging teenagers to learn new things, explore new opportunities, to boldly go where they haven’t gone before. This prepares them for leaving their parents’ home and going out into the world on their own
  • They prefer the company of young people. Parents, teenagers don’t what you as friends, they want their friends as friends. (As explained previously, they are wired to get excited about new and unknown things, and parents are neither new, nor unknown, nor exciting.) Evolutionarily speaking, this is the teenagers investing in their future rather than their past or present
  • To help, parents should “engage and guide their teens with a light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence.” While the teenagers should obviously benefit from your experience (and they often do – but a little later than you would like), their primary instinct is to learn from their own mistakes. Let them.

I am not the parent of a teenager, so I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I’m good at summarizing long articles into pithy blog posts.

You should probably read the full article.

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