I did some pretty dumb things when I was a teenager. When people ask me why I did these dumb things, I often have trouble giving them an answer. “But, didn’t you ever think about the consequences?” They ask. “Of all the terrible things that could happen?” To this question, I do have a very simple answer. No. No I did not think about any of the consequences to my risky behavior. Well, maybe I thought about the consequences and then decided they could never ever happen to me.
Isn’t this what most young people do? The 14 year-olds who get pregnant, the kids who try a laced ecstasy and end up in the hospital, the teens who have a few drinks and decide to drive home, but end up in a tree…they all think ‘it could never happen to me.’
That is why when I read a fascinating article by Psychology Today called “Why do teenagers feel immortal?” I was intrigued to think about teen’s false feelings of immortality. The article explains that:
“Our frontal lobes, which contribute most to our unique personalities and allow us to anticipate the consequences of our actions. Essentially, your frontal lobes tell you that it’s a bad idea to drink alcohol and drive or to ignore the consequences of taking heroin. When your frontal lobes finally complete their process of myelination, they begin to work properly and you stop doing dangerous things. Most importantly, you stop feeling immortal. Apparently, women finish this myelination process by age 25 years and men finish by age 30.”
I see now, I must have not been done with my myelination process! All jokes aside, this is an important issue for parents to think about. When parents get frustrated that they cannot get their teenagers to think about the consequences of their actions, this is because a teen’s brain is not there yet!
I think there are a few ways that parents can address teens feeling of immortality:
1) Explain to them that this is a brain thing. Sometimes they can intellectually understand that our brains work differently (this will also help them be less frustrated when you nag them about being safe).
2) Let them make small mistakes and then use this for them to grow. I have an article on cultivating mistakes that I think is essential. We do not want to scare our kids into mortality, but slowly want them to realize that they are not immune to a little heartache.
Did you ever feel immortal…but find out that you weren’t? Share those stories with your teens and most importantly ask others (especially other young people) in your life to share their stories about false immortality. This can be more real for teens.