There’s nothing more frustrating than a child who just can’t seem to get it together in school. They lack those executive functioning skills that will help them be successful as a student: organization, interest and engagement, and a deeper understanding of the consequences of their current actions. If you’ve struggled to help your kid “get it,” it’s important to understand that some of these things simply aren’t within your child’s control. In many cases, that frontal lobe development–that is, the executive functioning needed in order to handle these important tasks–may not develop until the late twenties. As a result, students are literally unable to develop the full reasoning skills needed in order to understand what’s needed in order to ensure their academic success until they’re far older.
What the Research Says
Parents and teachers have long known that teenagers have a poor ability to measure their current actions against potential future consequences. While it’s not true for every teenager, the vast majority of them struggle to comprehend the fact that they are not immortal, their chances are not limitless, and that they may, through their current actions, burn bridges that they won’t be able to get back across. Research now shows that this isn’t just that your teen doesn’t care; rather, their inability to grasp these seemingly basic (to adults) concepts is based in the brain.
The decision-making process doesn’t take place entirely in the frontal lobe. For adults, the majority of the decision-making process–even in the middle of an emotional decision–takes place in the frontal lobe, which is able to bring logic and reason into play. This is what prevents adults from, say, storming emotionally out of a classroom because they’ve had an argument with a friend or quitting their favorite sport because “the coach doesn’t like them.” For teens, however, much of that process still takes place within the amygdala–the part of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” response.
Neural insulators that connect the frontal lobe to the rest of the brain aren’t present yet. This means that when you look at your teen and wonder how they can be so self-centered, it’s not because you’ve failed as a parent. Rather, it’s because their brain hasn’t yet fully developed the connections it needs in order to genuinely understand the impact of their actions on others–and it likely won’t until your teen is in their twenties.
What Teens Can Handle
If you’re struggling with the idea that your teen simply might not be capable of handling the rational decision-making and thinking they need in order to ultimately experience academic, social, and career success, there’s good news: there are many skills that your child can handle. Focusing on these instead of trying to force frontal lobe development that simply isn’t possible for your child’s age can help make a significant difference in their performance in school and at home. These include:
Time management skills. Sure, your child may get spaced out sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach effective time management! Work with them to understand what they need to get done and how they can best accomplish it.
Concentration and focus. Teach your teen how to remove distractions from the work area. For many teens, this simply isn’t a process that happens automatically. By giving them the right tools, you can substantially impact their ability to accomplish longer or more detailed tasks.
Motivation. What helps your child push themselves to academic success? When you help them find their own internal motivators, they’re more likely to find ways to accomplish their academic goals in spite of the other things standing in their way.
Communication skills. You can teach your child to communicate effectively with the adults and other teens around them–and this is one of the best gifts you can give your child. Working on communication skills is one of the best ways to ensure that your child will succeed both in school and in life.
Frontal lobe development may be an ongoing process, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t set your child up for success. Let’s face it: if you could remember exactly what you were like as a teenager, chances are, you were more like them than you care to admit! If you want a school where your child’s brain development will be taken into consideration while they are given the tools that will help them succeed academically, socially, and in their future careers, contact us today to learn more about what we can offer your student.