Are teens hedonists?

Teenagers live a life of pleasure and little self control, or so it seems. They engage in activities with impulsivity, and a lack of responsibility and little to no regard for the consequences. Teens also like by withholding information and faking ignorance. But are they really the famous hedonists we have made them out to be?

Here’s an excuse to teen temperament and indulgence. At the end, it all boils down to Biology.

Growing brains:

1. The amygdala, an almond-shaped mass of gray matter located inside our brain is an emotion generator. It is responsible for generating emotions like fear, anger, anxiety and aggression.

2. The prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part that regulates emotional responses and understands the consequences of the actions we do, is the last one to develop in our brain. In fact, the PFC is not fully formed until 25 years of age.

Because the PFC is not fully formed for teens, its unable to regulate their emotions. As a result, teens live their lives navigating highly volatile emotional environments in school and home. No surprise, they seem to act like they have less regard for outcomes. Their natural responses might sometimes seem like over the top reactions and mood swings might lead to severe anxiety and depression.

As a result of constant evolution, a teenage brain can be a fertile ground for emotional turmoil. The part of the brain that’s responsible for the reward system, called striatum releases dopamine that makes them biased towards actions that give them instantaneous rewards and an attraction towards money. The upside to this behavior in teens is they also have the ability to confront new challenges unlike adults who are risk averse.

Eager for peer engagement:

The still developing teenage brains are eager for peer engagement. As they enter middle school, teenagers want to meet peer expectations. Sometimes peer expectations can be in direct conflict with parental expectations. What is cool with his peers might be an absolute no no for a child’s parent. As a result, it might seem that teens might be deliberately pushing themselves away from their parents.

Teens find safety in groups. Teenage is an age when the brain is highly sensitive to social influence. Surveys have shown that teens are on their cellphones, mostly because their friends are too and there’s nothing much else stimulating in the real world.

Teen decision making process:

Teenage is the age of many firsts and as a result, the pull of novelty in decision making is high. Otherwise, at what age would one experience their first love, their first paycheck, their first car ride as a driver, and ultimately their first taste at independence?

Novelty, along with danger, and unpredictability sharply increases the rewards and the feel good hormones called Dopamine that occur in a teenager’s brain. And these dopamine spikes contribute in a major way in their decision making process.

What has to change:

As care givers, educators and parents, we must understand that biology and environment play an important part in a adolescent’s cognitive-behavioral development.

Instead of labeling them less predictable and moody, remember that children live with constant worry of disappointing their parents. Teens can feel dirty especially because of the complex emotions they’re going through.

Parenting and nurture goes wrong when communication breaks down. Its our duty to teach them that feelings are quite normal, but they should not be carried away and act on them. Instead of excusing their every infraction to Biology, we must work on channeling their emotions and energies to a positive goal oriented life.

Further reading:

Combat teen screen time

Stress and emotions in teens

Gaining the trust of your teen

How parenting must evolve

 

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