The area of the brain that lies behind the forehead, called the pre-frontal cortex, is the area in charge of executive functioning -- reasoning, working memory and regulation of mood, judgement and organization. Recent brain imaging shows that the pre-frontal cortex is largely immature in teenagers. Most scientists believe human brains aren't fully developed until the early 20s. The good news here is that the teenage brain is influenced easily, allowing parents ample opportunity to teach decision-making and problem-solving skills.
When talking to teens about drugs, parents tend to step into lecture mode and hope their teenagers remember the lecture in the face of peer pressure to take drugs. But given the brain's immaturity, teenagers probably won't remember anything about what their parents told them.
Here are some tips for talking to teens about drugs, impulse control and good judgement:
1. Whenever possible and appropriate, give children choices so they acquire the skills to make decisions. And stop making decisions for them by always telling them what to do. Give them a choice instead: "Do you want to call me at 11 p.m. to pick you up, or should I just meet you at 11:30 at the door?"
2. Proactively bring up the subject of drugs. Create an open, honest environment in which children know that, no matter how bad things get, they can come to their parents for support.
3. Ask kids to do the "red face test." If he doesn't think that he could look himself in the mirror and feel okay about a certain choice, then it isn't the right choice. Ask him to think about what Mom, Grandpa, a coach or a teacher might say about the choice.
4. Teach children to say "NO!" Make up scenarios in which your teen has to stand up to peer pressure. Ask her to tell you what she would say. Talk about how she feels about what her peers might think of her.
5. Give kids an out. Tell him that, if he feels that he can't stand up to peer pressure or is in in a situation over his head, that he can call home. Reassure him that, no matter what time it is, where he is or even if he lied about being there, a parent will come and get them.
Adolescence is a time of testing boundaries and limits in search of independence. Your teen will want to spend most of her time with friends. As a parent, you must balance this with ample family time so that you still have opportunities to teach her the necessary skills to resist peer pressure and drug abuse. You also must know your child well so you can recognize signs of drug use -- and you can't teach or know your children if you are not interacting with them on a regular basis.
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