I often begin the discussion by asking teens the question, "How many of you have ever done something that you knew you could get in trouble for, but decided to do it anyway?
In the 7th grade, about 40% of kids raise their hands. In 8th grade classes, about 80% of kids raise their hands. In 9th and 10th grade classes, nearly 100% of kids raise their hands.
My next question is, "Why did you do it?". As i go around the room, the answers include the following:
"it seemed like a good idea at the time."
"it was fun."
"to get back at my parents"
"because my friends were doing it"
and a whole lot of "I have no clue" or "I don't know" or "I have no idea what I was thinking" along with a whole bunch of shoulder shrugging.
Have you ever asked a teen, "What were you thinking when you did that?" Have you been frustrated when they answer by simply shrugging their shoulders or saying "I don't know?" The truth is, due to the state of their brain development, they most likely don't know what they were thinking in the moment. They most likely weren't thinking about the long term consequences and probably not thinking about the effect of their behavior on others.
When I do this activity in the classrrom, teens are both interested and intrigued in this aspect of their brain development. Not only does knowledge equal power ... it also helps them understand themselves during a time where life can get pretty confusing. Truth is, they have some power here. Similar to lifting weights to build a certain muscle or muscle groups, we can "train the brain" to fire along certain pathways, therefore affecting neuronal firing and promoting better choices. We talk about personal values and practice refusal and delay skills to support the process.
Teens report that it is often easier for them to predict the consequences for others than it is to see them for themselves. Therefore, we can enhance peer influence by providing kids with accurate information, encouraging and helping teens to identify adult support systems and increasing access to support services.
More tomorrow about how to help your teen develop an effective support system and how to deal with the topics your teens won't talk about.