Teen decision making vs. adult decision making

Pediatrician Cara Natterson, MD, explains how brain development during the adolescent years affects a teenager's ability to make decisions compared to adults
How a Teen's Brain Development Affects Decision Making
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Teen decision making vs. adult decision making

Teenagers may look like mini adults, in fact, they may look like adults, but they are not; because their brains have not fully matured. Our brains mature from the bottom to the top, and from the inside out. It takes until our early 20's to have full brain maturation. Why is this important? It's important because the frontal lobe, which is the very last part of the brain to develop and mature, is the part of the brain that makes consequential decisions. It's the part of the brain that weighs different factors, and decides what's right. The part of the brain that is mature, is the limbic system. It's deep and low in the brain, and that's the emotional center. So we ask our teens to make adult decisions, without having the frontal lobe fully mature yet. It's not fair to them. They cannot make the decisions we want them to make. One example, you send your teen to a party. You've had conversations, like crazy, about drinking and driving and being responsible and not doing anything that puts them at risk. Your child gives you all the right answers at the dinner table. When they go to the party, that limbic system and their peers are influencing them. That part of their brain is going crazy, and they make a bad decision. It's not entirely their fault. They don't have an entirely adult brain yet. So, let's not forget that our teenagers are teenagers, they are not adults. If we ask them to make adult decisions and expect them to make adult decisions, we are fooling ourselves.

Pediatrician Cara Natterson, MD, explains how brain development during the adolescent years affects a teenager's ability to make decisions compared to adults


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Cara Natterson, MD

Pediatrician & Author

Cara Natterson, MD has treated thousands of children and guided their parents as well. She was a partner at Tenth Street Pediatrics in Santa Monica, California, a large group practice serving infants, children and teenagers. She now runs Worry Proof Consulting, the first of its kind pediatric practice that offers parents open-ended time to review everything from medical questions and biology basics to child development and parenting issues. Cara is also the author of several books on parenting and child health. She has a unique ability to translate cutting edge research into understandable terms for parents and their kids. More recently, Cara’s consulting has extended beyond individual families to include fortune 500 companies seeking expert advice on safety issues, child health, and crisis management.

Cara has appeared on television, in print, and on the web. She is a graduate of Harvard College and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and she trained in pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. Cara is a Board certified pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. And anyone who knows her knows that Cara is, by nature, one of the most risk-averse people on earth. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

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