After raising four kids I’ve learned a thing or two about teenage brains. It’s funny, I think we can all remember that time of our lives, but when you’re 15, nothing really seems odd or out of the ordinary. Your thoughts and view of the world just feel routine because—so far that’s all you know.
But … for any adult observing and trying to make sense of the crazy logic and decision-making that’s going in a teen’s mind, well, it can feel like something isn’t adding up in their heads.
Am I getting ahead of things? Maybe you don’t have teenagers or you’re still a teen reading this and wondering what is this guy talking about. Let me tell you about my formative years.
My teens and early 20s were rich with experiences of what most would call mischief-making. You know them—activities that included cars and motorcycles, and sometimes a BB gun. There may or may not have even been incidents with gunpowder and gasoline. I’ll stop there. The point is, I wasn’t worried enough—scratch that—I wasn’t worried [at all] about outcomes or things going south. I was only driven by curiosity, humor, and ego. That’s not terrible, but I was motivated by an expected outcome. I was completely focused on a result that would surely come.
It never occurred to me to suppose what could go wrong or what I would do if the outcome of my hijinx were altogether different or worse—a disaster.
In the business world, we call this kind of thinking ahead and planning for all possible scenarios—business continuity. We acknowledge the potential fallout and effects of a scenario and we plan accordingly and prepare to respond.
Not so with the teen brain. They continue growing and developing well into our mid-20s. And technically speaking, our brains are just not fully connected. A neurologist would say teens have a funny developmental trait when it comes to their frontal lobes.
In other words, teens aren’t stupid they just make incomplete decisions. They physically don’t always account for or comprehend both the cause and effect of things like you and I do. Still, that young brain is ever-ready, always learning and always adapting. With so much plasticity, the teen brain is able to change, adapt, and respond. Just not always the first time. For the young brain, these experiences that go well and not so well, end up being the results that shape the brain with experiences that inform prediction.
In our later working years, we can thank our younger selves for informing our capacity to prepare for the worst and hopefully negate those outcomes with insight and contingencies.