Why Your Smart Teen Does Stupid Things (and how to keep your cool) 
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Dust billowed behind us, I felt liberated! Music and wind blew through my hair. Next to me was my best friend. Driving was a blast. We turned onto a long dirt road and I pounded down the gas pedal.
Living in the country, no one seemed to care about our speed. We came upon an intersection and I saw a familiar car. In unison, my friend and I waved. Big mistake.
Quickly we started to slouch in our seats. The blood ran out of my face. That was my sister. I am 14 years old and driving my mother’s truck. Not my best moment.
Teens do stupid things sometimes.
I’m sure you can recall moments when you screwed up. Today I find myself on the flip side of moments like this, watching in horror at times when my teen decides to do something stupid.
In the past, I would reflect on this truck driving experience and roll my eyes at myself until I read Michelle Icard’s book, Middle School Makeover. She’s a parent too and hailed as an expert, though she brushes that idea to the side.
Michelle teaches us in her book as to why teens do stupid things like this. Brain development.
Part of the Brain is On Vacation
Three areas of the brain are affected starting at age 11. The prefrontal cortex (the manager) is responsible for critical thinking and controlling impulses. This area is basically taking a vacation. This causes your teen to revert back to more toddler like behaviors.
It’s a happy thing that this part of the brain is checking out. If the manager was in control, your teen would live in your house for…ev…er. They have everything they need!
The central part of the brain (the emotions) take over instead (think of Riley of Inside Out). Temporal areas (the file storage) are also affected. All of these areas are leading to a big shift in thinking and figuring out, “Who am I?”
The best way for a teen to answer this question is to take risks.
Teenage Brains Need Risk
The manager part of the brain takes a break in an effort to encourage your child to push boundaries just like he did as a toddler.
Risk taking leads to your child having a desire to go to college, get a job, and move out. This develops happy adults.
Michelle helped me to view my risky behavior of driving as a possible reason why I am willing to take risks and start a podcast. Our goal is not to keep our teen from screwing up, but rather encourage risk taking for valuable life lessons.
But how do you not let your own anger be in the manager seat when your child is running with all the emotions? You have to change your game.
Be the Assistant Manager
Think about the best boss you’ve ever had. My husband has an incredible boss, Doug. Our goal as parents is to be as much like Doug as possible. We channel Doug when our teen does stupid things. Michelle encourages you to think of yourself more like the assistant manager. Parenting a teen with the mindset of employee/boss makes a big difference.
But that doesn’t mean you get to be that crappy boss. You know the one that was radical and carried a gun around with him (oh–maybe that was just mine). You have to channel your own inner Doug.
The assistant manager should strive to:
- Listen and respond appropriately
- Delegate tasks
- Avoid micromanaging
- Admit when he is wrong
- Allow each team member to do his job
- Show appreciation
- Set clear expectations
- Give helpful feedback without emotion
- Have fun and make adulting look good
It’s easy to be a great boss when your employees are happy, rested, and have a generally good disposition. As you know, tweens and teens are not operating in a general state of happiness. Keeping your cool when they mess up or tell you something concerning is hard to say the least.
After studying research on teen emotions, Michelle discovered that teens inaccurately identify emotions in others half the time! It doesn’t matter how you are feeling, most likely your kid is not reading it correctly.
Since information is being ran through the emotional side of the brain first, Michelle came up with a simple solution.
Enter Botox Brow
What to Do When You Lose Your Cool
There are times when your teen will make really weird decisions and you struggle to maintain a calm attitude. Don’t despair, when you mess up this is a great time to show your teen that you make mistakes. Return back and apologize for losing your cool. Work together to come up with a solution to the problem at hand.
Work Towards Closeness
Michelle wants us to reframe the way we think of the teen years. Great work is being done here. Drawing your teen nearer to you is one of the best things you can do. This doesn’t mean you resort to smothering them or hovering over their every move. Strive to be the assistant manager you always wanted. Give them space to make mistakes and someone safe to talk about their concerns.
Fostering these relationships can happen a myriad of ways, but Michelle recommends the following tips:
- Read Middle School Makeover
- Join a parenting group
- Pick a few key characteristics to work on from the manager list above
- Talk frankly with your kids about the issues that follow them each day (suicide, sex, pornography, drugs, social media, etc)
My tip? Don’t lose your cool when your teen steals your truck. One step closer to moving out, am I right?!
Owner of Math for Middles
I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles. I’ve tutored students for over ten years. When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family. You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.