Does your teen have problems with self-control and managing impulsivity? Impulsivity can be a serious obstacle in adulthood and more than a nuisance in adolescence. Helping your teen develop better habits and become more independent may not only provide useful for their future academic and professional goals but may prime them for the stressors of growing up and create a stronger foundation against other behavioral and mental health issues.
To a degree, excessive impulsivity might also be a sign or symptom of a more serious problem. Addressing it now can help your teen develop the necessary toolkit for managing impulsivity symptoms later on and know when to seek professional help and support from friends and family.
Isn’t Impulsivity Normal?
Teens are naturally more impulsive than adults. While we’ve legally set 18 as the age of majority, neither the human body nor the human mind is done developing at this point.
The brain continues to mature well into our 20s and 30s, with some of the most crucial elements of the brain – the regions responsible for cognitive functioning, long-term planning, reasoning, risk assessment, and executive functioning – only fully maturing around the mid-20s for most adults, and certain other elements – such as those related to mood control and emotional regulation – fully maturing in our 30s.
But these facts do not excuse foolhardy or dangerous behavior. Teens might not have the same physical capacity to think things through as thoroughly as their adult counterparts, but it does not make them any less responsible for their actions or any less capable of remorse and understanding, nor learning.
Reflecting on Actions and Mistakes
Teens should learn to accept the consequences of their actions and reflect on their mistakes, to rise to the inevitable challenges of adulthood. We shouldn’t be quick to forgive dangerous impulsivity or explain it away with a biological convenience – but it should be understood that teens still have a lot to learn and improve upon, and room for growth for many, many years to come.
Still, every parent must decide on their own where to draw the line between normal teen behavior and something worse.
We’ve all made mistakes, and oftentimes, we make them more than once. Helping teens in managing impulsivity and recognize the patterns in their mistakes can be one way of nudging them toward greater self-awareness. But when their problems become more severe – such as behavioral addiction, stealing (and other illegal activities), life-threatening thrill-seeking, or substance use – it’s time to call on more than just a little nudging.
Engendering Impulse Control in Your Teen
So, how can you begin managing impulsivity in your teen? First, it’s important to start out with a simple disclaimer: depending on whether your teen’s behavioral issues are a phase to grow out of, or the early onset signs of a behavioral or personality disorder, there may not be much you can do without professional help.
If you’re worried about the direction your teen’s actions and behavior have taken as of late, it might not be a bad idea to talk to them about visiting a therapist together and figuring out what’s driving their change in behavior and personality. The more drastic the change, the more likely it may be more than just some sort of phase.
Otherwise, there are several ways you can start managing impulsivity, impress better judgment and infuse greater levels of self-control in your teen through a few household changes:
1. Model Positive Choices
It is the same advice mirrored a thousand times through the ages: be the change you want to see. But in the context of a parent-child relationship, it is far more relevant than most parents seem to realize.
It’s easy to think that you’re losing touch with your children as they grow older, and it’s easy to assume that peer pressure is an increasingly influential factor in your teen’s behavior.
But believe it or not, until a teen moves out and sets up a household of their own, their parents remain their primary predictor of behavior and mindsets. In other words, your teens’ views and thoughts mirror your own more than either of you might realize and will continue to do so until they leave home.
To that end, reviewing your own actions and self-control is a crucial first step toward introducing major changes in your teen’s behavior. If you want your teen to model certain actions, be sure to be consistent in how you perform those actions yourself. Encouraging your teen to do better than you carry very little weight if you cannot make the same commitment toward self-improvement and managing impulsivity on your own self.
2. Establish Clear Red Lines
Boundaries are important, especially in relationships – and they’re just as important between a child and their parents.
Children are naturally inquisitive and will push boundaries, and teens are no different. Letting your teen explore themselves and ideas around them is important because robbing them of that freedom can elicit a whole line of significant behavioral problems.
But it’s also important to set boundaries for what your teen shouldn’t do, including obvious things such as drug use and criminal activity, and less obvious boundaries such as limiting the amount of private information they post online. On the flip side, it is also important to respect your teen’s boundaries for you. That means not snooping through their phone, letting them keep their browser history and online activity private, and giving them their own private space where you cannot intrude uninvited.
3. Praise Good Behavior
Just because your teen is growing up doesn’t mean they no longer want praise or affirmation. Even if they might not enjoy a hug or cuddle from Mom, they’ll still want to hear that they’ve done a good job or receive acknowledgment for their accomplishments and efforts. Give your approval as freely as you want to whenever your teen does something worth praising.
4. Relate to their Experiences
One of the hallmark traits of growing up as a teen is believing that your situation is unique or that your experiences are one-of-a-kind. While we are unique individuals, we are also connected to each other and live shared lives throughout generations. Having that sense of empathy is important, but it must also be fostered. Start by validating your teen’s experiences, listening to them, and letting them know that they’re not alone. Remind them to think of how others feel, tell them about similar experiences you’ve gone through, and help them realize that they aren’t alone in how they feel or what they’ve experienced without dismissing them.
Work With a Professional in Managing Impulsivity for Teens
However, if your teen’s experiences are something you can’t relate to, such as struggling with severe anxiety or feeling depressed for no reason, don’t try to dismiss these feelings or just smother their vulnerability with “everyone has these thoughts.” Instead, talk to them about what they might need or if they’d like to see someone with you.
Impulsivity can be a sign of a larger problem, whether it’s a conduct disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or a cry for help in cases of depression and anxiety. Your teen isn’t looking for punishment – there’s a reason they’re acting the way they are, and it’s up to their family and community to help them.
For more information about managing impulsivity and teen mental health treatment, visit Visions Treatment Centers.