The Pre-Frontal Cortex acts like the CEO of the brain once it is fully developed. Unfortunately, this does not occur until the mid-twenties. The pre-frontal cortex governs judgement, decision-making, overriding of emotional reactivity and a host of other executive functions. So the ability to think like an adult really isn’t there for a young adult (18-21), let alone a teenager. How well do you think a 21-year-old will make decisions, let alone a teenager, if the part of their brain that controls these functions is not fully developed?

Dr. Daniel Amen is an excellent resource for healthy brain information. You can find his website here.

Thinking with Jello…

Sarah was 18 years old, and attempting to make decisions on her own as an adult. She disagreed with her parents on many things, one of which was that she could make it on her own, and on the streets if she had to. Sarah rode an emotional rollercoaster daily and was reactive to people who told her “No” or disagreed with her. She could charm most anyone until they knew her better. She was willing to trade sex for most anything believing she would be in control of any interaction. This despite many experiences in life that had taught her differently. Sarah believed that turning 18 was a magic pill. She believed that with her making adult decisions, things would be easier. Sarah wound up pregnant after a string of guys, could not keep a job or relationship, and was living in her parent’s basement.

A different parent once said to me, “It was like a switch had been flipped on. I could tell when she came down for breakfast that something was different.” Her daughter, then 25 years old, had struggled through adolescence including several stints with therapists and in residential programs.

Parents who possess this knowledge will parent differently. Knowing that the physiological development of the teenage brain is not complete until the mid twenties can help to lower expectations to be inline with the developmental maturity of your child.

Articles on the Pre-Frontal Cortex:


Todd has been a therapist for over 20 years in a variety of settings. An unconventional therapist who tells the truth, Todd has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses, and authored his first book, Simply Relate.

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