Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Impulse Control, Dangerous Choices, and Your Son

Why is it that your son is excited by dangerous situations while you – and even him, when he was younger – shied away from anything fear-inducing? According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, it may be a biological issue. A recent study supports the idea that teens react more impulsively when faced with danger than other age groups do, a fact that may explain their increased risk for being involved in a crime.

Kristina Caudle of Weill Cornell Medical College was lead researcher on that study. She says, “Crimes are often committed in emotionally charged or threatening situations, which push all the wrong buttons for reasoned decision-making in the adolescent brain. It’s fascinating because although the brains of young children are even less mature children don’t exhibit the same attraction to risky or criminal behaviors as do adolescents.”

The Emotions of a Teenager

Pleasure and reward pathways seem to work differently during the teen years as compared to adulthood. While adults over the age of 25 for the most part tend to find reward in comforting things that are familiar and safe, young adults between the ages of 12 and 25 work a little differently.

Says Caudle, “Our research suggests that biological changes of [this part of the brain] during adolescence influence emotional processes, such that dangerous activities bring their own emotional reward.”

It can be difficult to fight this phenomenon with common sense. Certainly there is no pleasure reward in standing in front of a judge, getting kicked out of school, or suffering serious health consequences due to dangerous and illegal choices. Yet many teens struggle with looking at the big picture and considering the consequences when they are faced with the opportunity to abuse drugs and alcohol, for example, and opt instead to take their chances&md
even if it’s gone badly for them in the past.

What Can You Do?

If it’s a biological response to stimulus, what can you do to protect your son from himself? You can:

  • Set limits. Setting a curfew and certain expectations (e.g., good grades, following through on commitments, being honest) can go a long way toward helping your son make good decisions in all situations.
  • Discuss boundaries. Don’t assume that he should know by now that use of drugs and alcohol and other behaviors are harmful and that you don’t agree with them. Talk to your son about his understanding of these issues, find out whether or not his friends agree, and verbalize your opinions on the subject.
  • Pay attention. Your son may certainly feel that drugs and alcohol are dangerous, but it doesn’t mean that he won’t change his mind when alone with certain friends or in certain situations. If you see any signs of drug or alcohol abuse, don’t ignore them. Addressing the problem immediately can stop it from growing.

If your son is unable to curb his use of drugs and alcohol, treatment and intervention can help. Contact us at Muir Wood today to learn more about your options.