How often have you found yourself asking your teen: “Why did you do that?”. Thi can range from the smaller issue of the dirty plate that’s been left in their room for the week to larger issues like missing curfew for the third time. Parenting teens can feel confounding, as you repeatedly ask them (and yourself): “Why?” Logic and proactive problem solving seem to have gone out the window, and often at the core of this behavior is your teenager’s lack of impulse control.
Understanding Impulsive Teen Behaviors
Impulse is that quick thought in your head that says, “I wonder what would happen if I…”. When you have impulse control, you are able to follow that impulse with thinking through the chain reaction of what will happen after that first thought. For example, if the impulse is, “I’m having so much fun, I should keep hanging out with my friends!” when they are expected home for curfew, impulse control allows them to process that if they miss curfew their parents will be worried and upset, there will be consequences from their action and they will likely lose privileges. Impulse control allows us to see into the future and fully understand that each action has a consequence.
Adolescence is a critical period of neurological development. In the first twenty years of life, the human brain experiences more growth and change than any other time in its life. The truth is, a teenage brain is not fully formed. And while teenagers may start looking like adults, they do not yet have the ability to fully act like adults. One of the connections in the brain that is still forming during adolescence is the one that governs reason and emotion, the prefrontal cortex. When the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, adults are better able to make decisions based on reason instead of pure emotion. They can look logically at a problem or situation and understand the effects of their actions. For teens, however, their prefrontal cortex is still developing, and when emotions can feel more intense or overwhelming. When they experience emotions such as sadness, disappointment, or aggression, they do not have all the resources needed to inhibit that impulse and emotionally driven response.
By better understanding the biological aspects of teenage brain development, parents can not only improve their empathy but also facilitate safe and moderately structured environments for their teens.
The Dangers of Impulsive Behaviors
Impulsive behaviors can be especially risky during the teen years when your child begins to spend more and more time with their friends instead of their family. They are seeking out more independence as they work to discover their individuality. It is natural for friend relationships to become more important during this time, but risky behavior can be made worse when surrounded by other teens who also lack impulse control. Understanding that being impulsive is fairly common in teens, how do you know if your teen’s impulsive behavior is becoming a problem?
- Do you notice a pattern of impulsive behavior? This is not an occasional impulsive decision, but rather chronic impulsivity.
- Do they seem unable to gain control over their impulses? Are they constantly frustrated with the outcome of the actions but seem completely unable to manage the impulse in the moment?
- Is their impulsive behavior negatively affecting their life? Are they doing damage to relationships? Are they causing themself physical or emotional harm?
A lack of impulse control can lead to issues such as bingeing disorders, which could create a negative relationship with food, spending, or internet habits. Negative impulsive behaviors could also lead to physical violence, property destruction, frequent emotional outbursts, and escalating otherwise small problems. This impulsivity can also be dangerous during the teen years when many girls are entering their first romantic relationships. A lack of impulse control can cause girls to overshare intimate or personal information, or engage in physical relationships that they are not yet emotionally ready for.
Tips for Improving Impulsive Control
We have six tips for controlling your teenage daughter’s impulsive behavior:
- Don’t place yourself in the power struggle. Approach your daughter’s behavior in a reasonable manner. Impulsive behavior is basically begging for a reactive response from others. Don’t be intensify the situation. “The harsher I sound, the better outcome I will get.” FALSE. While it is important to remember you are the parent, you should not feel like you need to defend an angry position. Tone of voice is everything. Keep calm, cool, and collected.
- Allow healthy release of impulsive behavior. Physical activity is a great way to burn off impulsivity. Other outlets for release can be listening to music, playing games, or walking away in the middle of a conversation (sometimes this is OK if it means not responding in an outburst). Make sure these channels are accessible to your daughter as they can help her cope with her desire to act impulsively.
- Address underlying issues. Being a teenager comes with many stresses and pressures. These stresses and pressures are often a root at the base of your daughter’s impulsive behavior. Impulsive behavior follows a clear pattern. Once you recognize your daughter’s trigger points, you should help her identify those and how to cope with them in a calm way.
- Encourage breathing and relaxation. Practices like yoga and meditation can help develop impulse control and awareness of thought. By cultivating that awareness of noticing their thoughts without immediately acting on them, girls can begin to respond instead of just reacting to a situation. If impulsive behavior leads to emotional or physical outbursts, deep breathing can help shift their mindset out of a fight or flight reaction. If you’ve ever noticed your body when you’re upset, your muscles are probably tense and your breathing is short and shallow. Deep breathing signals to the mind and body that you are in a safe place. Slowing down the breath can help release tension in the body and slow down racing thoughts.
- Hold your daughter accountable. As a teenager your daughter should know that with actions come consequences. It’s important that you are firm in holding her accountable for her actions. Create boundaries and rules that will motivate her to practice good behavior. It may seem counterintuitive, but holding healthy boundaries shows your daughter that you respect her and care about her wellbeing. Although they probably will not say it out loud, teenagers need structure and limits to feel safe.
- Praise her for her patience. Reassurance is a huge part of moving forward in alleviating impulsiveness. Acknowledge and empower your daughter when she shows self-control and patience when handling a situation. You should let her know when she is successfully managing her behavior. This type of encouragement and positivity can motivate her to make this a normal thing.
While there are things that you can do at home to help your daughter learn to control her impulses, there may be situations when you need more help. A residential treatment center can provide the structure and support your daughter needs to build those skills. At Solstice East, students will work with therapists individually and in groups to understand the issues they are struggling with and create a treatment plan to move towards healthier behaviors. Solstice East also uses experiential therapy, equine therapy, and adventure activities, which provides multiple opportunities in different settings for them to practice those new skills.
Our approach focuses on treating the whole person, not just the “problem behavior”. Our staff and students work together to get to the core of their issues to build a strong foundation. For example, if girls are struggling with addictive behaviors or unhealthy relationships, we see these are symptoms of the core issue. The primary goal of therapy is access to those core issues so that genuine healing can occur. In addition, a holistic approach accounts for the fact that our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relational selves are all bound together. This “mind-body” philosophy is supported by continuous research that our mental and physical health is intertwined.
Solstice East: A program designed for your daughter
At Solstice East, the process of internal growth and change is facilitated by a succession of interventions aimed at helping our girls become young women of character. The process of developing and clarifying a positive value system, and learning to allow these values to drive their choices and behavior is a powerful process of growth. It is this process that drives internal growth, and once solidified, remains constant and growing long after graduation and into adulthood. We help teens instill positive values and principles throughout their journey at Solstice East. Through service activities and the development of friendships with peers, students are able to put positive values and principles into action.
Solstice East incorporates various types of therapies and takes a relationship-based approach to helping teenage girls learn to practice mindful behavior. The program helps them to establish healthy lifestyle habits through an emphasis on physical fitness and nutrition. We can provide your daughter with the tools she needs to redefine herself! For more information please contact us at 828-484-9946.