How to help your teen develop self-control

Response inhibition is the ability to think before you leap. It starts to develop in infancy and really plays a role in helping all the executive skills develop. As a teen, though, it can be hard to have self-control.

In the teen years, we often see a rise in impulsivity due to brain changes. The emotional centers of the brain aren’t as connected to the prefrontal cortex or problem solving center, which fully develops later (around age 25). Essentially, teens think with the emotional part of their brains.

Stress can also affect response inhibition.

Maybe it’s not just your teen. Maybe you’re struggling with self-control right now. If so, it’s not surprising. Stress has a strong effect on response inhibition, making t easier to get distracted and procrastinate (Roos, et al., 2017).

Read on to find out ways you can help your teen (or yourself) develop self-control.

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What can we do to help improve and develop our self-control?

  • Exercise, particularly activities combined with mindfulness (E.g., martial arts) has been shown to help (Lakes & Hoyt, 2004)
  • Know that teens will tend to choose fun over challenge and that peers have tremendous influence in these choices. Establish clear expectations and review rules regularly.
  • First-then approaches work well with children. We sometimes call this the Grandma principle (First you do A, then you can have B). This principle works well for stressed out adults, as well.
  • Encourage your teen to earn things they want. This helps prevent the “I want it now” expectation and helps them learn delayed gratification.

If you or your teen are feeling stress, remember that it is temporary.

This pandemic seems unending, so that can make it hard to keep our stress under control. Think about the healthy things you want for your future and make choices accordingly to help keep unhealthy impulses at bay.