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Keeping Teens Safe

We can increase the odds of keeping teens safe.

We can increase the odds
of keeping teens safe.

There’s no getting around it: The teenage brain is a mess. At the beginning of adolescence, the brain has a ton of neural connections. Then it goes through a period where it starts pruning away some of those very same connections.

To make life even more confusing, the part of the brain dealing with emotions is working overtime, and the part moderated by reason is taking a back seat. Unfortunately, that means teens probably aren’t thinking much about safety.

Can we change the teenage brain? No. Can we act in ways to keep teens safe? Yes. Here are some ideas.

1. Have your teen drive a slow, safe car.
Who cares if your teen thinks your old Volvo isn’t cool? Make that car the only option . . . or he can walk or take the bus.

2. Limit the possibilities.
When our family stayed in that remote cabin over New Year’s, logistics ensured that my girls weren’t going to that “big party.”

3. Keep all your ducks in your pond.
While there’s admittedly a downside to having your teen’s bedroom close to yours, it’s much harder for a teen to engage in suspect activity when you’re right across the hall.

4. Rehearse ready-to-use excuses for unsafe situations.
Some standbys might be, “Sorry, I’m training for (fill-in-the-blank)” when offered alcohol or drugs, or, “I’m feeling sick and need to go home” when things are getting out of control.

5. Check out the parents of your teen’s friends.
Parents often have different ideas of supervision, so it’s helpful to know if everyone is on the same page.

6. Make everything related to safety not open for discussion.
If you initiate this policy when they’re very young, it will transfer into the teen years.

7. Stick to Cinderella (and earlier) curfews.
Even if your teen drives responsibly, what about those other folks on the road after midnight?

8. Strive to be the unpopular parent.
The more your teen thinks you’re not cool, the more you’re probably keeping him safe.

9. Work together to set online guidelines.
Discuss with your teen how to reap the positive benefits of the internet without the negatives (e.g. inappropriate sites, predators, etc.).

10. Replace lectures with hands-on experiences.
Have your teen volunteer somewhere she’ll interact with people facing the consequences of drunk driving and using drugs.

11. Ensure your teen completes her lower brain development.
If the lower brain is developed, your teen won’t make poor decisions based on distorted information (for example, choosing not to wear a seatbelt because his brain is continually distracted by how that feels against his body).

While safeguards are important, we also need to give teens some freedom and independence. We just have to be smart about it.

For example, at 15, my daughter told me she didn’t know how much longer she could be the “only one” not drinking. It wasn’t so much about wanting to be drunk. Rather, she just felt she needed to do something rebellious.

So she became the first kid in her group to get her bellybutton pierced. She told everyone of our deal: She traded drinking for piercing. Did it last forever? No, but that response kept her alcohol-free for two years.

As parents, we just want to make sure our teens become adults who live long, wonderful lives. My 92-year-old father is often asked the secret to his longevity, and his response indirectly relates to teens. He says, “You need good health, good attitude, and good luck – and two out of three are not enough.”

Unfortunately, it’s that “good luck” variable that keeps us up until our teens are home, safe and sound.

Academic Versus Play-Based Kindergarten

When the curriculum is in sync with natural brain development, everyone smiles.

When the curriculum is in sync with natural brain development, everyone smiles.

The hoopla began once Disney offered refunds to folks who bought Baby Einstein videos. Defenders of the videos insisted their children benefited from their time in front of the screen. Others gleefully took jabs at parents who thought watching them would make kids smarter.

But neither group asked the most relevant questions:  Just how do young kids’ brains develop, and how can we use that information to provide the best learning environment for children?

With such questions, we can hardly pick on just Baby Einstein videos.  Heck, kindergarten curriculum has also changed radically. Yet last I heard, today’s kids’ brains aren’t developing any differently than previous generations.  Nope, we’ve just changed what we demand at an early age.

Now if a five-year-old isn’t sitting still all day in school, we sometimes call it Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder—or some other diagnosis—rather than ask: Would we perceive that same child differently if he were in a play-based kindergarten?

Unfortunately, I’ve met too many adorable young kindergartners who have already experienced failure. That’s why I’m jealous of countries that use curriculum based on natural brain development.

For example, movement, intuition, images, and rhythm are mostly associated with the right side of the brain, and reading, writing, and math are mostly associated with the left side.  Turns out the right side has a burst of development between the ages of four to seven, whereas the left side gets going between the ages seven and nine.  So are we surprised that Denmark boasts nearly 100% literacy—and doesn’t present formal reading instruction until age eight?

But then, why stop with Disney and their Baby Einstein videos?  Why not hold schools accountable, as well? Challenge educators to provide research that shows today’s young children’s brains are different than kindergartners of past generations.  Have them prove that there’s no link between the recent accelerated academic push and the number of kids who are struggling in school.

And if they can’t substantiate claims that academic kindergartens are far better for young brains than play-based ones . . . . will millions of school kids also get a refund?

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