Waldo Knew It Was A Bad Idea When
Waldo knew it was a bad idea when the pulsating lights—red and blue—filled the car. Actually, he had known from the beginning but like a fool he had stayed.
As John rolled down the driver’s window, Waldo turned to look out the rear window. Through the pulsating lights the officer walked toward the car. His right hand rested on his gun.
“Did you know your taillight is out?”
“No, sir.” John replied shaking his head, “No, sir.”
“Well, I am going to give you a ticket. Can I see your license?”
As the officer handed the ticket to John he asked, “What are you guys up to tonight?”
Waldo blurted out, “He is just taking me home.”
“Well, get the taillight fixed,” he touched his cap and walked away.
As the pulsating lights stopped, Waldo thought how different it could have been. Instead they had been given a second chance. He looked at John
John said “Yea, I know. Robbery’s not the answer. Bad idea. Let’s go home.”
Executive Brain Function
Unfortunately, a friend of my son who drifted away into another crowd of teenagers, made one wrong decision to follow another teenager's idea. That idea tumbled into a series of bad decisions and they both ended up serving time. My story grew out of wishing that somehow something, or someone, could have intervened somewhere along those chain of decisions that would have resulted in a different outcome. Despite that time in his life, he was a big hearted kid from a good family who grew up to be a good man.
Mireya Nadal-Vicens, M.D., Ph.D. conducts research in the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders and Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). She is also an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS). Dr. Gene Beresin is executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at MGH, a full professor of psychiatry at HMS, and senior educator in child and adolescent psychiatry at MGH. He received a B.A. in music from Princeton University, and an M.A. in philosophy along with his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.
The above professionals authored a blog entitled The Adolescent Brain: Why Executive Functioning in Teens Is A Challenge. They note in this blog, "Neurobiologically speaking, the adolescent brain is poised for impulsivity and thrill seeking...The brakes, or the ability to contextualize certain pleasures and to appraise the relevant risks, is simply not hard wired yet.."
Maybe that explain the actions of some teenagers. I'll never forget the juxtaposition between the teenager I knew and his decision that night that led to his arrest. He went to school with our son and been in our home, but he paid a high price for not having full executive functioning skills. He paid a high price for not being able to pull it all together at one time --the flexibility to see through the adrenaline rush, the insight to see the relevant risks, to make the moral judgement and say no.
What Is Executive Functioning Skills?
Executive functioning skills are the skill used in self-management. Those skills you use to manage your emotions and impulses, plan your time, set and achieve your personal and professional goals. While every child differs, executive functioning skills are generally still emerging and not fully developed until adulthood.
The Need for Good Communication
Because those skills--the executive functioning skills-- are emerging well into adulthood, it is important to maintain open lines of communication with your children-- starting at a young age and following through those hard teenage years. Open lines of communication allow you to model good communication and executive functioning skills: Some ways to do that is to:
- Ask for time together even if it is just a few minutes. They may not want to talk when you do but, one way to model scheduling and flexibility is to ask is "When would be a good time for you and I to get together and talk?" It will be important for you to keep the time you schedule with your child. Do not let too much time go between communicating.
- Ask open ended questions that need more than a yes or no to answer. "What happened today?" as opposed to "Did you have a good day?"
- Actively listen to their response. Let them know you are listening. That may mean repeating in your own words what you hear them saying to you or just saying, "I hear you".
- Show interest in their interests. Ask questions about what you see them doing. Again, work on asking open-ended questions.
- Be aware of your tone of voice when speaking with them. Sometimes it is not what we say but how we say it that communicates the loudest.
- Acknowledge your mistakes. It is okay to apologize when you realize you have been curt, sarcastic, or failed to keep an appointment with them. Don't make a habit of having to apologize.
You are your child's first role model. As they get older, in teenage years, they will pick additional role models and other relationships. Sometimes to the detriment of your own relationship. Some teenagers will even challenge all that you have tried to teach them. But, if you have laid a good foundation--modeled practical executive functioning skills and good communications skills-- with love and consistency, the chances are they will maintain your relationship or, hopefully, find their way back to a good relationship with you.