Why Teens Behave Dangerously…

A few weeks ago I posted about a young man in Niamhy’s school who killed himself…well I was privileged enough to attend a lecture on teens and dangerous behaviour by a local leading expert in the field.  Her is my version of what he said;

I am not a healthcare expert by any stretch of the imagination and I do not claim to have understood everything that Dr. Ashraf Attalla from the Ridgeview Institute said at his talk on Monday evening.  But here is what I understood, please understand this is my view as a lay person, telling you what I thought Dr. Attalla said.

When kids go into the preteen and teen years, they get an ‘upgrade’.    Their bodies start to mature and their brains start to develop into an adult functioning brain.  Unfortunately this process will not be completed until they are about 18.  The brain matures from the area at the base of the neck and works forward to the area behind the forehead.  So the area that has the control and ‘brakes’ is the last to mature!

 This is why many preteens and teens seem so impulsive and irrational.  That’s because their brains are literally wired to make them impulsive and irrational!!    Just like someone who has just upgraded their car, they are curious about the new features and limitations of their upgraded body, and without the impulse control part of their brain fully developed, they are going to test the new features and limitations of their upgraded body.

What is the first warning sign that your child is struggling and may be experimenting in dangerous behavior?  The most common denominator is a falling off of grades.  Even if your daughter has started a new school, has to make new friends and has recently started her period, she should still perform academically at the same level she has performed at for the last few years.  Normal development should not result in an abnormal decrease in academic functioning.

The top five deaths in teens are;

  1. Accidents
  2. Homicide
  3. Suicide – mostly unintentional
  4. Drugs
  5. Medical illnesses like cancer

Why do kids cut themselves?  Most children who repeatedly indulge in this behavior have an underlying emotional problem and when a child like this is stressed beyond normal stress levels they look for immediate relief. They live in the here and now and don’t really care about the consequences tomorrow; they want the pain to stop now.  Cutting releases endorphins in the skin and can have the same soothing effect as some drugs…except it is immediately available and free.

One of the coping skills he uses is to work with children in his clinic is to find 100 things they could do to stop destructive behavior.  Then the children use the top ten during the week between sessions to see if they help.  Examples included; Talk to mom, take dog for a walk, exercise.

He stated there is no proof that educating kids about dangerous behavior makes it worse.

Dr. Attalla recommended explaining the dangerous behaviors to children and making sure they understood all the dangerous consequences.  For example; children think the choking game momentarily deprives the brain of oxygen then they get a rush when oxygen returns.  However to choke yourself you need to crush the neck which on the surface has veins – if the veins can’t carry the blood away then the blood builds up in the brain, causing blood clots and burst vessels, push a little deeper and the arteries are choked – if the arteries can’t supply the brain with blood then brain cells die and brain cells do not regenerate, if you lose them they are gone.    There are nerves in the neck that if crushed cause fainting (think Vulcan nerve pinch or James Bond) but in reality crushing these nerves can also cause strokes and heart attacks.  Dr. Attalla believes the kids need to know this, so they understand the full consequences.

Finally he made the point that our job as parents is to prepare our children for the real world, they need to be able to experience things under controlled conditions, so they can learn to make responsible decisions.  Micromanaging our kids lives is not the answer, they need the space to grow, develop and make the right kind of mistakes.

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