Why teens make such bad decisions (and how to help them make better ones)

Why teens make such bad decisions (and how to help them make better ones)

From getting beyond drunk at a friend’s party, to some seriously questionable outfit choices, teenagers often do things that seem outlandishly stupid. But we now know why they make such bad decisions: the areas of the brain that control decision-making don’t fully develop until early adulthood.

article by James McCue, Edith Cowan University

A teen’s developing brain places them at greater risk of being reactive in their decision-making, and less able to consider the consequences of their choices. So how can parents help their teenagers learn and apply good decision-making skills?

The difference between what teens know and do

Most children demonstrate an understanding of “right” and “wrong” behaviour from an early age. As language develops, children are able to give clear reasons as to why certain behaviours are undesirable.

But children and teenagers have been found to be poor bad decision-makers if they feel pressured, stressed or are seeking attention from peers.

So it’s reasonable to expect a 15-year-old to know they should not steal. But they are less adept at choosing not to steal in the presence of coaxing peers whom they wish to impress.

The difference between what teenagers know and the bad decisions they choose can be explained in terms of “cold” and “hot” situations. Cold situations are choices made during times of low emotional arousal. During these periods, teenagers are able to make well-reasoned and rational decisions.

Hot situations refer to choices during periods of high emotional arousal (feeling excited, anxious, or upset).

Read this too: A quick guide to managing temper tantrums in older kids


Hot situations increase the chance of teenagers engaging in risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviours, with little self-control or consideration of the possible consequences of their actions.

The impact of emotional arousal on decision-making explains why teenagers might discuss, for example, the negative consequences associated with drinking and drug-taking, but then engage in those very behaviours when with friends.

The biology of bad decision-making in teens

Brain studies show the frontal lobe – which is responsible for decision-making, impulse control, sensation-seeking, emotional responses and consequential thinking – does not finish developing until our early-to-mid 20s.

The relationship between brain development and the risk of making poor choices, particularly during hot situations, is referred to as psychosocial maturity.

Research has shown youth aged 12 to 17 years are significantly less psychosocially mature than 18 to 23 years who are also less psychosocially mature than adults (24 and older).

Overall, teenagers’ psychosocial immaturity makes them more likely to make bad decisions and:

•  seek excitement and engage in risk-taking behaviour

•  make choices on impulse

•  focus on short-term gains

•  have difficulty delaying gratification

•  be susceptible to peer pressure

•  fail to anticipate consequences of their choices.


Why your teens make bad decisons and how you can help them make better ones

Helping teens make good decisions

Gradual increases in autonomy and practice with independent decision-making are vital for teenagers to become confident adults with good emotional and social well-being. Although parents know poor choices are part of becoming an adult, most want to protect their teenager from making very serious, or illegal, choices.

Good decision-making skills can be learned, and there are six key steps parents can employ to encourage better teen decision-making:

1. Be aware of upcoming events that may present teenagers with decisions that need to be made. Listen to their expectations about the events (such as whether they expect to drink alcohol)

2. Present scenarios which may present a risk, or will require a decision (such as missing the train home, friends becoming intoxicated) to explore healthy, or safer choices

3. Encourage your teenager to stop and think. Help them recognise “when in the moment” to temporarily remove themselves from a situation to help them make decisions away from direct pressures (go to the bathroom, make a phone call, text a friend)

4. Provide a decision-making compass. Although teenagers are not able to consider all of the potential consequences of a situation, to check whether a decision is a good one, get them to consider whether they would tell you about their decision (“would I want mum/dad/grandma/grandpa to know about what I’m about do?”)

5. Remind teenagers to ask for help. They don’t have to make choices alone. Ensure they save contact details of people who can be available to talk through options if they’re in a difficult situation (siblings, parents, or extended family)

6. The ConversationUse mistakes as learning opportunities. Teens may make some wrong choices. Use these lived experiences to generate discussion about where the decision making went wrong, and how to make better choices in the future.

James McCue, Lecturer in Psychology and Criminology, Edith Cowan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Do your teens ever actually listen to your advice?

Image by Alex Woods 


Netflix’s Sex Education is doing sex education better than most schools

Netflix’s Sex Education is doing sex education better than most schools

Netflix’s comedy Sex Education, now in its third season, is set among a group of students and teachers at a British high school. In depicting sex education, it teaches viewers about sex and sexuality – often doing a better job than school-based sex ed classes.

In the first episode of season three, Dr Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson) is interviewed on the radio about her new book, Uneducated Nation: A Sex Education Manifesto for Our Youth.

When the host asks her to tell him about the book, she replies she was “shocked at the ineptitude” of school sex ed classes. So she created this “easy-to-read manual to help empower our teenagers, and their parents, as they become sexually active young adults.”

He responds, “Sounds a bit racy”. Jean retorts, “Well, if, by racy, you mean highly researched and completely essential to the health and well-being of our children, then, yes, I suppose it is.”

Racy, but essential

Jean’s response could easily be applied to the television series itself – racy but essential. It could also be seen as a comment about how school-based sexual education programs could improve their communication of relevant information to curious teenagers.

We are part of an international research team working with scholars from Greece, Ireland and Norway to interview adolescents and their parents about their perceptions of harm in accessing sexual content.

As researchers with expertise in the fields of sexology, communication and media studies, we value the knowledge young people share about their own needs and desires.

Our research with teens – and into stories that represent their experiences – illustrates they are sexual beings who want and deserve sex-positive information. Too often, this positive side of sex is left out of the classroom.

Provocative, but educational

Sex Education is one example of how stories in popular culture can portray teen sexuality positively.

For instance, the opening scene of this first episode of season three is upbeat, playful and sexy.

It cuts between at least 13 different moments of sexual pleasure: heterosexual sex, gay sex between young men, gay role-playing sex between young women, masturbating while watching porn, online sex, virtual reality sex – and the pleasure of reading a book while eating cheese puffs.

Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson as mother and son on Netflix's Sex Education

Sex education happens at school and in the home. Sam Taylor/Netflix

This sequence is sexually provocative, but it also educational. It shows a range of desires across ages (yes, teachers and parents have sex, too), races, sexualities and body sizes.

There are none of the messages about abstinence and fear often associated with representations of teen sex, and no coy curtain-wafting standing in for sex.

The premise of the show is the teenagers at Moordale High do not receive adequate sex education classes, so Jean’s son Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his classmate Maeve (Emma Mackey) set up a sex therapy service for their peers.

These young people seek information about how to overcome sexual difficulties and become better lovers. They find (usually) correct – and always frank – information from Otis and Maeve, who offer resources and advice.

Teenagers and porn

As we argue in a recent essay, this TV show complicates the idea that pornography is only harmful to teens.

Watching porn can be “a bit of fun”, to quote one character, but also a source of misinformation about sex. Sex Education debunks this misinformation, such as when one character mistakenly believes a large penis is required for sexual satisfaction, and another thinks her labia should be tucked in.

Teenagers as consumers and producers of pornographic and erotic narratives can use these stories, and the stories in Sex Education, to develop an understanding of sex and sexuality and supplement the information provided in school curriculum.

Sex Education on Netflix

It is important misinformation is corrected. Sam Taylor/NETFLIX © 2020

This seeming contradiction about pornography aligns with a report written by the Australian Institute of Family Studies about the effects of porn on young people.

This report highlights the lack of information about how young people access sexual content (unintentionally or intentionally); about the content of pornography they view; and about teenagers’ ability to distinguish between the fantasy pornography represents and the reality of their sexual experiences.

The report also found very few accounts from teens themselves about their experiences accessing sexual content online and any perceived harm from it. It points to a need for further research, which includes the voices of adolescents.

Teaching pleasure

Dr Jacqui Hendriks, who coordinates Curtin University’s sexology courses, believes sex ed should include discussions of pleasure rather than focusing primarily on reproduction.

At present, the quality of sex education varies widely across the nation, but in Western Australia, a group of researchers have identified the “need for a greater focus on positive sexuality and relevant contemporary issues” in the classroom.

Production image, two black men lean in to kiss

Young people deserve lessons on the pleasure of sex, too. Sam Taylor/NETFLIX © 2020

Sex Education challenges a commonly-held perception teenagers should be protected from the harms of sex and sexual material. The stories told by teens and about teens can be crucial tools to open conversations between children and adults about sex.

The conversation started by shows like Sex Education highlights the need for more comprehensive sexual education not only in schools but in communities and in the family home itself.The Conversation

Debra Dudek, Associate professor, Edith Cowan University and Giselle Natassia Woodley, Researcher and Phd Candidate, Edith Cowan University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Instagram can make teens feel bad about their body, but parents can help

Instagram can make teens feel bad about their body, but parents can help

Recent Facebook research revealed that Instagram and teen body image aren’t good for each other. Here’s what parents can do to undo the damage.

One study by Facebook of teen Instagram users in the US and UK found more than 40% of those who reported feeling “unattractive” said the feelings started when using Instagram.

Boys are also affected, with 14% reportedly saying Instagram made them feel worse about themselves.

As far as we are aware, there have been no reports from Facebook of the impacts on young people who identify as gender diverse. This group is at a particularly high risk of developing body image concerns.

Read more: Is social media damaging to children and teens? We asked five experts

The new information about Instagram’s effects on young people can be concerning for parents. It may prompt some to want to ban their kids from using social media. But this is likely to cause significant friction between parents and kids.

Plus, kids often find ways to work around any such bans, making them self-defeating.

This is an excellent opportunity for parents to start an honest conversation with your children about their online lives. You can also encourage your kids to make their online experiences more positive.

What we know about Instagram and teen body image

The reports from Facebook are not a great surprise to researchers in the field of body image. A review published five years ago on the impacts of social networking sites found their use, among adults and young people, was related to body image concerns and disordered eating.

The review also showed it is not necessarily the amount of time spent on social media, but rather specific activities, such as viewing, editing and posting idealised photos, that are particularly problematic.

The photos or “selfies” posted by celebrities, influencers and even friends on social media may be highly-staged and filtered to present the most attractive versions of themselves. Many of these photos are not a realistic portrayal of a person’s true appearance and serve to promote unattainable appearance ideals.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by WELCOME TO REALITY (@celebface)

People commonly make comparisons between their own appearance and these edited and unrealistic photos and tend to judge themselves to be less attractive.

These types of comparisons can negatively impact body image and overall mood and can also promote increases in harmful dieting and exercise behaviours. Notably, the impacts of social media comparisons are worse than comparisons made in person. This is because people perceive others on social media to be much more attractive than themselves but only slightly more attractive in person.

But Instagram and teen body image is not all negative

Other research highlights the many positive aspects of social media. For people with eating disorders, social media and older internet spaces such as chat rooms and forums, are often crucial spaces to share experiences and seek support. This adds a further layer of complexity to ongoing debates around social media and body image.

Social media is a core component of young people’s social lives which allows them to maintain and make new friendships. This form of communication has been vital during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Social media activities are likely to form an important part of young people’s identity. So, wherever possible parents could try to keep an open mind and resist the urge to criticise.

This should help: 5 techniques I’m using to stop criticising my kids

If parents are not sure how to use social media, you could ask your teen to show them around the platform(s) so you can understand more about the content they are consuming.

Such a conversation paves the way for increasing social media literacy in both parents and young people. Social media literacy involves the development of skills to critically analyse and evaluate media messaging and images.

Research has shown social media literacy has positive impacts on young people’s body image. Parents and kids can discuss the use of filtering and retouching images and videos, and how what is shown online is not always the reality.

Instagram and teen body image

What else can parents do?

We can also model eliminating appearance or weight-based conversations from our own vocabulary, in person and on social media. This includes conversations focused on our own bodies such as comments about a desire to lose weight.

Research has shown parents are a powerful influence on how kids view and speak about their bodies. We can be kind in the way they speak about our own and other bodies and praise our children for qualities other than their looks.

Parents can be key players in helping young people make their time on social media more positive and empowering.

Ask young people to check in on how they are feeling when using social media. If following particular accounts makes them feel negative about themselves, ask them to unfollow or mute that person. Instead, encourage them to follow accounts which inspire them in non-appearance based ways and foster a broad range of interests such as sport, travel, art and comedy.

Research has also shown seeking out and seeing positive body image content on social media can improve our sense of body image and overall mood.

To name just a few, we recommend Instagram accounts like:

And on Facebook:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The Self Love Project (@theselfloveproject)

Demonstrate self-compassion

Parents can also help their children develop a range of coping skills to help them counteract negative thoughts they might have about themselves while using social and when meeting face-to-face.

One such skill is employing self-compassion towards our bodies. Research shows this has positive effects. For example, the compassionate friend exercise involves asking young people: “How would you talk to your best friend if they said they were struggling with how they looked? Now talk to yourself in the same kind way.”

Some social media platforms, including Instagram, allow users to create multiple accounts. This can be helpful if a young person is seeing too much content that makes them unhappy.

More on this: The rise of the finsta to relieve the pressure of perfection

Research shows the positive value of having multiple, perhaps even pseudonymised, social media accounts. Young people can express different facets of their personality and interests through different accounts.

Seek help if you need it

If this article has raised issues for you about Instagram and teen body image, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, visit the Butterfly Foundation, or call their national helpline on 1800 33 4673. More contacts to seek help can be found here.The Conversation

Gemma Sharp, NHMRC Early Career Senior Research Fellow, Monash University; Jasmine Fardouly, Research fellow, UNSW; Marilyn Bromberg, Senior Lecturer in Law, The University of Western Australia; Tama Leaver, Professor of Internet Studies, Curtin University, and Ysabel Gerrard, Lecturer in Digital Media and Society, University of Sheffield. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feature image by Gantas Vaičiulėnas;  girl in bedroom by DocuSign 

Great ideas for lockdown school holidays from a happiness expert

Great ideas for lockdown school holidays from a happiness expert

Lockdown school holidays are upon us again. In pre-pandemic days, many parents and carers would be busily planning holidays interstate or overseas, booking in play dates, organising day trips or tee-ing up visits to family and friends.

Instead, a significant amount of us are in lockdown (still), living with restrictions and likely working from home.

Lockdown school holidays may feel like more of the same, and many parents are burned out from trying to work while managing remote learning.

I am an education researcher with a lasting interest in how to blend creativity with educational experiences for children.

If you and the kids are stumped for things to do these holidays, and looking for ways to reconnect after a really trying school term, here are some ideas to try.

Try some conversation starters

You might be surprised what comes out.

Think back to your own childhood memories. It’s likely your favourite moments are less about big grand gestures and more about moments of connection with a parent or carer.

Finding fresh ways to cultivate this positive relationship in lockdown might be hard, but it’s not impossible.

Ideas for making the most of lockdown school holidays

One idea is to experiment with “conversation starters” — perhaps while you go on your daily walks, as you throw a ball around, or as you go around the dinner table.

Give your children language to talk about their experiences, to help them develop a sense of self.

You might want to talk about experiences you have had today, recently, since lockdown began or even ever. These sentence starters may help kick things off:

  • I enjoyed …
  • In future, I’d like to try …
  • Wouldn’t it be cool if we could …
  • I look forward to …
  • When such-and-such happened, I felt …

Give it a try. Perhaps it’ll feel a bit stilted at first. But you might be surprised at what comes up once you and your child start talking.

Try some of these: 100+ family conversation starters

Find new ways to share positive emotions

Positive emotions are contagious. Look for new ways to share positivity around by, for example:

  • each person saying three things they are grateful for over dinner or while on a family walk
  • making a list of small joys (like a recent dish you enjoyed or a local garden you like walking past). Keep the list in a visible place, like on the fridge, and add to it over time
  • try a random act of kindness. Make a nice card or postcard and deliver it to someone in your neighbourhood. Or write a note of appreciation to a teacher or local business
  • celebrate day-to-day achievements. See if you can teach your child a family recipe, form a mini book club by reading the same book together and discussing it, or try to learn something new together.

Remember, though, you don’t have to try to enforce constant positivity. Sadness and stress are normal too, and we must ensure children are given space to share those emotions as well.

Long walks are a great way to spend lockdown school holidays

Even in the city, we can connect with nature

Connecting with nature helps improve mental wellbeing, even when that contact is brief.

A visit to the national park might be out of the question, but you can still find nature even in the most urban of settings. You could:

  • try mindful walking with your child, where you purposefully notice what is around you (so no earphones or devices)
  • borrow a trick from meditation practice and name five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel, two things you smell and one thing you taste. Think of it as a kind of sensory “scavenger hunt” to do while you’re on your walks. You just might notice something new
  • if it’s allowed, go on a picnic to your local park. Take your shoes off and feel the grass in your toes
  • if you’re subject to a lockdown radius, get out the map and study closely what exactly is in your radius. There may be a park or a street you haven’t visited yet. Finding new streets to walk can be surprisingly invigorating
  • if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, make the most of it. Create a sculpture together using found objects, arrange petals in a shape, build a fairy house, fix up a garden bed, cook outside, set up a tent and go camping in the garden
  • plant something — herbs, flowers, anything — in balcony pots or a little indoor garden and watch it grow. Take progress photos.

Playing board games in the school hols

Connect with your child and their interests

Find ways to connect with your children — take an interest in what they’re interested in, even if it’s not something you’d typically do with your leisure time.

You could try:

Be gentle with yourself

If reading that list makes you feel exhausted, please be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to do any of those things if you don’t have the time, energy or inclination. Nobody is expecting you to plan every moment of your child’s lockdown school holidays.

But if a spare pocket of time arises and you’re looking for ways to reinvigorate the same old walks, chores or activities, I hope this list proves useful.

Narelle Lemon, Associate Professor in Education, Swinburne University of Technology. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feature image by Joel Muniz; sunset by Harli Marten; walk by Fas Khan; game by Mocno Fotografia

What if learners could harness the power of flow?

What if learners could harness the power of flow?

Can education harness the power of flow to increase student engagement?

By Simon McCallum, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Edward Schofield, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington,
and Stephen Dobson, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

One of the constant challenges in education is keeping the learner engaged, motivated and connected in a world increasingly filled with distractions. Social media, streaming TV and video games all compete for students’ increasingly fragmented attention.

COVID-19 lockdowns only increased the opportunity for those distractions to interfere with learning. But, as we look hopefully towards a post-COVID world, perhaps we can take inspiration from the things many students are clearly drawn to. In particular, video games.

Of course, borrowing from video games and their design to inform educational practice isn’t new. Some have talked this up as “gameducation”, whereby courses are like games with trophies for participation and engagement.

It’s clear learning this way can be fun, but there is another important element of that experience that deserves closer examination — “flow”.

Gamers (athletes, too) experience the power of flow state when totally engaged in the game. Living in the moment and the experience, the activity is effortless and there is no sense of time passing.

Students can also experience flow, and this is when learning is at its most productive. So, the challenge in education is to plan for and achieve that level of engagement. Flow is and always will be the gold standard.

Learning as social activity

Learning has always been a deeply social activity, with the student connected to the institution, as Nietzsche put it, “by the ear, as a hearer”.

Schools relied on classrooms full of children learning the same material together. Their shared attention helping to reduce distractions during focused moments of teaching.

Over time, various strategies for combating distraction have been developed, including offering students a smorgasbord of learning experiences, or cutting the length of lectures to account for the tyranny of concentration spans.

But COVID-mandated videoconferencing deprives both students and lecturers, and drains the richness from these social interactions. Furthermore, learning mediated by screens simply amplifies the myriad distractions available online.

Even with cameras on, we’re not necessarily paying attention to each other, we’re paying attention to the screen.

But maybe this is where the qualities that define video games come into their own. After all, gaming is also a deeply social activity that allows for complex interactions and learning without the physical presence of anything more than a screen.

Harnessing distraction

Online games have already partly substituted for the things COVID-19 has affected. Like sports events, concerts and music festivals, parties and weddings.

Take the game Among Us, for example, which in September 2020 alone had 200,000 people going online to watch “impostors” try to eliminate “crewmates” from teams before they can complete a set of tasks or identify which players are the impostors.

Among Us - The power of flow

Within the context of the game, the tasks are actually the distractions that prevent players from focusing on who is really an impostor. It is about observation, memory and insight — a game full of learning opportunities that teaches participants how to control distractions.

The social cohesion created in the teams of Among Us players offers a template for teachers looking for ways to create engaging digital learning environments. Creating teams, allocating individual tasks that help the team and regularly changing team members all help to engage and stimulate students.

With online teaching making it harder for institutions to control the learning environment, it becomes imperative to making learning activities themselves more engaging in a screen-mediated environment.

Learning with distraction

As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message”. Understanding how games grab and hold attention can help with the design and implementation of new online learning tools.

Even some politicians are learning from games and using them to engage with the public. Gamification is also enhancing academic research and teaching.

The key lies in our definition of distraction. Screen learning must involve distracting students towards the things that really matter. In education, as in gaming, we can “court risk” without the fear of failing.

Rather than admonishing learners for not focusing when sitting at desks in school or in front of screens, we should work within our distracted world. We need to play with distraction, work with distraction and learn with distraction.

Paradoxically, distraction may not be the enemy, it could be the gateway to more attentive learning.The Conversation

Simon McCallum, Senior Lecturer in Software Engineering, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Edward Schofield, Reviews Advisor, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington, and Stephen Dobson, Professor and Dean of Education, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feature image by Sam Pak; classroom  by NeONBRAND; Among Us via Shutterstock

Pin It on Pinterest