In a previous Know! tip, the Effect of Peer Presence, we discussed the fact that the mere presence of peers can lead a young person to take risks he or she wouldn’t normally take on their own, and that the main culprit is the adolescent brain and its underdeveloped self-control center. In addition to parental supervision and extra caution when allowing your tween/teen to gather with friends, experts say we can help our children curb those impulsive tendencies by encouraging greater self-control.
How do we do that? One strategy is to teach our sons and daughters to activate their internal pause button when a situation calls for it, allowing for a more mindful response as opposed to an unthinking reaction.
Here’s an example scenario to share with your child: You are at a teen party (with my permission). The parents are home and there is no alcohol or other substances allowed. Then a few older teens show up with a secret stash of alcohol and offer it to you. These are peers you look up to and really want to connect with, but you know the “right” thing to do would be to turn down the offer. The parents monitoring the party are unaware of the alcohol brought in and you know that if you so choose, you can likely get away with having a drink. What do you do?
- Step 1: Recognize the Signs – You may feel torn between knowing and doing what’s “right” and wanting to impress your peers; your heart may begin to race, you may feel a little knot in your stomach or you may feel a sense of excitement at the thought of taking a risk.
- Step 2: Press Pause – Hit that internal pause button and allow everything to stop momentarily.
- Step 3: Take a Deep Breath – A quick shot of oxygen to the brain will allow you to become more aware of your present situation; the more awareness you have in the present moment, the more likely you are to make a better decision.
- Step 4: Think – There is no need to react immediately, just think for a moment and consider the potential outcomes.
- Step 5: Act – Hit the “play” button; now you can respond or take action more mindfully.
While this five-step process may seem like an eternity, it will play out fairly quickly. Teaching your child to give themselves a few extra seconds before reacting however, can make a huge difference.
Keep in mind that as your child grows and develops, his or her level of self-control will also depend a great deal on you. Your temperament, your parenting style, and your display (or lack) of self-control will greatly influence your child. Though you cannot change your basic temperament, you can change certain aspects of your personality – if needed – to improve parenting. Structure promotes self-regulation in children. Adopting more of an authoritative parenting style, meaning high warmth toward your child, yet clear and consistent rules and follow-through on consequences, will also help your child with self-control.
This learning process will continue throughout adolescence, and will naturally improve as children get older. However, you can help them build this skill by providing them with safe opportunities to practice self-control. As your child strengthens this ability, you, in response, can gradually loosen the external controls.
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Sources: Nadya Andreeva: 5 Amazing Benefits of Deep Breath – Breath is Life. Huffingtonpost: Healthy Living - Breathing Exercises Could Help Teens Be Less Impulsive. July 2013. ParentMap: How to Encourage Self-Control in Tweens and Teens. Adapted from Wise-Minded Parenting: 7 Essentials of Successful Tweens and Teens by Laura S. Kastner, Ph.D., with Kristen A. Russell, Published by ParentMap. Kelly Pietrangeli: Tiny Buddha: Think Before Reacting How to Use Your Mental Pause Button.