Every parent I’ve ever met hopes their teen will grow up to be a capable, successful adult, even though we all have seen instances of the opposite. Realistically, wonderful things can happen during the second dozen years of growing up.

For example, a teen can:

  • Become an avid reader
  • Take studies seriously and become a knowledgeable, well-informed individual
  • Learn how to learn
  • Build executive function and critical thinking skills
  • Get involved in service projects
  • Become passionately interested in things that could lead to a career
  • Set goals for the future
  • Get a job and save money for college
  • Develop a strong work ethic
  • Maintain healthy nutrition and physical fitness habits
  • Spend time out in nature
  • Become responsible and independent
  • Learn a lot of practical life skills
  • Earn strong self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Develop empathy, compassion, and sensitivity
  • Improve relationship and leadership skills
  • Make friendships that last a lifetime
  • Have a lot of good, wholesome fun
  • Strengthen bonds with parents and siblings
  • Choose their own path of spirituality
  • Get accepted by a branch of the military, a good trade school, or a college, prepared to do next-level work

These and other possibilities happen to young people all the time. Of course, teens make their own choices; parents can’t force these outcomes to happen. But love, communication, guidance, support, and encouragement make a big difference.

On the other hand, your teen might:

  • Use alcohol or drugs, which can disturb normal brain development
  • Become addicted to smoking or other substances
  • Get hooked on action shooter video games
  • Spend too much time social networking
  • Become fascinated with pornography
  • Bully other kids or be bullied
  • Break the law
  • Get injured or die by automobile accident
  • Be victimized by sexual predators or sex trafficking
  • Get pregnant or cause a girl to get pregnant
  • Contract sexually transmitted diseases
  • Become overly anxious or stressed
  • Suffer depression or commit suicide
  • Become the victim of an eating disorder
  • Inflict self-harm
  • React to parenting with rebellion and defiance
  • Acquire poor health habits that lead to obesity
  • Lose interest in studies
  • Feel dependent or entitled
  • Suffer low self-esteem
  • Submit to peer pressure
  • Fail to discover purpose or ambition
  • Fail to launch after high school

Parents can’t lead their children’s lives for them.  Along their journey of growing up, they’ll make choices. Most of the wonderful things and most of the awful things they do depend on whether they develop and use good judgment. Judgment comes from using several critical thinking skills. Like any skills, thinking skills need to be wired through lots of repetitions. Adolescence is the sensitive time window for wiring these fundamental thought patterns in the prefrontal cortex.

Will your child acquire the skills of using good judgment? A lot is riding on whether they do.

More truth-telling about adolescence.

This post was adapted from Chapter 5 of my new book, How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain, which has dozens of tips for encouraging teens to exercise critical thinking.

More about the book…