In today’s world, our kids are constantly faced with tough choices. From how to handle a bull, to alcohol and drugs, to the immediacy and temptations of social media, our kids always seem to be making Big Decisions. And sometimes, when poor decisions are made, their actions have incredibly tough consequences. As parents, what if we were better able to understand how our children’s brains actually work at this point in their development? And, what is there was a resource available helping teens learn to make good decisions.
A while back, I had the pleasure of going to hear Dr. Daniel Friedland speak with his son, Zach Friedland. Together, they’ve co-authored a fascinating book called THE BIG DECISION, which offers a science-based framework for for helping teens learn to make good decisions.
Dr Friedland, is a leading expert on how doctors are trained to make medical decisions. As his son was approaching adulthood, it became clear to him that one of the best gifts that parents can give to their children are the tools and confidence to empower good decision making. After this realization, they set off to a write a book that could be read together by children and their parents and open up the communication between them.
Zach wrote the first eleven chapters which is specifically for teens. It centers around a character named Ryan, who is a 2nd string running back for his high school football team. In the story, he is faced with a tough choice when his team’s championship game falls on the same day as his aunt’s wedding. Feeling pressure from all sides and not sure what decision to make he goes to his father for advice. His dad offers him a framework with which to make the Big Decision.
The second half of the book was written by Dr. Friedland and is written for adults who would like to learn to make better decisions for themselves, as well as share their learnings with their children. As Dr. Friedland explained to us, if we, as parents, can better understand how the brain works, we can educate our children and help them make better decisions.
Dr Dan explained that there are two parts to the brain that are involved in decision making:
1) The Limbic System: This part of the brain is the primitive survival system. It’s designed to keep us safe. It controls the fight or flight reaction. We don’t even think about this part of the brain. Think of it as the “impulsive” side of us.
2) The Cortex- Prefrontal Cortex: This part of the brain is the “thinking” part of your brain and can calm down the responses of the limbic system and let you “pause” before you respond. But it needs to “kick in” and sometimes kids, teens and adults let the impulse reaction of the limbic system take over before this part of the brain is activated.
What I was shocked to learn is that this latter part of the brain is not fully developed until 25 years of age!!! So this is exactly why the teen years are so fraught with risk. Basically, the controls to stop the Limbic system (the impulsive decisions), are not fully developed until the mid twenties.
Fortunately, Dr. Friedland assured us that you can train your brain and consciously move decisions from the limbic to the cortex thereby making the latter part stronger. To do so he advised a 4 part framework that he encourages families to use to start to train the brain to control it’s impulsiveness and slow down the decision making process.
I’ve summarized the framework below, but I encourage anyone who has a teenager to read this book. It’s extremely eye opening and really explains the science behind why kids (and adults) make such impulsive decisions which can often times get them in trouble. Given the prevalence and immediacy of social media, it’s more important than ever that we teach our kids how to manage their impulsiveness and hopefully engage their prefrontal cortex before they hit send on their next inappropriate text or photo.
We were lucky enough to bring our teen son to hear Dr Friedland and Zach. Afterwards, we began reading the book together with him. It’s been a valuable experience and just by sharing that time together he’s opened up and shared his experience about coming into adulthood. I encourage all of you to share this experience with the young adult in your life.
1): Frame Your Questions: Just by asking questions you are shifting from an impulsive reactive decision to a value based decision.
Here are some questions for you to consider in Your Big Decision• What are all of my choices? • What are the possible outcomes, not only in the short term but the long term, too? • How will this decision affect the people that are most important to me? • What are my most important values? • What are my most important goals? • Which decision is most aligned with my values and goals?
2): Find Your Answers: You need to create the optimal brain state to find the optimal outcome/decision.
• Go for a run, listen to music, find a quiet place
3): Evaluate Your Answers and/or Decision:• Does this feel “right” more than just feel “good”? • Do the rewards outweigh the risks? • What is the best decision over the long-term? 4): Apply Your Decision: You need to find the courage and strength to make your decision and the confidence to stay the course. I strongly encourage you to read this book and share it with the young adult in your life. The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.