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The Key to Your Future Is in Your Head
Change Your Brain, Change Your Life has sold over 850,000 copies, spent 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and revolutionized the way people think about their brains and their health. And now Dr. Jesse Payne, Director of Education at the Amen Clinics, is bringing the groundbreaking science of the Change Your Brain program to a whole new generation of readers.
The brain is particularly malleable until the age of 25, which means that even more than your parents or your teachers, you have the power to change your brain. And the things you do todayfrom what you eat, to how you sleep, to what you do for funcan change your brain in drastic ways. This book provides a powerful, prescriptive program for you to avoid the common dangers and pitfalls that can jeopardize your future and train your brain for a lifetime of success.
Discover how to
•Improve academic performance
•Treat diagnoses like ADD, ADHD and depression
•Enhance relationship skills
Featuring stories from real teens and young adults along with actual brain scans that show how effectively this program works, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Before 25) is perfect for teens and young adults, their parents and the professionals who work with them. Turn the page for a bright future and a successful tomorrow.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
For a long time, the brain has been the redheaded stepchild of the human body. Think about what you learned about the brain in school. More often than not, any lessons about the human brain entailed a long list of vocabulary words and facts about brain structures, neurons and dendrites that were boring and difficult to grasp. I would also guess that there probably wasn't any explanation of what these various brain structures actually do and how they affect you in your own life.
If this sounds similar to what you experienced in school, then get angry and prepare to start a revolution. The fact that we are not taught about the amazing complexity of the human brain, the importance of helping it work right, and the connection between our brain and our life is insane. When you begin to grasp some of the practical and easily understood brain basics, you will be amazed to learn that you have the power to improve your brain and have a better life. By understanding the inner workings of your brain and how they relate to all aspects of your life, you'll begin to understand why you are the way you are, and why you act the way you act. Your tendencies, your struggles, your personalityall of these come from your brain. But it's not like you're just born with the brain you have and you've got that brain your whole life. Once you realize that, the amount of power and influence you have over the functioning of your own brainand, by association, your lifebecomes clear. This is when the magic happens.
Of course, before you become the master of your brain, it is important to start with the brain basics. The eight brain facts in this chapter may appear absurdly simple and commonsensical. Well, this is true, and that's the beauty of it. What you will find after reviewing each of these brain basics (information that's based largely on the work I did with Dr. Amen during my time at the Amen Clinics) is that you have probably never stopped to put it all together. Perhaps you've known this information all along, but when you couple it with the powerful program in this book that will help you change the way your brain works, things will begin to click. And you will undoubtedly give your brain the respect it deserves.
Before you read any further, take the Brain Systems Quiz, which was adapted from the work I have done with Dr. Amen, to give you better insight into which parts of your brain might be contributing to some of the frustrations and/or struggles in your life. Please rate yourself honestly on each of the items in the list. Follow the instructions at the end of the quiz to determine what your answers mean. After you've analyzed your answers, put the quiz aside. We'll come back to the results later on.
Brain Fact #1: You Are Your Brain
As profound as this might sound, the simple fact is that you are a construct of your brain. Let's think about this for a second. Your heartbeat, bodily functions, organs, movements, thoughts, moods, actions, reactions, interactions, personality, memories, health, spirituality, happiness, feelings, relationships, successes, energy, focus, creativity, failures, problem-solving skills, anxieties, diet, decisions, hurts and dreams are all dependent upon the moment-by-moment functioning of the three-pound supercomputer housed within your skull. Your brain is involved in every aspect of your life. It controls everything.
Brain Fact #2: Your Brain Is Ridiculously Complex
As much as we have learned about the brain in just the past decade, we still have not even scratched the surface of understanding how incredibly complicated the human brain is. In fact, many argue that there is nothing in the universe more complicated than the human brain. Nothing.
Your brain is estimated to have more than one hundred billion neurons within it, and these neurons have trillions of supporting cells. To complicate things further, each of these trillions of supporting cells can have as many as forty thousand connections (called synapses) between them. This means that a piece of your brain tissue the size of a grain of sand has more than one hundred thousand neurons with more than one billion synapses all talking to one another. The critical consensus is that there are more connections in your brain than there are stars in the known universe.
The brain is estimated to hold the equivalent of about six million years' worth of the Wall Street Journal. Information travels through your brain at an impressive 268 miles per hour. And although your brain accounts for only about 2 percent of your body's weight, it burns nearly 30 percent of the calories you consume. When we look at the overall temperature of the organs in the human body, the brain is like a massive heat center, burning energy from the food you give it. It works faster and harder than any other organ to manage everything it is responsible for. (This means that you literally are what you eat. Chapter 14 will give you much more insight into the power of food and how it can aid in the healing or hurting of your brain.)
Brain Fact #3: Your Brain Is Not Fully Developed Until Age Twenty-Five
The title of this book was purposely chosen to highlight this critically important brain fact. We may like to assume that we are adults when we turn eighteen; however, the truth is our brain is still undergoing a significant amount of construction until our midtwenties. Research has shown that the brain is not fully developed until a person reaches about the age of twenty-five. For some males, full development can extend until age twenty-eight.
What does this mean for you? If you are under twenty-five, this means every decision you make, every thought you have, every action you take, all the food you eat, the amount of sleep you get and everything else you do throughout your day has a significant impact on your developing brain. In short, what you are doing now can affect the rest of your life.
The more effort you make in taking care of your brain and optimizing it now, the better your chances of achieving your goals and dreams. Conversely, the more you harm your brain now, the more difficult things will be in your future. (Chapter 2 will cover the developing brain in much greater detail.)
Brain Fact #4: Your Brain Is Quite Fragile
When we think of the human brain, we often imagine a rubbery, firm organ. This is probably because the brains we have seen outside of skulls are typically kept in formaldehyde, which makes the brain firmer and more rubbery than it really is. Your living brain has about the same consistency as warm butter, an egg white, soft gelatin or soft tofu. If I were able to take the top of your skull off, I could stick my hand in your brain and mush everything around to create one giant mess. Now that's a terrifying thought.
Of course, your brain is surrounded by fluid and housed in a protective skull, but this is often taken for granted. While your skull protects your brain, the brain is still quite vulnerable. When you house something that is very soft in a compartment that is very hard with ridges along the sides that can be as sharp as knives, disaster can strike if proper care is not taken.
I want you to think of some scenarios in which the phenomenon of a soft brain surrounded by liquid and encased in a hard skull would be a negative. Perhaps you thought of Newton's first law of motion: an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an external force. In our case, if your head is in motion and then comes to a sudden stop, your brain keeps moving until it smacks against the skull. Then, depending on the severity of the impact, your brain might also bounce the other way and smack against the opposite side of the skull. Anytime this happens, damage to your brain occurs. Car accidents, blunt force trauma and falling out of a second-story window are all obvious ways to damage your brain. What about the less obvious ways we can damage our brain? playing. In Ethan's case, his brain scan showed repeated injury, flattening and damage to his prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain in charge of attention, focus, impulsivity, planning and organization. (You will learn much more about this part of the brain in Chapter 3.)
Football is another dangerous sport. Our brains were not designed to be put inside a helmet and then slammed against other helmets. An average tackle on a stationary player can result in up to sixteen hundred pounds of tackling force, with an impact speed of twenty-five miles per hour. Football is the sport with the highest rate of concussions for male athletes. Players have a 75 percent chance of sustaining one.
Nearly 50 percent of athletes who have suffered a concussion do not report feeling any symptoms, which can include headache, fatigue, sleep difficulties, personality changes, sensitivity to light/ noise, dizziness, deficits in short-term memory, difficulty with problem solving, and a general decrease in academic functioning. In some cases, these symptoms are permanent and disabling. And if you have sustained one concussion, you are one to two times more likely to sustain a second one. If you have had two concussions, you are two to four times more likely to sustain a third one. If you have had three concussions, you are three to nine times more likely to sustain a fourth one.
(Chapters 7 and 8 will cover many of the other ways that young people hurt their brains and how this affects their overall chances for a happier, healthier and wealthier life.)
Brain Fact #5: When Your Brain Works Right, You Work Right
Think of what happens when the hard drive on your computer is not functioning at its best. It could be due to a virus, the fragmentation of data, clutter or a host of other issues. What happens when there is a problem with the engine of your car? It doesn't run quite right. Fuel might not be used as efficiently, the engine might be working too hard to get itself going, or it might lose some of the power necessary to move the car efectively.
Many people don't realize that the human brain works in a very similar way. When your brain is working right, you have a much greater chance of working to your full potential. This is when you have the greatest access to yourselfwho you really are and what you can really doand have the ability to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
But what happens if your brain is not working right? Chances are that you might be having some trouble in your life. This can happen if your brain is underactive, or not working hard enough in certain areas. It can also happen if your brain is overactive, or working too hard in certain areas. I'll talk more about this later in the book.
The images you see below show a comparison between two brains that are very different from each other. The brain on the left is an actual brain scan of a healthy person, taken with the use of SPECT imaging (which looks at blood flow and activity). This person's brain is full, even and symmetrical. It's a nice-looking brain. The image on the right, however, is an actual brain scan of a person who has been using methamphetamines for a number of years. You can clearly see global deficits of brain function scattered throughout. It is important to note that this person's brain does not actually have holes in it. The areas appearing to have holes are actually specific regions of the brain that are underactive in terms of blood flow and activity.
Throughout this book, you will see many detailed images of the brain that indicate brain injuries and the use of drugs and alcohol. You will also explore the underlying biological mechanisms behind brain struggles, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and many others. (I use the term brain struggles to describe a broad spectrum of brain-related issues that people experience, whether it's a diagnosable disorder or simply a behavioral tendency that causes difficulty in a person's daily life.) The important questions you have to ask yourself now as you look at these two images are, Which of these two people has the best chance of success, and which of these two people has the greatest access to his or her true personality and potential?
Brain Fact #6: Certain Parts of the Brain Are Associated with Certain Behaviors
New and exciting research has brought us an impressive amount of information about the brain, though there is an overwhelming amount of information we still do not know. One of the more exciting discoveries concerns which parts of the brain are associated with specific behaviors and tendencies. Thanks to the information that has been amassed, we have begun to understand that problems in certain parts of the brain tend to cause specific symptoms and struggles.
Although there are many important parts of the human brain that have been connected to behaviors and success (e g., the occipital lobes, the parietal lobes, the temporal lobes, the cerebellum and so on), this book focuses on the few parts that relate most to the developing brain.
Table of Contents
Foreword Daniel Amen v
Part I The Brain Before25 1
1 Brain Facts 3
2 The Brain Before25 21
3 Antics and the Prefrontal Cortex 33
4 The Cingulate Gyrus and Cognitive Flexibility 47
5 Emotions and Bonding: Meet the Limbic Brain 59
6 Anxiety and the Basal Ganglia 71
Part II The Young Brain in the Real World 83
7 The Devastating Impact of Drugs and Alcohol 85
8 Other Ways We Hurt the Brain 103
9 When the Brain Struggles 119
10 Getting to Know Other People's Brains 137
11 Adapting Your Brain to the Brains of Others 149
Part III How to Change Your Brain and Change Your Life (Before 25) 163
12 How to Shape the Young Brain 165
13 Kill the Ants 175
14 Eat Right to Think Right 189
15 Body Time to Boost the Mind 205
16 Working the Brain to be Smarter 213
17 Relaxing the Brain 227
18 The Two-Week Brain Smart Plan 237
The Top 10 Best Eating Habits
- Be Picky Though your brain is only 2-3% of your body’s weight, it consumes up to 20-30% of the calories you eat. This means that you are literally what you eat. Everything you eat is what fuels your brain cell regeneration, and you can see a difference in brain scans between a person who eats well and then eats poorly. You have a right to be picky in what you eat. If you eat better, you will think and feel better too.
- Keep Hydrated Your brain is about 80% water, which means that it is critical to keep yourself and your brain hydrated. In fact, even slight dehydration can increase your body’s stress hormones. The basic formula here is to drink at least half of your weight in ounces of water. This means if you weight 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water every day.
- Keep Count If you hold yourself accountable and count of the calories you consume every day, you are more likely to be more responsible in what you eat. Also, counting your calories can trigger you to be more selective in the choices you make when eating out. For example, if you have a limit of 2,000 calories in a day and are visiting Wendy’s for lunch, you have a choice of eating 2,200 calories in one visit (with a baconator, large fries, and large strawberry frosty), or you can eat 590 calories in your visit (with a large chili, baked potato w/ sour cream and chives, and water) while allowing for additional food and meals for the remainder of the day.
- Stop Consuming Artificial Sweeteners Artificial sweeteners have been associated with a host of problems, including arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, memory problems, neurological problems, and much more. Many people have reported a decrease in these symptoms and even weight loss once they stopped using artificial sweeteners.
- Limit Caffeine Caffeine has been found to restrict blood flow to the brain, dehydrate the brain, interfere with sleep, accelerate heart rate, raise blood pressure, and become addictive. If you find yourself drinking more than one or two eight ounce cups of coffee or tea a day, it is probably a sign you need to start cutting back.
- Limit Salt Salt has been associated with raised blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, kidney stones, water retention, diabetes, and much more. In addition, it is often found in highly processed foods that are bad for us anyway. The truth is that adults need less than 1 gram of salt per day.
- Increase Your Omega-3s Fish oil has been found to have many positive effects on physical and mental health. It has been found to be good for the heart by lowering triglyceride levels. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Taking a daily fish oil supplement with both EPA and DHA can be helpful.
- Increase Good Fats Low-fat diets are a thing of the past as nutritionists and professionals realize the importance of good fats in our diets. This means it is important to try and eat more of the good fats found in avocado, nuts, salmon, mackerel, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and even corn oil. These fats are much better for you than the saturated fats found in red meat, whole milk, or butter. It is also important to avoid the trans fats found in processed foods like store-bought cakes, crackers, cookies, chips, and margarine.
- Increase Good Carbs Like with fats, diets low in carbohydrates are not necessarily good for you. Instead of eliminating all carbohydrates, do your best to increase the complex carbs that are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains. These carbs provide the fuel your body needs and take longer to digest. Avoid the simple carbs found in sugar, candy, sodas, breads, and rice.
- Increase Brain Healthy Foods There are a ton of good foods that are good for your brain. Try eating avocado, wild salmon, decaffeinated black tea, mackerel, skinless chicken/turkey, green tea, olive oil, herring, low-fat cheese, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, beets, cranberries, almonds, lentils, blueberries, blackberries, limes, cherries, tomatoes, peaches, lemons, raspberries, lean beef/pork, tuna, kiwis, and spinach.
The Top 10 Best Exercise Habits
- Make Time We are all busy, and we can all make excuses for why we cannot exercise. The truth is that exercise has been found to improve academic performance, alleviate depression, fight addictions, and calm stress/anxiety. Make it a point each and every day to get your exercise in.
- Make a Routine After you have made time for exercise, work on making it a routine that you do not deviate from. Just saying you will workout for 30 minutes a day is often not enough. If it becomes a routine part of each and every day, you are much more likely to stay consistent in achieving your goals.
- Set Goals When you set specific goals for your exercise routines and body, you are activating the prefrontal cortex of your brain. When this is working, you can look back at your goals every day or week and determine whether your behaviors and activity levels are moving you closer or further away from your established goals.
- Keep a Journal Like with eating, keeping a daily log of the number of calories you have burned or the amount of time you have exercised can be beneficial in helping you stay accountable in reaching your goals.
- Find a Partner If possible, find a person who you can exercise and keep accountable with. Exercise can be a social activity as well, which also helps out the deep limbic part of the brain.
- Include Cardiovascular Exercise Aerobic exercise includes a warm up, moderate to intensive physical activity, and then a cool down period. This type of exercise is vital to brain health and affects new cell growth. Try running, walking fast, swimming, rowing, and even stair climbing.
- Include Resistance Training Resistance training with dumbbells, medicine balls, or even your own body weight is important in building strength and toning muscles. This includes push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and even some cardiovascular exercises like rowing, swimming, and stair climbing.
- Include Coordination Exercises Be sure to include exercises that require coordination of your brain, thinking, and cognition. This includes activities like dancing, playing tennis, or playing basketball. When you include physical exercise that involves the planning and execution of complex movements, you actually change your brain’s structure.
- Don’t Overdo It Like with everything, be sure you do not overdo it when it comes to exercise and physical activity. Even if you think you are young and in shape, your body can only handle so much before it begins to break down. One of my 20-year-old students ended up having to have screws in his hip from running too much.
- Change It Up If the Cingulate part of your brain is overactive, this will be difficult to do. The best exercise plan is one that changes things up to keep your muscles and body from getting used to the same exercises. Rotate between different types of cardiovascular, resistance, and coordination exercises to keep things fresh and your body stronger.
The Top 10 Topics Every Parent Should Discuss with their Teens & Young Adult Children
Over the last decade, I have spent a considerable chunk of time teaching, working, and talking with teenagers and young adults about all aspects of life. Often, these interactions included some topics that would make any parent or teacher cringe (e.g. life, love, sex, the future, etc.). Interestingly, I never initiated these honest and real-world discussions. Instead, they were triggered through the learning and understanding of the developing brain and how it is related to life, love, learning, and everything else in between. At the same time, I have had countless parents ask me what they can do with their children to foster healthy brain development and maximize their potential for success.
The following is a list of 10 topics of conversation I have found to be crucial for parents to ensure they have with their teenage and young adult children. These topics are not incredibly difficult to discuss. It just takes time, an open mind, and a commitment to remain focused on the end goal, which is to allow your child to grow up happy, healthy, successful, independent, and productive.
Topic #1: The Brain
I wrote Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (before 25) based on the unfortunate fact that our children go through their entire education without any real understanding of how the human brain is responsible for every aspect of our lives. Whenever I teach teenagers, college students, and young adults about the intricacies of the human brain and how it functions essentially defines who we are, they are often dumbfounded that they did not realize this before. Teenagers and young adults need to understand that their brain is involved with absolutely every part of their existence. Ultimately, their brain is responsible for how they act, interact, feel, think, love, live, sleep, eat, exercise, laugh, hurt, dream, hope, cry, plan, fear, judge, move, and everything else we do each and every day. In other words, teach your children to respect, honor, and appreciate the one organ in their body that is responsible for it all.
Another critical idea to discuss with your teenagers and young adults is the idea that the brain is not fully developed until about the ages of 25-28. This means that, despite some thinking that they already know everything, research shows otherwise. In fact, the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain involved with planning, forethought, judgment, organization, focus, impulse control, empathy, attention, executive function, and much more, is the last part of the brain to develop fully.
Topic #2: The Future
Remember the prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to fully develop, and this doesn’t happen until the mid to late twenties. This is important for parents to consider because teenagers and young adults are often criticized for not being better at setting goals, planning, considering consequences, and thinking about the future. The scientific reason for this is that they truly are not running at full capacity to be able to do so.
Instead of throwing your hands up in frustration, however, you might consider having direct and constructive conversations that force your teenager/young adult to set goals, make plans, and consider the long-term effects of their current actions and behaviors. In essence, you as the parent need to act as their prefrontal cortex for and with them as theirs continue to develop. The key here is to allow your child to set their own goals and make plans, not to have them arrive at plans you want for them.
Topic #3: Relationships & Sex
Have you ever thought that teenagers and young adults tend to think with their emotions instead of logic? From a brain perspective, this is precisely what is happening. Teenagers and young adults are undergoing an onslaught of changes: physically, emotionally, and hormonally. Within the brain, the most active part during these years is typically the deep limbic system, which includes the amygdala. This is the part of the brain involved with emotions, bonding, relationships, and friendships. In other words, they really are being overpowered by emotions and desires for friendships, acceptance, and love because this part of the brain is on fire! And while this is happening, they are still working with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that steps in as we age and tells us to think logically, consider consequences, and look past the present and into tomorrow.
As a parent, you must learn to get passed the discomfort of talking about friendships, relationships, and sex. Instead of assuming that your child should “know better” or be able to think like an adult, first accept that they might not be able to do so. Remember your role is to be the prefrontal cortex for and with them, and in a way that is unbiased, without judgment, and loving.
Topic #4: Consequences
By now, you are undoubtedly seeing a pattern throughout these topics of conversation, which is that, as a parent, you are finding yourself having to step in as the prefrontal cortex for your child whose prefrontal cortex is still in development. Understanding consequences, learning from past mistakes, judgment, and empathy are all additional functions of this critically important part of the human brain. For teenagers and young adults, this often means having to help them understand that they are not invincible. Every single thing we do, each and every single day, has a consequence on our lives to some degree, good or bad. As parents, this means you can help them see how their actions, interactions, thoughts, and fears are either helping them or hurting them move towards or further from the goals they should have already established for themselves back in Topic #2.
It is equally as important to help teenagers and young adults understand the consequences of their actions and interactions on other people. Many teenagers do not realize the power and influence they can have on the thoughts, emotions, and feelings of others. I know from firsthand experience what it was like to be bullied and teased, and it made my life a living hell. Help them see how they can be a light to others by helping them understand the consequences of their actions and interactions with peers, siblings, and others.
Topic #5: Diet & Exercise
Though the brain is only 2-3% of your body’s weight, it consumes nearly 20-30% of the calories you consume every day. In chapters 14 and 15 of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (before 25), I go into great detail about the impact of food and exercise on the brain. The bottom line is this: you really are what you eat. In fact, you can actually see a physical change in the way the brain functions based solely on the meal that was consumed an hour before a brain scan. If you eat healthy and responsibly, you feel, think, and look better. Likewise, exercise has also been linked to a healthier brain, increase in academic importance, and even helpful in combatting depression and anxiety. As a parent, make sure that you are providing healthy meals and opportunities for exercise for the whole family to ensure this becomes a lifestyle and not a struggle.
Topic #6: Responsibility
Being responsible is yet another function of the prefrontal cortex as it relates to planning, organization, forethought, impulse control, setting goals, and focus. Unfortunately, many parents actually unknowingly hinder the development of the prefrontal cortex in this way by doing everything for their teenagers or young adults. Whether it is preventing your child from having a part-time job to ensure their academics are not negatively impacted, or filling out college applications or financial aid documents to spare frustration, the truth is that this kind of responsibility is necessary to ensure appropriate development of responsibility and executive function.
Too often, I have worked with college-aged students who are unable to think critically, be responsible, or solve their own problems because they had everyone else do it for them in the past. Even worse, I still find myself having conversations with college students’ parents about circumstances regarding their child’s education, when it really should be between the student and professor to work out. Let your children develop responsibility by talking with them about jobs, homework, studying, chores, and even how to handle finances. Have them open a bank account, manage a low-limit credit card, and learn how to budget finances to ensure bills get paid.
Topic #7: College & Careers
This one is often a tricky subject because some parents often have a preconceived plan of what they want their children to do when they become adults. My father was adamant that I go into network engineering because he said I was good with computers. Initially, I wanted to be a filmmaker. He shut this down. Then I wanted to be a teacher. He also shut this down. And when I pushed onward, our relationship was strained because he felt I was not taking his advice or listening to his wisdom.
For parents, sit down with your teenagers and young adults as soon as you can and help them identify their interests and passions in life. Then, find out how you can tie these interests and passions with careers. Remember that money is not important here. There are plenty of people who went into a profession for money, only to find that money did not bring them fulfillment or purpose. Instead, check your own goals at the door and let your child lead the discussion. Then, figure out a plan that will allow your child to experience this career now (through volunteering or part-time work) while working on a plan through college to get there.
Topic #8: Putting Electronics Away
We are all guilty of this. In fact, my wife consistently calls me out on my excessive use and dependence on electronics, social media, and emails throughout the day. Nevertheless, I appreciate this reminder from her because of the impact electronics have on us. From a brain perspective, the constant use of electronics and the instant gratification they provide for us has been shown to wear out the pleasure centers of the brain, resulting in addiction-like behaviors and reducing productivity and efficiency.
In your families and home, make it a point to have electronics off during times of bonding and socialization. Don’t make it punitive, but instead place the emphasis on the discussions, sharing, bonding, and laughter you can have as a family without the incessant distractions of electronics. Also, remember that while friendships exist through digital mediums, they can never substitute for face-to-face interactions and relationships.
Topic #9: Brain Damage
When you stop and consider the many ways we damage our brain on a daily basis, it is astounding. Concussions, drugs, alcohol, malnutrition, chronic stress, infections, environmental toxins, oxygen deprivation, sleep deprivation, smoking, excessive caffeine, too much television, violent video games, dehydration, and a lack of exercise are just a few of the many ways teenagers and young adults can damage their brain on a daily basis.
As a parent, make sure you are not encouraging or allowing your child to engage in behaviors that would allow for brain damage to occur. If your child plays football or soccer, you can almost guarantee brain damage will occur. In fact, study after study shows a correlation in IQ drops and involvement in these two sports because of the negative impact it has on the brain. If your child is using marijuana, they are absolutely damaging the hippocampus part of their brain, which is involved with memory. The point is to make sure you have an ongoing and open dialogue with your child about drugs and alcohol to ensure they understand the damage they really do have on the brain. Also, help them understand that if a person who smokes marijuana actually feels better and smarter when they are high, this does not mean marijuana is good for you and is not harmful. It just means they are using marijuana to self-medicate for an overactive brain. So, while they might be feeling better, more creative, relaxed, or smarter, they are still doing long-term damage to the brain that will haunt them later.
Topic #10: You Love Them
Above all, there is one topic of conversation you must have with your teenager/young adult as often as you can. Tell your child you love them and that there is nothing he or she can say or do that would diminish your love in any way. Many teenagers and young adults I have talked with fear being honest with their parents because they think it will upset them. As a parent myself, I know that I would always rather have my own child be completely honest and open with me than feel like it would be better to hide or lie.
Teenagers today face an unprecedented amount of complex issues, distractions, and experiences never before seen in our history. Your child could be struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, an eating disorder, or issues with identity that might be causing a significant amount of pain and suffering. When talking with your child, make sure you have your love front and center. Make sure you communicate and express this love purposefully and intentionally. And make sure you are open and willing to let your teenager or young adult experience life in a way that was different than your own.
At the surface, thinking about talking to teenagers about the brain, the future, sex, consequences, diet, exercise, responsibility, college, careers, electronics, brain damage, and love probably appears to be overwhelming and uncomfortable. Yet, when you look at it from a brain science perspective, my hope is you can see just how critical it is for parents to have these conversations with their children. As a parent, you cannot assume they know what is best and what to do next. They are still operating with a brain that is developing and maturing. Instead, you must be the prefrontal cortex for your children as theirs continue to develop, and you must also make sure you are modeling good prefrontal cortex behaviors in your own life. If you can manage this, then you are much more likely to have a healthier and stronger relationship with your child as he/she is better prepared for the future.
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