Common Mistakes Teens Make

By Susan Sherwood
Teen and adult brains solve problems and make decisions differently.
Teen and adult brains solve problems and make decisions differently.

Teens can be as impulsive as 3-year-olds, yet they can also be capable of deep thought. The behavior variability is due to an immature brain rather than an immature personality. The human brain continues to develop until early adulthood. The amygdala, the area that controls fear and aggression, develops early. However, development of the frontal cortex continues into a person’s 20s. This section is responsible for reasoning and self-control. Such an imbalance makes it easy for teens to make mistakes in many areas of their lives.

Behind the Wheel

There’s a good reason why the average family’s car insurance almost doubles when a teenager is added to the policy. Fatal crashes happen more often with teens behind the wheel. This is due, in part, to one of the most common adolescent driving mistakes: speeding. Driving over the speed limit causes about 40 percent of teen deaths in car crashes. Although teenagers may have faster reflexes than adults, their inexperience makes it hard to determine how much time is needed to stop the car. In addition, speeding leads to tailgating. Teens are also risktakers, changing lanes without checking, running red lights and omitting turn signals. As if this weren’t enough, adolescents are often distracted by music, phones, texts, eating or friends. Some states place limits on teen driving with friends in the car. The sleep deprivation that so many teens suffer also impedes their driving, as does alcohol. Set boundaries for your teen's use of the car, and enforce them.

In Front of a Screen

When using technology, teens often make careless mistakes. Teenagers sometimes forget to sign out when accessing personal information on social networking, banking and email sites. If it’s on a personal computer, that may not be a problem, but on shared machines other people can access private information. They can pose as the teen and make embarrassing or dangerous posts, or they can steal personal or financial data. Carelessness also leads to over sharing. This can be embarrassing, especially when information or photos can’t be removed. Adolescents may impulsively make friends with strangers whose behavior turns out to be inappropriate or even dangerous. Negligence also extends beyond the screen; teens don’t always keep track of their phones, and if the phone ends up in the wrong hands, your teen's personal information is compromised. Talk to your teen about the Internet and phone security.

In the Classroom

For many teens, school is not the high-point of their day. This lack of interest can lead to many mistakes that can have long-term academic effects. One of the most serious errors: skipping school. Whether due to boredom, frustration, bullying, peer pressure, drug use or anxiety, absenteeism can result in risk-taking behavior and failing grades. Even teens who attend school regularly may make significant mistakes in schoolwork, such as studying improperly. Receiving low grades after spending hours studying is frustrating and discouraging and may produce a “Why bother?” attitude. Poor study habits include disorganization, distraction, cramming and simply rereading text without understanding. Ensure your teen has good study habits and that he gets enough sleep. Teenagers need around 8.5 hours of sleep, but most don't that. Sleep deprivation leads to making mistakes in school as well as others of their lives. Talk to your teen's teachers and arrange for tutoring if needed.

With Their Bodies

Risky behavior is common among teens. With technology, mistakes can be forever documented. Some teenagers take sexually explicit photos of themselves and their partners. Sexting is often but not always connected to alcohol abuse. It’s a problem in its own right, linked to violence, suicide attempts and unprotected sex. Even when birth control is used, adolescents often make mistakes. Young women taking birth control pills may miss a day; young men may not use condoms correctly. Teens may become sexually involved before they are emotionally ready. Being taught to respect themselves and others and to set boundaries to ensure they themselves are respected can help teenagers get through this precarious time in their lives. If your teen is in a relationship that seems detrimental, try talking to him about it. If he seems depressed, seek professional help.

About the Author

Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.