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An Open Letter To Parents

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I am a criminal defense lawyer and have been for the last 25 years.
I am also a parent.

I’VE SEEN A DRAMATIC INCREASE IN RISKY AND DANGEROUS CONDUCT AND UNHEALTHY PEER RELATIONSHIPS JUST IN THE PAST 10 YEARS. I am convinced the Internet and social media has altered adolescence in such a way that parenting is now trickier than ever. How our teens mature and become secure and independent is being heavily influenced by social media, likes and follows.

TEEN JUDGMENT IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION. It doesn’t matter how smart your teen is or how well they scored on the SAT or ACT. Not all teens exercise good judgment — at least not yet. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. It’s this part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens however, process information with the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain. When a teen is overwhelmed by emotional input, and acts on that input there is opportunity for trouble. When asked “why” they acted as they did teens can’t explain later what they were thinking. It’s because they weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.

BEING A NORMAL TEENAGER DOES NOT REQUIRE A TREATMENT PLAN. HOWEVER, BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR SIGNS OF TROUBLE. It’s normal for teens to be down or out of sorts for two or three days. However, if you see a significant mood or behavioral change that lasts more than two weeks, it could indicate something else is going on, such as depression. If you think your teen could be depressed, promptly seek professional treatment for your child. Depression is serious and, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.

YOUR TEEN NEEDS YOUR GUIDANCE, EVEN THOUGH THEY MAY THINK THEY DON’T. UNDERSTANDING THEIR DEVELOPMENT CAN HELP YOU SUPPORT THEM IN BECOMING INDEPENDENT, RESPONSIBLE ADULTS. It can be tough to tell if troubling behavior in a child is just part of growing up or a problem that should be discussed with a health professional. But if there are behavioral signs and symptoms that last weeks or months, and if these issues interfere with the child’s daily life at home and at school, or with friends, you should contact a health professional.

Brad Koffel