Strategies to Curb Teen Impulsivity

Teens are naturally impulsive. They are quick to react, without giving themselves time to reflect and respond with logic and reasoning. It’s typical for adolescents to be impulsive because impulsivity naturally accompanies the developmental stage they are in.


The impulsivity of teenagers (and of some adults) is the function of the frontal lobe of the brain, which is the most evolved and distinctly human part of the brain. This part of the brain is still developing in adolescents, and it completes its growth during the ages of 23-26. Although it’s still in development, this part of the brain is necessary for reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control. This might explain a teen’s tendency to make poor decisions and their inability to discern whether a situation is safe. Teens tend to experiment with risky behavior and don’t fully recognize the consequences of their choices.


Being impulsive isn’t always a bad thing. It’s what makes life fun sometimes. However, the danger with impulsivity is that teens can quickly get into trouble. Although a situation might sound good in the moment, it might not be safe. For instance, let’s say you and your friends are at a party. You’ve all been drinking and one of your friends suggest to go for a cruise downtown. It sounds like great fun, but there may be little attention paid to the fact that everyone has been drinking. Driving in this condition can lead to an accident, injury, or even death.


An impulse is an urge to act. In the mental health field, it is the tendency to respond quickly, without any sort of thinking about the future or consequences. Some individuals have learned to control their impulses, to feel them, but not give into them. For instance, you might see a new Ipad in the window, ask about its cost, and then think otherwise about buying it. This is a way of controlling your impulses. Whereas, a teen might see the Ipad, imagine all the ways to use it, especially how it might store thousands of cool songs, and buy it regardless of the cost. Another example is the person who experiences an insult from his supervisor. Although he would like to follow the impulse to curse her, he doesn’t. He wants to be able to keep his job, which pays for his mortgage and the needs of his family. An adolescent might not take the time to think about the consequences in the least. In a quick second, a teen might retort with an insulting comeback and potentially lose his job.


As in the example above, sometimes impulsive behavior leads to emotional outbursts. You might be the kind of person who says exactly what’s on your mind right away. This sort of emotional impulsivity can lead to raising your voice, getting angry quickly, and throwing out words that act like daggers towards others.


If you’ve noticed that your impulsivity has become a problem in your life. Strategies to curb impulsivity include the following:


1. Breathe deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth when you notice that you’re going to have an emotional outburst. Although it might be hard to remember at first, if you have a regular habit of breathing deeply when you’re emotionally triggered, you might begin to notice how breathing is affecting your ability to control your impulses.


2. Monitor your impulsivity. See if you can begin to become aware of when you’re impulsive and when you’re not. Are you speaking before thinking? Are you reacting instead of responding? Are you buying things too quickly and running out of money? Watching yourself can help you slow your choices down and curb your impulsivity.


3. Monitor the impulsivity in your friends. Sometimes it’s easier to notice what’s going on in others versus yourself. And when you notice this, you might be better prepared to see in your own life. For instance, let’s say you notice your friend being impulsive when he or she is shopping. Or you might notice your friends quick to respond to teachers, getting him or her in trouble. Lastly, you might see how your friends are quick to get angry. As you continue to see this around you, it can open your eyes to the ways that you might be impulsive too.


Impulsivity is a common characteristic of teens, but it doesn’t have to get the better of you! With these techniques you can cultivate impulse control in your life.