How to Get Life Lessons to Stick

Another great article by Lisa Damour, Ph.D. about teenagers and their risk taking brains. The key takeaway as I see it about how to communicate important “life lessons” to adolescents (and younger kids) during those adolescent years when their frontal lobes seek out risk taking behavior is the following.


1. They need to be told the same message MANY times and in MANY ways. And by many, I mean MANY! Adults who can help convey the same message in different ways to their children have a far better chance of having the message stick. For example if you want your child to begin to make smart choices that will help her/him stay safe, Dr. Reyna suggests that you could say, “Don’t focus on whether you could get caught — you probably won’t. Focus on whether you could get hurt.” While you could also deliver the same message by saying, “when the adults are around, we help to keep you safe. When we’re not around, staying safe is entirely your job.” Yup! Two ways of delivering the same message and you’ll need to say it over and over again because you never know when it will sink in, but when it does, it sticks.

2. They need to be given information STRAIGHT UP! That by helping adolescents see the hidden “dangers”and “realities” of their choices they can hold onto these lessons more clearly. By saying things such as “it only takes once” to contract a sexually transmitted infection or “sooner or later, unprotected sex could lead to pregnancy.” notice is taken. “Once you change how a person thinks about a decision,” says Dr. Reyna, “that’s a lasting change. It’s hard to undo an insight.”You can’t “undo an insight.” Those teenagers who participated in a sexual education class that highlighted the realities of risky adolescent sexual behavior, went on to make better choices than teenagers in the standard program where they learned the basic principles.


As frustrating as this may be, let this serve us as a reminder that adolescent risk-taking isn’t something we can’t do anything about. Read complete NY Times article here.

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