This post: Your teen’s brain is a liar: 7 damaging lies their brain tricks them into believing
Nearly every parent of teens has told their child at one point or another, “Just use your brain when making decisions!”
And, why not?
Our teen’s brains have been wired to alert them to danger, to make good choices (hopefully), and help them make important everyday decisions involving friends, school, extracurricular activities and even how they interact with us.
But, according to scientific studies, your teen’s brain is a liar. The truth is, there may be instances in which our teen’s brain isn’t quite as reliable as we think it is. In fact, when it comes to making decisions, there may be occasions when our teens might want to second guess what their brain is telling them.
Through their years growing up, our kids have accumulated a mass amount of information in their brains – information they’ve obtained through experiences, observations, school, their friends, our influence, social media and more. And, while those experiences and influences have been profound in shaping our kids, including their beliefs, perspectives and outlook on life, they’re also fairly biased.
It’s not that our teen’s brain is necessarily purposely lying to them; it’s just that it may have developed a few “negative connections” over time that may not serve them well.”
The other thing our kid’s brains have a tendency to do is draw conclusions that are based more on fear than logic, which can ultimately prevent them from taking healthy risks, trying new things, setting goals or even making any decisions at all.
Also defined as Automatic Negative Thoughts or A.N.T.s, their brain can travel down a negative thought path convincing them of false beliefs – all of which have a way of perpetuating stress and anxiety, and preventing them from growing, thriving or being successful in areas of their lives.
The hard truth is, sometimes, your teen’s brain is a liar.
Here are 7 disrupting lies (or beliefs) your teen may be tricked into believing. See if any of these “untruths” are inhibiting your teen’s ability to excel.
“Why should I bother trying out for the football team; I won’t make it anyway.”
“I’ll never get an A on that test; I’m just not smart enough.”
“Forget it, I’m not going to the party. No one is going to talk to me anyway.”
Sometimes, our kids’ brains trick them into imagining the worst-case scenario. Like Murphy’s Law, their feeling is, whatever can go wrong will. They anticipate failure and, to avoid disappointment, rejection or possible criticism, they simply back down and retreat.
It’s easy for our kids to make overly simplified assumptions about a situation or their abilities. But, what they need to do is make the cognitive decision to override that negative mindset and adopt realistic views of possible failure. “Whatever I choose to do, there is always the possibility of failure, disappointment or rejection, but that’s okay. At least I’m challenging myself. At least I’m trying. At least I’m learning.”
Black or White
Either life is awesome or it’s horrible. The brain has a way of tricking our kids into believing that if things aren’t good, they must be bad and if things are bad, there can’t be any good. There’s never any in-between.
Realistically, it’s easy to see how unforgiving this mindset is. If they look hard enough, our teens can always find the bad in their lives and, conversely, if they’re paying attention, they can always find the good. Viewing life through such a narrow lens is not only exhausting, it’s depressing. A more positive approach is to commit to focusing on the good, which makes dealing with the crummy things that are tossed our kid’s way a lot more tolerable and manageable.
As our kids move through the teen years they’re continually reminded by friends, social media, celebrities and even perfect strangers that they’re different and that they don’t measure up.
Social media, especially, has thrown our kids into a synthetic haze of realism that tricks their brain into thinking they have to be perfect which triggers them to focus on their flaws and imperfections rather than the unique qualities that make them different.
But, your teen’s brain is a liar. Of course, it’s healthy for our kids to acknowledge their errors and/or weaknesses, but harping on them will only make them feel inferior. According to experts, having high self-esteem is a choice; it’s a mindset that can be achieved through practice. And, having positive self-esteem is far more useful and productive than choosing to go through life with a low self-esteem beating yourself up over every little thing.
If only I was more popular, smarter, more athletic, prettier, thinner or had more money I could be “X.” This false belief tricks our kids into believing that no matter what they do or how hard they try, they’ll always fall short and they’ll never be enough. They’re always on the hamster wheel of life running toward the next “thing” and never appreciating what’s in front of them.
Let’s be real. No “one accomplishment” will ever solve all our kids’ problems or make them happy. Sure, it’s important for them to set goals and aspire to attain them, but constantly living in the “if only” or “what’s next” mindset won’t bring them satisfaction or pleasure even when they do reach a goal because no matter what milestone they hit, they’ll always be looking ahead and never enjoying the “now.”
This lie tells our teens that no one really likes them, even if they pretend to. Based on preconceived notions of what’s considered “likable,” they convince themselves they’re not. They label themselves in harshly negative ways and fuel the negativity by nitpicking themselves – their thighs are too big, they’re not funny enough, they’re not cool enough, athletic enough or pretty enough.
If they don’t feel likable inside and don’t view themselves as having enough value to be likable, then chances are they’ll never trust anyone who genuinely feels they are likable.
First, they need to learn to like themselves and the best way for them to do that is to focus on self-compassion rather than self-esteem. The more they cut themselves a break when they feel they’ve fallen short and the more they pat themselves on the back for doing the best they can, the more they’ll begin to develop a positive inner conversation with themselves and begin to like themselves. And, perhaps the next time they’re convinced they’re unlikable, they’ll think twice before putting too much stock in what their brain is trying to trick them into believing.
So much of what their brain is quietly whispering into our teen’s ear is learned, not something they’re born with. Being a constant critic and always viewing the glass as half full is an example of a learned thought process. Being hyper-aware of possible negative outcomes, focusing on the what-ifs, accepting defeat before they even try and negative self-talk steals our kids’ energy, enthusiasm and confidence.
Becoming self-aware of negativity is the first step in overcoming it. They need to retrain their brain to see the positive side of things. Go to the opposite extreme and imagine success instead of failure. When they do feel negative thoughts creeping into their mind, they need to ask themselves, “What’s causing this?” “Do these thoughts have merit?” “Why am I being so hard on myself?” What they’ll likely find is that, oftentimes, their self-criticism and cynicism is totally unfounded.
“My life is awful because my parents won’t let me do the things I want to do.”
“I have poor grades because I don’t have a place to study at my house.”
“I don’t have any friends because I can’t afford to buy cool clothes.”
When teens allow themselves to fall into the victim mindset, they’re quick to blame others (or something else) for everything that happens (or doesn’t happen) in their lives. Regardless of what’s happening in their lives, it’s never their fault or responsibility, which results in constant blame and finger-pointing.
The “poor me” mindset won’t get your teen very far in life. As challenging as it may be, they need to listen carefully to those “pity party” thoughts and stop them in their tracks. They need to work toward taking ownership of their life – the good and the bad. Their dreams, goals, hopes, successes, failures and plans are just that – theirs. No one can live their life for them. They need to take control and face life’s uncertainties head-on.
Our brain “talks” to our kids throughout the day whether they realize it or not. It’s constantly sending them messages and cues based on things they’ve learned, heard, seen or experienced.
But, not every message they’re given by their brains should be embraced. Some messages hold the power to curb their ability to grow, thrive and succeed. Rather than accepting those messages, our kids need to listen carefully, determine their true validity, and… quite possibly, toss them out of their brain once and for all.
Is your teen’s brain a liar? What “untruths” is your teen’s brain telling them? Share your thoughts in our comments sections below.