Driving and Teen Brain Development


One of the topics we touch on as we work with parents of teen drivers is the development of the adolescent brain. I attended a Parent University Class offered through the Mesa School District a few years ago. The program is free to anyone who wants to attend. It was a four-part series, and parents are welcome to come to any or all the classes.
teenage brain diagram
The first session I attended focused on identifying the characteristics of a “perfect teen” and then the “perfect parent.” Words such as respectful, good listener, responsible, organized, empathetic, and resilient were a few of the descriptions used to describe desirable characteristics of the perfect teen. Interestingly enough, those same words were used to describe the perfect parent. The Coach, Eva Dwight, focused on positive discipline where there is a high degree of firmness and a high degree of kindness.

Eva spent the remainder of the session talking about brain development in adolescents. There are clear growth spurts in the brain at different times throughout childhood. Other than the first 3 years of life, adolescence is the period during which the brain changes most rapidly.

The frontal lobe does not fully develop until youth are well into their 20s and some studies suggest as late as 29 for males. When a teenager has an emotional response to a situation, they are reacting from their limbic system, which is the seat of our emotions and where the fight or flight response forms. This is meltdown mode when no reasoning with an upset person makes a dent into the emotional response.

What does all of this have to do with driving? Think about the practice that parents must do with their teenagers to help them develop driving skills. We make it perfectly clear in our Parent Class that it is essential that parents are practicing with their students. But anxious young drivers and anxious parent coaches can make for a fraught combination.

DrivingMBA provides young drivers with a wealth of knowledge and skill, but to make it part of their muscle memory, teens and young adults MUST practice what they are learning. At age 16 a process of myelination occurs that allows the brain to fine-tune important brain functions. It is how muscle memory is created by practicing a skill over and over again. Muscle memory is essential in activities such as golf, bicycling, swimming, and driving a car. It takes at least six months for muscle memory to form, which is why we don’t encourage rushing the learning-to-drive process.

For parents interested in learning more about adolescent development and parenting through the teen years, I suggest they check out Eva Dwight’s program. She is a delightful facilitator and does coaching with parents and students. You can contact her at endwightccc@gmail.com.

Maria Wojtczak is Chief Operating Officer at DrivingMBA. She has extensive knowledge in teen brain development and has pioneered many techniques used to teach students at DrivingMBA. Her passion for teaching and saving teen lives has made her a leader in the driver training industry.


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