Doing Life Together

brainIt’s the end of the school day. Your teen is moody and complains about having a bad day. You later learn he has made poor decisions and acted impulsively. He tells you he smoked pot, missed class, but it is no big deal because other students do it and pass. You are tempted to lecture him, but resist. You know that his brain is not fully developed, and in part, explains his moodiness and impulsivity. Your concern, however, is for his exposure to possible addiction during his teen years.

The teen brain is not the same as an adult brain.

The teen brain is built, but as author of the book, The Teenage Brain says, it’s not fully insulated. Dr. Amy Jensen explains  the neuroscience behind the still forming teenage brain. In short, the front of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex and frontal cortex, is the last to be developed. And these parts of the brain impact insight, empathy, impulse control, and risk-taking behavior.

Therefore, if your impulse control and risk-taking features are not fully operational, the teenage brain is far more susceptible to moodiness and addictions. Dr. Jensen goes on to explain that teen risk behaviors do more damage to the teen brain.

Thus, the adage that teens are resilient and will bounce back from risk taking behaviors may not be true. Concerns over teen use of drugs, alcohol, smoking and digital devices are not over hyped. The teen brain is a brain without full access to the frontal lobe. And when exposed to addiction, the teen brain builds stronger and longer reward circuits around those addictions, more so than in adults. Teens can get addicted faster because their brains are more efficient towards addiction.

Moody or not,  a conversation with a teen about his/her risk towards addiction is worthwhile. Teaching them that their brains can’t handle addiction like an adult is a needed message in our culture today. Age and development matter, especially when we are talking about addiction and the brain. Not all brains are alike!

Shappy coupleIt’s exciting watching young couples in love. Their desire and love for one another is infectious. But those of us who have been married for quite awhile have some advice when it comes to keeping love alive and making it through what has been termed, “gray divorce.” Yes, more people are divorcing later in life than ever before, but this doesn’t have to be.

When the romantic spark is over, we all know relationships take work. But work doesn’t have to be some arduous thing. In fact, “the work”  has to do with your likes and interests.

I came to marriage with a love of the theatre. I married someone who had never been exposed to theatre. But once he was, he too developed a love for it and we share that love and interest today.

At the time, we didn’t know that we were doing something simple to make our love last: Sharing each others’ interests.  But this is one of the secrets to make love last.

Even when you aren’t particularly interested in something your spouse likes, get interested. The willingness to share and engage goes a long way to keeping marital friendship alive and well. And friendship is one of the building blocks of intimacy. I did this with soccer. Never liked it much, but I married a college soccer player who grew up loving to play and watch soccer. So, I developed an interest in the game. And while it is not my favorite sport, we have gone to professional games and share the interest.

Right now, take a brief inventory. Has your husband wanted you to learn to play golf because he loves it and you don’t? I suggest that you get golf lessons and give it a try. Or maybe your love for art isn’t sitting well with your husband. Take him to a gallery and ask him to open his mind to something new. Try things together and find areas of common interest that you can develop together. It will go a long way to keeping love alive.

affairJustin Lehmiller at Purdue University is the author of The Psychology of Human Sexuality and studies sex and relationships. He has found that about 1 in 4  or 1 in 5 married people admit to sexual infidelity.

So what puts a person at risk for having an affair? Here are 5 factors that play a role in why some people cheat.

1) Being male. This is not gender discrimination, but a reality when it comes to cheating. Males cheat more than females, although the gap between males and females has lessened over the years. In part, because women have more access to cheating than they used to–the Internet, more power and income, more options, etc. But the reasons men cheat do differ from women. A study at Chapman University and California State University found that men’s cheating is motivated more by sexual dissatisfaction (see #4) and wanting more variety and excitement (see #5). Women tend to cheat because of emotional dissatisfaction, looking to men to reinforce that they are still desirable.

2) Age: It appears that cheating is higher among people who are younger or older. The “safest” time in marriage seems to be between ages 35-50 when family and careers are building. Basically, time is a factor. When your day is composed of going to work, soccer games and doing homework at night, there isn’t as much time or energy to cheat!

3) Opportunity: The more opportunity, the greater the chances. Spending time with people in the workplace, traveling, being promoted, etc. all lend to more opportunities for closeness and attraction.

4) Feeling dissatisfied with your relationship: Yes,this is the most obvious because it lends to looking outside the relationship for satisfaction if you don’t work on problems in the relationship.

5) Personality traits: If you are low on “agreeableness” and “conscientiousness”, narcissistic and avoidant in your attachment style, you are more at risk. And if you are a thrill seeker who doesn’t mind taking risks, this is a factor as well. In contrast, people who are kind and caring, dependable, humble, and more secure in attachments do better with fidelity.

No matter how many of these factors relate to you, infidelity is still a choice, a choice you can avoid. Tempted or not, vow to work through your problems, talk about issues and dissatisfaction, and commit to being faithful.

ID-10075688Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Mean Girls. If so, you remember the popular clique of girls who ruled the social scene by backstabbing and being verbally mean to anyone they didn’t like. The movie reminds most of us of those one or two girls in middle school who could use their verbal aggression to put us in our place.

Boys don’t do this, right? It’s just the girls who use their verbal skills to talk behind your back. Boys are more physical. They prefer to beat you up physically, not verbally. At least that is how we typically think, but is it true? Are boys less mean?

Research published in Aggressive Behavior disputes this notion. Boys, it appears, use both their physical and relationship aggression to be mean, more so then girls. Surveys were given to 620 students asking them about their behavior. According to the seven-year long study, physical and relational aggression were more common in boys.

As you might guess, sixth to eighth grade proved to be the worse time for these types of aggression. Fortunately, the meanness drops off in high school with the senior year the best.

And did you know that the author of the book, Mean Girls, which the movie was based on, also wrote a sequel for boys? Yet, we didn’t hear much about that topic as a sequel. Based on the study, Mean Boys would be a good sequel!

So if you are a parent, teacher or someone who works with teens, keep in mind that boys use rejection, rumors, social exclusion and relationship aggression even more than girls. The stereotype of girls being the means ones, doesn’t hold. Relationship aggression for both boys and girls is an issue that needs to be addressed. Both genders need to work on being positive with their peers.



The paper, published in Aggressive Behavior, is available online at