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How to Teach a Teen to Have Impulse Control

by Ashley Miller

Impulse control is innate in some teens. They naturally understand how to restrain their impulses and delay gratification. But many teens do not fully learn to control their impulses until they enter young adulthood. In an interview with the Associated Press, David Fassler, a psychiatry professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, states that, compared to adults, adolescents may be more likely to act impulsively without fully examining the impact of their actions especially when confronted with stressful or anxiety-provoking situations. However, parents may be able to help their teens develop improved impulse control through a number of educational and behavioral strategies.

Discuss the importance of impulse control with your teen. Whether its reckless driving, risk-taking or experimenting with drugs and alcohol, the teen years are filled with temptations for instant gratification and disregarding control. Explain to your teen the consequences of poor impulse control. Explain that what feels good now might not feel good later, suggests psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein in an article for "Psychology Today."

Model positive behaviors that display impulse control. Teens often learn what's appropriate and what's not by watching and observing parental behaviors. If you can't control your impulses, whether that means overeating or screaming at rude drivers who cut you off in traffic, your teen might also develop difficulties with impulse control.

Explain your expectations for appropriate behavior, suggests the national non-profit educational organization GreatSchools. Teens may display poor impulse control or negative behaviors because they don't truly understand what's expected of them. By communicating your expectations and laying down clear rules, such as setting curfews or avoiding alcohol at parties, your teen may develop an improved ability to control her impulses.

Teach your teen positive self-talk and stress management techniques to help him stay cool in stressful or anxiety-provoking circumstances. This can help him refrain from taking negative actions and help him make a positive choice, says clinical psychotherapist Earl Hipp in his book, "Fighting Invisible Tigers: Stress Management for Teens." Suggest taking slow, deep breaths and mentally saying something such as, "I can handle this. I can stay in control."

Encourage physical activity or participation in sports. Physical activity can help your teen blow off steam and help her release tension and stress. Managing stress with healthy activities may help your teen develop an increased ability to control her impulses, says Bernstein.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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