Managing Impulsivity for Teens and Young Adults

3 min read
teens and young adults

teens and young adults

Impulsive behavior is characterized by taking actions without considering the consequences. While everybody might engage in impulsive actions on occasion, frequently doing so can be damaging, interfering with work, school, or relationships.

Teenagers and young adults may be especially prone to impulsive behavior. Research suggests this is because the frontal and prefrontal cortexes of the brain aren’t fully developed at this point. Discover some tips for impulse control for teens below.

Explaining Impulsive Behavior in Teens and Young Adults

Impulse control issues can be especially complicated for young people, who are likely to be influenced by peer pressure. Impulsivity can also be exacerbated for individuals with ADHD, which may lower inhibitions and result in a lack of control.

This is because of how impulsivity impacts the brain. In a healthy brain, dopamine and serotonin are balanced. Dopamine essentially drives you forward, seeking excitement, while serotonin calms you down, leaving you feeling content.

When dopamine overwhelms serotonin, you’re more likely to ignore the “chill out” signals of serotonin and just go, go, go. People diagnosed with ADHD often have imbalances in their dopamine and serotonin levels, which contribute to impulsivity.

Risks of Impulsive Behavior

Issues with impulsivity arise when consequences aren’t carefully considered. A young adult who blows off school might not consider the implications for their grades, for instance. Impulsivity can also lead to emotionally or physically risky behavior, with no consideration for the potential harm a quick decision — like underage drinking — may have.

As teens become more independent and responsible for their own welfare and decision-making, impulsivity can pose even greater problems. Individuals may struggle with executive functions needed to thrive in school or socially, such as being able to focus and maintain engagement.

Impulsivity in teens and young adults may lead to behaviors like:

  • Impatience
  • Seeking instant gratification
  • Failing to focus on or finish school projects
  • Taking actions or making decisions without thinking them through
  • Engaging in risky or destructive behaviors

4 Tips for Impulse Control for Teens

Techniques for impulse control can help teens and young adults, including those with ADHD, gain control. Below are some impulse control activities for teens to try (although these techniques for impulse control can be valuable for all ages).

1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help sharpen focus and self-awareness. The practice demands you concentrate your attention inwards, distancing yourself from possible urges. It can help create enough time to allow you to take a different course of action — one that’s thought through. You might download an app to practice mindful meditation, for example, or try breathing exercises.

2. Avoid Triggering Situations

If you know that certain situations will encourage impulsive behavior, find ways to avoid them. For example, maybe there’s a store that you always impulsively spend money in — take steps to avoid it. Identifying your triggers, whether physical or emotional, is the first step to avoiding them. You can then create obstacles between yourself and the trigger.

3. Look for Alternatives

Your impulsive behavior may take certain patterns, like interrupting people during meetings or shopping online. Once you identify a pattern of impulsivity, seek an alternative outlet to get it out of your system. 

For example, if you’re excited in a meeting and feel like you might interrupt the conversation, shift your focus to ensure the meeting is smooth. Doodle on a notepad or use a fidget tool such as a stress ball to help you stay focused. 

4. Pursue Calming Activities

Sometimes, stress can lead to impulsivity. Relaxing can help calm your impulses. You might try listening to calming music, for example, or exercising to give yourself an endorphin boost. Progressive muscle relaxation, whereby you relax one muscle in the body after the other, is another technique you can try.

How New Frontiers Can Help

Depending on the circumstances, professional help may be warranted. For example, if your impulsivity interferes with concentration or task prioritization, executive function coaching may be an option. New Frontiers in Learning has programs that can help you learn impulse control strategies and improve executive function. Learn more here.

Casey Schmalacker

Casey Schmalacker, Vice President at New Frontiers, is a seasoned leader in marketing, sales, and business development. With a dual degree in Government and Law and Economics from Lafayette College, he has spent the past 10 years coaching students, adults, and organizations to improve executive functions, soft skills, and workplace performance. Casey’s approach is rooted in strategic development and a passion for personalized coaching, emphasizing a culture of continuous improvement.

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