During our AWE – THE EVENT with adolescents, we gave them a video to watch [I encourage you to take out time to also watch the video 😊] by Absolutely Flawless an amazing YouTube Channel that is home to the best big wave surfing compilations in the world. You can imagine the thrill our teens felt. At the end of this particular video, we then asked how many of them would love to go on a similar excursion even if they do not get to participate in those extreme sports. As you can imagine, all hands went up with many yelling out their desire to participate rather than being just spectators. My team and I obviously had a really good laugh. We then went on to ask if they believed that their parents would sign a consent form releasing them to go on such an excursion. Many screamed “yes!” in unison with only a handful doubting their parents’ willingness to release them on such a tour. So, here I am asking you as parents, “if you have gone through the video above, will you truly release your adolescent to partake in such dangerous activities?” I know I most definitely will not. And all the teachers present at each of those sessions voiced my reservations, something the students found difficult to relate to until we began taking them on a tour of their physiology.

As parents of adolescents, I am definite that you try to help your son or daughter make good decisions. You provide guidance. You give them facts. You explain the pros and cons. You talk to other parents to glean wisdom. You think about how you felt when you were their age and the consequences you suffered when you made poor decisions. You think you have finally set your adolescent up for success with all of this deliberateness. But then you find out that your adolescent has taken none of your advice and has done exactly what they wanted to do all along! Moms and dads, while this is frustrating and upsetting, there is a physiological explanation as to why they behave this way. The explanation in one sentence would be that a significant part of your adolescents’ brain, the prefrontal cortex, is undeveloped.

Interestingly, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25! This is why, even after you explain the dangers and consequences, your adolescent might still go on a moral tumble making very poor choices. His prefrontal cortex isn’t helping him, and so he all too often makes impulsive, “Yaaaaay, this sounds like fun,” decisions.

What is the Prefrontal Cortex?

The prefrontal cortex is typically referred to as the “CEO of the brain” – It is the seat of logical reasoning. Another way to think about it is like the brakes on a car. The thing with adolescents is that they get the fuel (the impulses), but they have a faulty brake system (an undeveloped prefrontal cortex). You know how disastrous this is when you’re above a 120km/hr speed!

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for:

  1. Being Proactive:

The developed prefrontal cortex as seen in the adult brain would reason, “This week is quite busy for me; I better not schedule anything else.” but the undeveloped adolescent prefrontal cortex makes decisions without taking other factors into cognizance as seen in this scenario;

Your adolescent asks you if he can go to two parties this week and a Thursday night out ‘with the crew’. He has two tests on Friday, a literature review is due, and a big architecture project is underway. Obviously, he is not proactive and planning ahead.


  1. Emotional Intelligence:

The developed prefrontal cortex as seen in the adult brain would reason, “I know you had a rough day at work and your daughter is trying to get you to play a card game with her. You feel like yelling at her, but don’t do that, control yourself, she just wants to play.” but the undeveloped adolescent brain processes things this way;

You’re making dinner, and your daughter walks past. She had a tough day at school. You ask her if she wants a salad. She yells back, “Stop stressing me, MOM!” and slams the door. She is not managing her emotions or delaying her responses.


  1. Accurately Interpreting Moods and Body Language

Here is how a developed prefrontal cortex works in this situation. You’re to meet up with a friend at a restaurant after work. As soon as you sight her, you can tell she is exhausted and discouraged before she even opens her mouth to say anything. Let’s take a look at the disposition of the undeveloped prefrontal cortex:

You’ve had a long day. You walk in the door and tell your son that you are exhausted and need help with dishwashing. Because he is 14, he does not accurately read or understand the emotions of others; so he says, “Mom, I always help you. Why are you so mad?” when you are not mad at all—you just want help with the dishes.


  1. Self-Awareness

The developed prefrontal cortex helps in self-awareness. You come home from work and snap at your daughter. Twenty minutes later, you apologize because you realized that you were tired and took out your frustration on her. Here is an example of the behavioural pattern from an undeveloped prefrontal cortex;

You are trying to have a discussion with your son. You calmly ask about his weekend plans. He gets all worked up and responds, “I don’t know, Mom!” You ask one more question, and he blows up. You ask, “Why are you so upset?” He yells, “I’m not upset; you’re the one who’s upset!” He is not aware of how he comes across.


  1. Moral Inner Compass

This is something that needs to be deliberately cultivated in the adolescent as his prefrontal cortex matures. The developed prefrontal cortex responds in this manner; You get pulled over for speeding, and the police officer asks you if it’s an emergency. You hesitate for a second and then say no because truly it was not an emergency. Here’s an alternate example for the undeveloped prefrontal cortex of the adolescent;

Your daughter wants to go to the party because a guy she likes is there. You ask her if the parents are going to be home. She lies and says yes. She does not feel bad that she lied. She only feels bad if she gets caught.

Even though your adolescents think that they can make grown-up decisions on their own, they can’t. This is because there are some major gaps developmentally. Your adolescents need you to help them think through all of their actions and consequences. This does not in any way mean that you overhaul their decision-making process. That will be very counterproductive. You manage this by ensuring that they talk through every decision with you but rather than give them shortcut answers, ask them questions that will force them to think on their own about the consequences (good or bad) of whatever decision they choose to make.



Don’t let the grown-up body fool you. Your adolescent is still in a transitory phase of life. They are a work in progress and their brains are still developing. They need your guidance and protection throughout these critical years. Even though they’d never own up to needing such.


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It had been a pretty hectic week for Maggie. This week alone, she ran two shifts daily with less than four hours of sleep. On her last shift, she became overwhelmed. The rent was almost due and her payment had been delayed due to an issue with her bank account. She had to pick up groceries but her car mysteriously broke down so she had to take the bus with two arms full of heavy groceries. Her daughter, Helen, had recently started acting up and it was concerning. She had been very defiant of late and they almost always ended the day with heavy confrontations where hurtful words were exchanged. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong and Maggie was feeling terribly stressed.

She sighed in relief as she put her key in the knob, thinking of the long shower awaiting her, only to get a call from Helen’s class teacher. Helen had not been turning in assignments and her performance was woeful in the few she did turn in. She also had a pending project that was due in two weeks, yet no draft had been submitted. This was totally unlike Helen so, she decided to give Maggie a call to clarify things. Of course, she thanked her daughter’s teacher for the information and ended the call. She was furious! Here she was trying to make life as comfortable as possible for her daughter instead, she’d been playing truancy! As she rushed to Helen’s room to give her a piece of her mind, she decided to practice the S.T.O.P. principle that she had learnt from one of our training sessions. 

Life is full of twists and turns. Some days, it’s all exciting and other days it’s gloomy. What do you do when life decides to skip the excitement and hands you the gloom? How do you deal with your emotions when everything that can go wrong is going wrong? How do you respond to such upsetting situations? The answer is simple, utilize the S.T.O.P. Principle.

The S.T.O.P. principle is the acronym for:

  • S – Slow down
  • T – be Thankful
  • O – Observe your emotions
  • P – Plan the next steps


This is an important principle to adopt if you ever want to become an emotionally intelligent manager or parent who is not ruled by emotions. Emotions in themselves are not the enemy. They’re like pilots that inform you about what’s going on in your body. How you handle that information is what determines whether you’re emotionally intelligent or not.

When something happens that jolts you out of your comfort zone, which is what upsetting situations do, the biological response is usually to react not respond. To react” is to respond through your emotions rather than logically thinking through situations. To “respond” on the other hand, is to rise above your basic emotion and delay your come-back until you can access the logical part of you.

It is human nature to react to upsetting situations rather than respond. This is the default biological design. Here’s how it works: When there is a trigger (i.e. the upsetting situation), the first part of the brain that receive these signals is the amygdala. The amygdala is the seat of emotions and it is responsible for every emotional reaction you give. Therefore, when you take an action while the signals are still stuck in the Amygdala, your responses are likely to be reactionary. The prefrontal cortex (PFC), however, is the seat of logical thinking and it takes some time before these triggers (i.e. the upsetting situation) make it to the PFC. The time frame is dependent on your mastery of Emotional Intelligence (EI) tips and applications. When you respond aggressively to an upsetting situation, it is most likely because you did not give your prefrontal cortex enough time to receive the signal before responding, hence, your reaction. 



The S.T.O.P. Principle gives you adequate time to recalibrate so that you can view the trigger objectively. Helen’s mom held back and decided to slow (calm) down, which is the first step in STOP. She refused to let her amygdala control her despite the intense stress she was under. So, delaying her response to the upsetting situation gave her time to gather her thoughts. Now, this time interval will vary for different people depending on the severity of the situation and (most importantly) how well they’ve trained themselves to respond in a logical manner above emotional responses. To engage the first “S” in the STOP principle, you could:

  • meditate,
  • count from one to ten in your mind,
  • take a stroll (away from the object of stress),
  • take deep breaths,
  • listen to soul music,
  • go to the spa, or
  • lock yourself up in a room and scream your heart out!

Just do something relaxing. Anything that takes you out of the “fight or flight” stance triggered by the upsetting situation works perfectly. In my moments of intense emotions, I try to watch a movie if my situation permits otherwise, I take very long strolls preferably around nature so that I can clear my head and return to my pre-stress state. 



Once you escape the clutches of an impulsive response, learning the art of gratitude is your next stop. Gratitude is a powerful calming mechanism It helps in the release of all your happy hormones. When you express gratitude, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin (they are the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for happiness and ‘feeling good’), and they make you feel calm. Gratitude infuses your heart with love.  When you step into an aura of gratitude, your mountainous problem pales in comparison to the goodness in your life. Do you know that when a person is high on drugs, these “happy hormones” are usually released in excess. So imagine the powerful infusion of goodness that’s being evoked just by stepping into a state of thankfulness. These hormones enhance your mood immediately, making you feel happy from the inside out! This is an absolutely important process in the S.T.O.P. Principle because sometimes when you are calm from your walk [or whatever calming technique works for you], the emotions evoked by that upsetting situation may still be brewing underneath. Sometimes, it’s a false sense of calm you experience when you take that stroll. Thankfulness ensures that you truly let go of the pain and anger that has been triggered and it positions you to be empathetic and in charge of your emotions.



When you are done practising the “S” and “T” of the S.T.O.P. Principle, the next step is to observe your emotions. Are you calm enough to make a rational decision? Do you still feel clouded by your emotions? Are you able to understand why the other party behaved in that manner even if they’re wrong for doing so? If your answer is no, simply repeat the first two steps because we need you to ensure that you can identify the specific emotions you feel, understand why you feel that way and own those emotions. You need to be in a state of mind where you can accept whatever response you dole out as your unbiased thoughts not a reactionary mistake. When you react emotionally, chances usually are that the issues become forgotten and persons feel attacked. I know that when I do not practise the S.T.O.P. Principle, I end up going back to apologise for my actions or utterances even if I was not initially wrong. It is quite painful to apologize for acting rashly when you were the one who was attacked in the first place. I can assure you that when you do not observe your emotions before taking a step, you’re setting up yourself to be the “bad guy”.



If you observed your emotions and are self-aware enough to identify your dominant emotions, then it may be time to plan what your response should be. It’s your response, therefore, you’re under no obligation to hurriedly reply [except in the case of an emergency].  Take your time to think through your thoughts, the consequences of your actions and responses as well as the synchrony your response has with your value system. When all of these are aligned, then it’s time to take action. You’ll feel more at peace with your response when you do this.

So, what did Maggie do when she realized that her daughter was not just spinning out of control but truant? She simply went back to her room to vent off her anger. She screamed off her frustrations, pain, and anger. When she was done, she felt better. She was able to find things to be grateful for and as her hear swelled with gratitude for the beautiful memories she’d had with her daughter, love and empathy filled her heart. By the time she engaged Helen, it was from a place of connection, empathy and a desire to genuinely understand why her daughter suddenly flipped. They had an intimate conversation where she found out that Helen had been depressed lately which was why she skipped assignments, had emotional meltdowns, among other things. It was eye-opening. Imagine that Maggie had continued with the exchange of hurtful words during their ‘usual’ times of heated arguments, Helen could have become suicidal thinking (wrongly) that no one loved her.



Leaders, managers, teachers, administrators, counsellors, have all used the S.T.O.P. Principle to break down emotionally limiting barriers. This simple yet profound principle has the potential to not just make you an emotionally intelligent parent but an emotionally intelligent human as a whole.



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