Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

February 17, 2018

For Parents I Admire And The Children They Love And Try To Protect

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 3:14 pm

Like many of you, I was sickened and saddened by the devastating school shooting this week in Florida.  When I heard, on the news, that there have been a dozen or more school shootings already in 2018, I was aghast.

Something one of the news anchors said inspired this blog.  He said something to the effect of:  Kids all over the country are talking about this on their phones, in their school parking lots and locker rooms, and out with their friends.

That scared me some.

If that scared me some, then I was mortified when, the next day, an 11 year-old was arrested for slipping a note under her principal’s door that threatened to shoot up her school.

You bet kids are talking to each other.

From my 20+ years of studying brain injury and our magnificent brains, one of the most critical treasures of information has to do with brain development and the ages at which we experience it.

I think it is valuable information as parents, all over the country, try to figure out how to address and whether to address this school shooting topic with their kids.

I was curious so I asked three strangers who were parents what their kids were saying about the school shootings.  Two parents said they don’t discuss those things because they are trying to shield their kids and the other one said she had a good kid who would “never get involved with something like that.”


For parents who never taught their kids about the dangers of smoking, drinking, texting while driving or unprotected sex, your kids are gathering their information, nonetheless.  Same with school violence, bullying and mass shootings.

And, if those kids are left to learn about all these things from their friends, here is the brain development information I mentioned earlier:

Young people’s brains do not fully develop until their mid-twenties.  For some, their thirties.  Unfortunately, the critical part of the young brain not yet fully developed is the frontal lobe:  the part of the brain that manages impulse control, judgment, insight, and emotional control.  So when teens and college students engage in risky and/or irrational behavior, it’s not just that they don’t have the adequate life experience to know better, but, rather, their brains have difficulty assessing the possible consequences.

They need you.

True, kids may hear your lessons and speeches and go out and try pot, drinking and sex regardless.

But, if you are not in the game, most will find themselves in dangerous and, even, criminal situations without perspective and appreciation for the consequences.

They’re not thinking like us.  Not even if they are raised by the best, smartest parents in the world.  Not even if they come from a wealthy upbringing or attend the best private schools.

They simply cannot think like a rational, measured, composed adult who appreciates consequence fully if they are simply teenagers or college kids.

Please don’t think your kids “would never do that sort of thing.”  There are over a hundred sets of parents who never imagined their kid would shoot up a school.

No parents ever teach their kids to be cruel bullies or to rape or to assault or to murder.  But these things happen, now, commonly.

Beyond just telling them what you expect and telling them what’s wrong, it’s important to find out what they are thinking.  To GO TO THE PLACE WHERE THEY ARE IN THEIR BRAIN’S DEVELOPMENT and to understand how they are putting all this stuff together and why.

I’m sure most parents will spend ten times more hours helping their kids studying math and science and doing writing assignments.  But they can flunk a test and not spend the rest of their lives in prison.  They can mess up a class and not end up on the nightly news because they threw boulders off of highway bridges, gang-raped a classmate or torched a house.

Kids can’t be totally trusted to do the right thing and to think like a responsible, safe adult until their brains are fully developed.  The very area that controls all the dangerous choices they might make simply isn’t ready for that responsibility yet.

Please, for their sake and for yours and for the safety of our communities, please don’t think you’ve taught them enough about things you would, otherwise, take for granted.  They ARE going to learn, one way or another and we simply cannot afford to think we know how they are thinking just because it seems obvious to us.

We can’t stop every school shooting but I’m cheering for you to be the ones who re-dedicate themselves to understanding the brain’s challenges at this age of development.

PS  When those kids were holed up inside that school and terrified as they heard the shots fired, they texted their parents.  No one ever wants to imagine such a scenario but, in that possible instance, parents need to know what they are going to reply and they need to prepare their kids for how to shelter in place, silence their phones, etc.

I pray for you and your kids’ safety in such a troubled world.  Love you guys!

February 13, 2018

What Are We Telling Ourselves?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 4:04 pm

As I watch the Olympics, I am wowed, of course.  Wowed by the spins and the moves and the turns.  Wowed by the flippy flips in the air and the twirly twirls and whatever they call that awesome thing…

I am near-constantly awed by the imagined number of repetitions it must have taken for each of these athletes to perfect their craft.   This leap, that throw, this spin, that turn…

I can only imagine the size of their hearts.  These young people have worked, some for four years and some for 30 years, to achieve their moment.  Their Olympic moment.

How many times did they fall on their butts?  How many mornings, dark and freezing, did they roll out of bed?  How many times did they literally drag themselves out of the cold, off the ice, out of the snow…physically and mentally wasted?


And during all those times.  All those lonely moments when that podium seemed a lifetime away and their dreams appeared to be dimmed by failure, by the size of the task, by the enormity of the mountain.  What did they tell themselves?

I can.

I can do this.

I will be better.



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