Impulse Control

“As for impulsiveness, a volume could be written about the disastrous consequences of this symptom. It has ruined many a business, many a marriage, and many a life.”

- Karl Menninger

Before I turned twenty-five I had:

  • Committed early to college to play lacrosse

  • Blew all of my money skydiving

  • Changed my major multiple times

  • Enlisted in the Marine Corps

  • Moved into an apartment without steady income

  • Attempted suicide three times

I was impulsive, and I was young. My prefrontal cortex was still developing.

In fact, some research indicates that, “the frontal lobes, home to key components of the neural circuitry underlying ‘executive functions’ such as planning, working memory, and impulse control, are among the last areas of the brain to mature; they may not be fully developed until halfway through the third decade of life” (Johnson, Blum, & Giedd).

Kids, I get to call them that now that I’m thirty, do not have the mental hardware to deeply consider anything beyond their immediate future.

Many adults look at the behavior of adolescents with bemused concern. Surprised at what we consider silly behavior, we ask: “don’t they think about the consequences?” They do! Just not like adults with fully developed frontal lobes.


Kids, for the most part, have a dial-up connection to their impulse control center. Adults have a 4G connection. It is no wonder that young people will think through a decision, experience slow loading times, and decide to do what they want.

The lack of impulse control may be why we see that, “suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years.”

15-24. Ages where a young person goes through at least three different learning environments, experiences vast changes to their bodies, simultaneously juggles youth and adult personas, and, as if to add more to their plate, every adult asks what they plan to do with the rest of their life.

Add in the potential for bullying, social isolation, poverty, physical and sexual abuse, mediocre parenting, poor parenting, or no parenting, and you can see that kids, despite our adult objections to the contrary, do not have it easy. To say otherwise demeans them, and calls into question the validity of our own growing pains.

Are you worried about your child, but do not know where to start? The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an excellent list of resources that will help:

PANIC Attacks!

Not to be confused with worry or concern. Panic, is concentrated fear.

The symptoms can include some, or all, of the following:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering

  • Feelings of choking

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint

  • Chills or heat sensations

  • Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)

  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)

  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”

  • Fear of dying

Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant and can be very frightening. As a result, people who experience repeated panic attacks often become very worried about having another attack and may make changes to their lifestyle so as to avoid having panic attacks.

All of this sounds bad, but the symptoms and description of “extremely unpleasant’ and “very frightening” does not quite encapsulate what a panic attack truly feels like.

If you have never experienced a panic attack, I wish that you never do. But, you can imagine what one feels like.

Pretend that you are relaxing in front of the television, watching your favorite show; when all of a sudden, a 700 pound Siberian Tiger bursts into your living room. It roars, and your brain quickly realizes that you just got knocked down to the bottom of the food chain. The tiger sits back on it’s haunches, coiling it’s powerful rear legs, and then leaps across the room directly at you.

“I’m going to f____ you up.”

“I’m going to f____ you up.”

It’s mouth is wide open, large teeth clearly visible, and right before you realize you are about to die, the tiger vanishes into a wisp of smoke.

Then, a 700 pound Siberian Tiger bursts into your living room. Roars, leaps, is about to tear you about apart, and then it disappears.

Roar. Leap. Death. Fade.

Roar. Death. Fade.

Death. Fade.

Death. Death. Death. Death. Death.

Panic attacks are the psychological equivalent of this imagined scenario. You constantly ride the edge between life and death, almost 100% certain that you will die. That your death will be both agonizing and slow.

What would you do if a massive tiger leap at you right now? Fighting it is useless. You have no chance of running away. All you can do, is be frozen in place while you get yourself right with your maker.

See how horrifying that is? It is no wonder that a panic attack can be debilitating in the moment, but the effects can linger.

Say the tiger vanishes and does not reappear. Your mind is ready for it to pop back into existence to end yours. But it does not. Tentatively, you stand up, arms in front of your torso to give your vulnerable belly some measure of protection.

Imagine your mind on fire.

Imagine your mind on fire.

Your senses are heightened, blood is pounding, and fear compels you to either sprint or freeze.

At that point, you don’t think that you have to pick up your kids from school later that day. You aren’t worried about that staff meeting at 2pm.

Your brain is on overdrive, trying to find the TIGER THAT WILL KILL YOU!

It takes some time to come down from that state.

In my experience, there is no immediate “snapping out” of a panic attack. You need to let it run its course. It will be awful, but, I promise you, it will end. You will be okay.