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Brain Development in Children

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11 Years Old: The Lawyer

Milestone: Debate Turns Logical

The Result: “I'd better save my money for law school. If I say no to something, Elissa refutes each one of my reasons…and what's most annoying is, her rebuttals make sense!” —Dawn Ruffalo, Long Beach, NY

Why: While it may drive you bonkers to be handed a bullet-point list ticking off why she needs an iPad 4, it's something to be proud of. “An eleven-year-old brain is amping up its judgment and considered decision-making ability,” says Rubin. This spurt also allows your kiddo to generate ideas outside of personal experience, which is a first. “She can think more abstractly, looking at things from different angles. And that makes for a pretty spirited debate partner.”

Help Her Along: Take advantage of the growing sophistication of your child's thought process by working it harder. “Now's the time to engage in what-if scenarios. And since bullying peaks at this age, make that one of your scenarios,” says developmental physician Adiaha I. A. Spinks-Franklin, M.D., co-chair of the Advocacy Committee of the Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Texas Children's Hospital. What would you do if someone asked you to text him a sexy picture? How would you react if you saw a fourth-grader getting bullied? “But the scenarios don't all have to be serious. The goal is to give your child a safe opportunity to work out his or her thoughts,” she says.

12 Years Old: The Risk Taker

Milestone: Testing Limits

The Result: “A week after Hurricane Sandy, our street had no power and was strewn with debris. I told Michael he couldn't go outside after five o'clock. But when I came home from a quick errand, I found him curbside with a friend. Anyone could have run him over. I could have run him over! Doesn't he get that a pitch-black street is not a good place to stand around?” —Donna Marie Ray-Snyder, Babylon, NY

Why: The part of the brain that regulates the processing of rewards, social feedback, and emotions becomes super sensitive right before puberty, according to a recent study in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. “Twelve-year-olds don't have enough self-control in risky situations,” says Chapman. “They can see the immediate consequences—my parents are going to get really mad at me—but are worse at anticipating the long-term ones.”

Help Him Along: “You need to be a surrogate frontal lobe,” says Rubin. Keep up the what-would-you-do? drill with different scenarios you started last year. And when you're not doing your best John Quiñones impersonation, make sure your child is clocking enough sleep. A new study found that getting eight to ten hours of sleep every night bolsters a child's declarative memory—the kind that comes into play when he's making decisions.

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