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February 27th, 2017

Adolescence - Awful or Amazing?

Is your child racing towards the teenage years faster than you expected? Does that fill you with dread? Or are you looking forward to that greater independence? Either way a better knowledge of what goes on in the teenage mind will smooth the path of adolescence for both parent and teen. 

Parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all science. You need to have a real understanding of the real child in front of you at the stage he is at now to know how to apply your parenting techniques and strategies. 

Unrealistic expectations are the source of much upset in families. 

When we understand our child’s stage of development we’ll have a better understanding of what’s reasonable to expect of them. Understanding what your child is capable of now doesn’t mean giving up on goals for the future but it will direct our efforts so we can give them the support they need to achieve what we want from them.

You are the experts on your children – you know what they like and don’t like, what are their fears, what makes them happy and how they’re likely to behave in different situations. But sometimes you might not understand why they do the things they do. And just when you think you’ve ‘got’ them, they change.

The perfectly reasonable child you used to know may morph overnight into an alien being when they hit puberty. If you’re both going to get through this turbulent period ok you need to understand what’s going on for your adolescent.

Hormones generally get blamed for the changes in adolescence and although they play a part recent research is showing that changes in the adolescent brain are responsible for much of the ‘strange’ behaviour.

From the ages of 11 to 24 the brain undergoes a complete remodelling. The way we think, remember, reason, focus attention, make decisions and relate to others all change.

There are dramatic changes in the frontal lobes — the area of the cortex behind the forehead

which acts as a command centre. Eventually the changes will allow the teen to regulate their emotions, think about risks in big-picture terms, exercise wise judgment, plan for the future and have empathy. But for now it is a building site, where parts will go offline for a while. That’s why adults need to have respect for the remodelling process and make adjustments for the fact that the adolescent mind is a construction zone.

While the frontal lobe develops, it’s the limbic region (emotional centre) that is more active. That’s why a bland remark or an innocent bump in the hallway can be interpreted by a teenager as intentional and they will respond with anger.

But the massive re-modelling of the brain’s basic structure in early adolescence is good news – the brain is thought to be especially receptive to new information and primed to acquire new skills during this period of exuberance.

Some brain development is driven by genes, some by use. Experience alters the structure of the brain at any age but progresses faster when young.

“…we know that the major innovations in technology, in science, in music and art come from adolescent minds. That’s because adolescents are literally biologically programmed to push against the status quo that adults have created and imagine a world that could be, and not just learn the world as it is. That’s why we need to see adolescents as the hope for the future.”
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Dan Siegel

We mustn’t see adolescence as a period of aberration to be endured. It can also be regarded as perfectly adaptive – the teen is a creature highly adapted for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside. 

Understanding what’s going on for teens makes it easier for us to be compassionate, to not assume they’re doing what they’re doing just to wind us up. 

Teens tend to:

  • Be emotional/moody. You say “hello darling” and they say “what?”; you say “do you need any help with your homework?” and they say “I’ll do it, get off my back!”
  • Be impulsive and do risky, dangerous things. This is partly because of an increase in the production of dopamine — the hormone that creates our drive for reward. This is why teenagers gravitate towards thrilling experiences, as the dopamine release gives them a huge buzz. It’s why teens are often passionate about things. It explains, too, why they are impulsive: they concentrate on the forthcoming reward rather than the risk of an activity.
  • Be vulnerable to drugs and alcohol. The same quantity of drugs or alcohol has a much stronger effect than it does in adults.
  • Be developing as separate independent people with their own identity and values and be able to think for themselves - they are very focused on themselves and self-absorbed. They may express this new identity through their dress, piercings/ tattoos, hair, music, language, how they keep their rooms. They may argue a lot as they work out what they believe in.
  • Start moving towards independence, -going off on their own, not wanting to ‘report in’/not answering mobiles, not wanting to do ‘family things’, resisting rules. They may appear to reject family in the process of separating from them.
  • Be developing as sexual beings- with awkwardness, secrecy and appearance anxiety. They may be looking at explicit websites.
  • Prefer their peers’ company.
  • Not talk much, to family.
  • Want to sleep at inconvenient times.
  • Be unmotivated about school work or chores.
  • Always be on screens.
  • Prone to mental health problems.
  • Teens need:

    Understanding and compassion
    To hear that they are appreciated
    Coaching in organisational skills
    Help with decision-making, and considering other viewpoints
    Warmth and closeness
    Teaching and modelling self-soothing skills
    Coaching in friendship skills
    Family support –this is a stress buffer for teens
    Rules to keep them safe and to develop good habits, such as curfews, use of screens generally and especially social media, bedtimes, family time, chores, homework
    Help in understanding what’s going on in their brains

For more help in understanding the teenage years and some strategies for making the most of them come to our regualr workshops on Teenagers. Click here for more details.

Posted in: Adolescence , Teenagers

 

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