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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.

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March 07th, 2016

Why are they so weird? Understanding Teenagers

Up until the 20th century, children entered adult society earlier and were surrounded by adults providing examples - they worked alongside adults. Now teenagers learn from their peers and the media as well as from adults. 

The notion of adolescence as a separate category only really emerged in the 1950’s when there evolved a separate culture of music and fashion. The period of adolescence has now been extended by prolonged economic dependence with children living at home often well into their twenties. 

Puberty is occurring earlier due to improvements in nutrition but there is some doubt that emotional maturity happens any earlier. Our kids look like adults which affects our expectations of their behaviour but in many ways they are still immature. On top of this there is much blurring of the lines between childhood and adulthood with our Peter Pan culture and love of all things youthful. 

Sometimes parents are really taken by surprise when their previously lovely child metamorphoses into an alien being, complete with strange language, belligerent attitude and risky behaviours. 

Why are they so weird?

So what causes this transformation? Hormones have always taken the rap of course but research in recent  years shows that the brain restructuring that happens in adolescence is also to blame. 

Teenagers’ brains go through changes which allow them to develop enhanced powers of perspective, criticism, abstract thought, hindsight and memory; these can create difficulties for them and affect their behaviour. They develop new awareness of existential aloneness and self-consciousness emerges. A dip in self-esteem is the norm and many teens experience depression. Adolescents go through many obvious physical changes during puberty and become tremendously self-conscious about their bodies. They are so aware of the changes that are so apparent that they assume everyone else is looking at them too. Parents can get frustrated with this apparent self-absorption. 

Teens develop a very strong desire to spend time with their peers, sometimes rejecting family in the process. Friends are very important to allow teenagers to sever links with family before finding the emotional nourishment of a mate. Over-dependence on peers can be a problem for teenagers who don’t feel sufficiently appreciated at home. It’s very easy for parents of teenagers to fall into habits of criticising as parents are nervous about teen behavior and choices. When teens feel appreciated at home they still adopt family values on important issues of health, safety, education, career etc. 

Teens take risks. Sometimes unhealthy risks. This is partly because the changes in their frontal lobes make it hard for them to evaluate risks. Much risk-taking behaviour takes place in the presence of their peers. The urge to fit in with or impress their peers makes it even harder to weigh the risk of the behavior they are contemplating. 

Teens argue. They need to as they work out who they are and what they believe in. 

It is the job of a teenager:

  • To take steps towards independence
  • To achieve clearer emotional separation from his family
  • To emerge as a separate independent person with his own identity and values and be able to think for himself
  • To be competent and responsible for his own needs, feelings and behaviours
  • To develop as a sexual being 

It is the job of a parent:

  • To support and affirm moves towards independence and the development of a sense of identity
  • To continue to provide values and boundaries
  • To expect responsible thinking, problem-solving and self-determination
  • To accept the teen’s feelings and opinions (this doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with them!)

Negotiating adolescence 

For a (relatively) smooth ride through adolescence parents need to:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. The onus is on the adult to make sure channels of communication remain open. It’s not enough to say my teen won’t talk to me.
  • Teens do listen when parents avoid criticising, nagging, judging, lecturing and advising. Ears open up when young people expect to hear positive things.
  • Teenagers need to be appreciated probably even more than younger children as their confidence takes a real hit at this time. Make sure praise is credible and meaningful. “I noticed that you’ve been setting your alarm clock to get yourself up a lot lately.” “I really admire the effort you’re putting in with your piano practice. It’s not easy to keep going with something when success isn’t instant.” “This is the third time this week you’ve remembered to lay out your clothes in the evening. Your organisational skills are really improving.” “You put your games things in the wash straightaway. That way they’ll be available when you need them next. You’re becoming much more responsible for your own things.”
  • When adults actively look for the good things in their teens they can see the humour, passion and intelligence of the emerging adult, and maybe occasionally some responsibility. Don’t miss it!
  • Always assume your teen is trying to get things right and will make mistakes. Give him the benefit of the doubt. He had a reason for doing what he did. (Although he may not know what it was.) It’s the parent’s job to look behind the aggravating/dangerous/inappropriate behaviour for a possible reason.
  • Parents need to provide boundaries even though teens don’t want them/think they need them. Empathise that that is a pain and that parents are mean control-freaks.
  • Empathise a lot. Understand how it feels to be them. Acknowledge that they feel stupid, fat, ugly, unpopular, frustrated, angry, disappointed, hurt, betrayed, misunderstood….etc.
  • Teens will talk, and even share problems, if they don’t get judged or yelled at. Of course parents shout when taken by surprise but as soon as they’ve calmed down they need to put judgment to one side and help your child to problem-solve. They need help from your mature brain. 

Good luck and enjoy your awesome adolescent.

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May 22nd, 2015

Why teenagers need the skills and confidence to help in an emergency

Guest blog by Emma Hammett of 'First Aid for Life'

When considering First Aid training the priority is generally to train new parents, child carers and equip people for First Aid for the workplace. Babies and children are accident prone and it is vital that those caring for them are able to help if something happens; there is a duty of care for workers, however the other major group of risk takers are our teenagers. There is currently a campaign to introduce First Aid training to the national curriculum as currently only 2 in 10 schools offer First Aid training and there is no doubt that empowering the next generation with these skills will save lives.

A survey, commissioned by the British Red Cross revealed startling statistics:

  • One in seven young people (aged 11-16) have been in an emergency situation as a result of a friend drinking too much alcohol.
  • More than 532,000 young teenagers have been left to cope with a drunken friend who was sick, injured or unconscious in the last year. 
  • 89 per cent of 11-16 year olds had found themselves confronted with some kind of medical emergency.
  • A quarter of young people have had to deal with asthma attacks.
  • A third of teenagers have had to cope with someone with a head injury.
  • One in five teenagers have had to help someone who is choking.

Crucially: when faced with these emergency situations, 44 per cent panicked and 46 per cent simply didn’t know what to do.

In the survey’s most compelling statistic, 97 per cent of young people, believed first aid education would improve their confidence, skills and willingness to act in a crisis. 

5 vital first aid skills that all young people should know:

If I was to prioritise the key areas to empower teenagers to save lives it would be for them to be completely confident in the following areas:

  • Understand the importance of the recovery position and how critical it is to put someone who is unconscious and breathing into a position that will keep their airway open – particularly if they have been drinking.
  • Know how to calmly asses if someone is seriously ill or injured – what signs to look out for and what to do.
  • Understand how to treat a major bleed – the best way to stop the bleeding and the position to put them in to treat shock.
  • How to help an adult, baby or child who is choking
  • How to help someone having a serious asthma attack or acute allergic reaction. 

First Aid  is a life skill and gaining a First Aid qualification is invaluable to young people striving to achieve their Duke of Edinburgh and Sports Leadership Awards and is highly sought after by UCAS – particularly if applying for a medically related subject. Parents would feel far more confident leaving their little ones with a teenager who has been equipped with the skills to help if there is an accident and Sports and kids clubs see First Aid skills as a necessity. 

Therefore not only are the skills hugely valuable, likely to be used and could save a life; the qualification gained is likely to increase a young person’s chances in this highly competitive world. 

First Aid for Life runs courses with numerous schools and clubs and provides scheduled courses suitable for young people to attend. We also love running bespoke courses for groups of friends and are happy to tailor them for specific requirements such as post exam trips away, GAP years and sports qualifications. Please contact emma@firstaidforlife.org.uk, www.firstaidforlife.org.uk or call 0208 675 4036 

In addition http://www.onlinefirstaid.com has a specific First Aid for Teenagers course which will allow them to access these vital skills on their computers and mobiles.

 

 

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January 14th, 2015

Teens Online: Keeping Your Child Safe from Cyberbullying

by Guest blogger Amy Williams 

It’s no secret that as long as popular social media sites have existed, the virtual distance between computer screens has acted as a veil behind which many bullies feel safer lashing out in disrespectful or harmful ways. 

Our children are up against unfavorable odds when it comes to cyberbullying and educating them on how to handle it is their best line of defence. 

Cyberbullying is only becoming a bigger problem as the idea of anonymity online becomes increasingly popular. Sites like ask.fm, which allows questions from strangers, or apps like whisper, which allows anonymous conversations through picture messages, are making it easier for bullies to get away with leaving harmful comments. 

In addition to teaching them how to keep a swivel in their neck when they walk down a dark street, hide their personal belongings when in public, and the age-old ‘never talk to strangers,’ it is now essential to show them some digital ropes. So don’t hide your head in the sand as a technically challenged, antiquated thinking adult but instead open your eyes to the many sordid actions your child may be challenged with on a daily basis. 

 

Break the Barrier 

With statistics showing approximately 25% of young people being bullied on the internet, 65% witnessing cyberbullying, and a whopping 90% admitting that they would never tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs, it is now or never to break this barrier. 

If your child is still young enough to be shown some savvy digital moves then you are in luck. If you cover some ground rules when handing over an expensive, powerful device such as a smartphone or tablet chances are they will have a healthier transition. 

However, if you are raising a tween or teen you may have to implement a whole new set of requirements for them to follow to keep their device. This can be met with extreme adversity but through the help of your partner and/or a professional such as a local cyber-police person or talk therapist hopefully your child will comply. (See The Parent Practice’s useful publications on ensuring cooperation with teens through good communication. http://www.theparentpractice.com/shop/publications

If not, tough love may have to be put into place until they are willing to comply (over 27% of parents take their child’s device away until they can prove better digital practices). 

 

Do Your Research 

There are many websites that offer their take on how to prevent cyberbullying. 

Most suggest fear based remedies that can end up being counterproductive as this tactic may make your child hyper vigilant and paranoid. Stick to sites that teach a more intellectual approach toward the many aspects of your child’s digital as well as physical world. 

Offering them the opportunity to look through well taught eyes rather than panic at every situation they encounter will, in the long run, be the best gift you can give them. A fearful child will inevitably grow up to become a fearful adult and living a life of fear can be fraught with all sorts of unwanted scenarios including constant illness, misinformation, anger, victimization, difficult relationships and a constant challenge within career advancement. 

 

The Tease Effect 

Outside of computer communication, teasing can be witnessed as an underlying passive/aggressive tactic toward bullying or being bullied. 

As it may begin somewhat innocently, when children tease one another their back and forth banter can quickly escalate into an ugly scenario. It is a way that children explore their ability to see how far their controlling tactics can be utilized. 

When in the presence of an adult it can rapidly be quelled with some talk lessons on the damage or potential damage it carries. However, when it is transferred to a digital platform teasing remains beyond an adult’s supervision until it is too late.

 

A Scary Manifestation 

Through what is referred to as the ‘Disinhibition Effect bullying can easily manifest on the web a lot faster and harsher than in person. It is described by researchers at the Department of Psychology, Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey in an article titled, ‘The online disinhibition effect’ as, “While online, some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person.” 

This article explores six factors that interact with one another in creating this effect: dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity [being unaccountable], solipsistic introjection [regarding only one self], dissociative imagination [separating from reality], and minimisation of authority.”

 

It Won’t Go Away 

Your child may seem well adjusted to school, friends, clubs, sports and so on for as they grow older face-to-face bullying lessens substantially. However, a study by the University of California - Riverside Graduate School of Education which was published in the journal, School Psychology Quarterly titled ‘Examination of the Change in Latent Statuses in Bullying Behaviors Across Time,’ researchers found that as students age they are verbally and physically bullied less, but cyberbullied more.

 

School Based Intervention 

The University of California study recommended some school-based interventions as published by Science Daily. Here are a few to consider: 

  • Considering the oldest students were more likely to engage in bullying, and bullying perpetration increased after students transitioned into middle school, school personnel should focus their intervention resources on students in sixth and eighth grades. 
  • Interventions should teach social-emotional learning skills to students and appropriate ways to navigate new peer groups and social ierarchies. 
  • Considering the gender differences for those that bully, different interventions may be warranted for boys and girls. Interventions for girls may focus on relationship issues and appropriate use of social media, while interventions for boys may address physical bullying. 
  • It is important for teachers and parents to talk to students about cyber safety and to supervise internet and mobile device use to help prevent cyber victimisation. It is also important for adults to take reports of verbal/relational bullying and cyberbullying seriously and to intervene in all cases. 

The researchers go on to warn that school as well as parental intervention for bullying should address each individual victim and perpetrator experience rather than attempt a wide curve education as a ‘one size fits all’ approach. 

Whether it is utilising tracking software to determine the severity of cyberbullying your child may be involved in, talk therapy, community and/or school involvement, using any means necessary can stop this destructive cycle.

 

Cyberbullying in the U.K.

Anywhere where internet use is a significant aspect of daily social interaction, cyberbullying will be an issue. 

Fortunately, resources exist in the UK for anyone struggling to handle cyberbullying cases. From hotlines dedicated to handling these and similar issues, to laws protecting victims, this is a problem about which government officials are aware, and have adapted to handle. 

Of course, all of the above, non-country specific advice is applicable too. Awareness is one of the most important steps towards dealing with online threats. Keeping that in mind alongside available laws and apps will give you or your child the power you need to handle online bullies. 

For more information on cyberbullying and how it affects those targeted by it, check out the infographic below.

 

Author Bio 

Amy Williams is a freelance writer based in Southern California. As a mother of two, helping parents understand their teens is something she is very passionate about. You can follow her on Twitter.

 

 

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