Understanding your Teen’s Development
A parent recently asked are teens “crazy”… because she’d seen a book titled “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy”, which describes recent brain imaging studies.
In full disclosure, I haven’t read this book yet, but have perused it. The basic message is solid – but I caution folks to realize the main point is a bit overstated.
I’ve reviewed many brain imaging studies. They do suggest teen brains on average look different from adult brains (not in shape or size, but in the way they function). That only tells us that teens are in developmental flux, and that more development is on the way. Their development may continue into very early twenties in fact. But, that doesn’t mean teens are “nuts” (as one book reviewer joked). It doesn’t mean that teens are unable to make good, thoughtful decisions, or be responsible.
These brain imaging studies should never be used as an excuse for negative behavior in any teen, especially if the bulk of teenagers otherwise handle similar situations well. In America, we have a tendency to blame biology for our problems. And we have more than our share of problems with many teens growing up – not because their brains are wired funny – but because we adults have prolonged their childhood and adolescence. The fact is, kids here grow up very, very late. Anecdotally, teens act less mature in America than the average teen I’ve come across in other countries.
We hover. We worry. We often do too much for children who are capable. We give them to much attention and resources. We also stress and pressure them to be early top performers in everything they do. This combination between pushing them to achieve early at all cost coupled with doing too much for them to make them look mature and look smarter could make any teen feel and act “nuts!!”
How to understand your teen’s brain development? In short, teens on average will be more emotional. Many will be more impulsive. They will fight with you and their friends more (they call this having “drama”). They will need your close attention and help and certainly your love for years to come – but not all teens are the same. In my experience, many can mature earlier when their parents push them to be responsible and self-sufficient. Others need a longer road and more parenting/mentorship simply because they are late bloomers.
Let’s all keep an eye on our behavior as parents and educators. Early in childhood, don’t push them to achieve too much and don’t do too much for them if they are more than capable. Let them have ownership of their actions and choices. Don’t interfere with their sense of responsibility by fixing everything. Always give them opportunities to grow up in the real world.
Finally, brain-wise, don’t worry about what’s going on beneath the surface. The biology of the brain knows what its doing…. it will take care of itself.
By middle school, kids tune out parents and tune into peers. They get defensive as soon as they hear a mom or dad’s’ voice. Shields go up and good advice can’t get through. How can you get your kids to listen? Here are five basic steps to help. I use them in my work everyday talking with children. You can too.
Step One: Don’t lead with advice. Don’t start off a conversation with solutions or directives. Kids automatically hear it as “you messed up” or “you can’t think for yourself.” That shuts down their active listening.
Step Two: Join in. Start a conversation by sincerely acknowledging how they feel and what they’re going through. For example, “Wow – that’s terrible you’re friend didn’t invite you… sorry… that must hurt a lot.” And stop it there. Let a few seconds or minutes of silence go by. This is how kids share problems with one another. I’ve heard it many times in my work. And I’ve found that using this style of interacting really helps when I need to communicate something very important and sensitive.
Step Three: Don’t lecture. In my work, I frequently see parents lecturing their kids about what they already know. The more a parent does this – the less a child listens.
Step Four: Pose questions (don’t offer solutions). This encourages children to think for themselves. I tell parents to Position Yourself as a Learner. Truly listen and learn from your kids. Don’t interrupt. Show you want to learn about their world, who they are, and how they think. Bite your tongue when you get that urge to offer advice. Keep your anxiety at bay. Stop the impulse to teach and fix every problem because it makes you nervous.
Step Five: Ask permission to offer advice. Say, “I have an idea… you want to hear what I’m thinking… could help?” If they decline your offer, respect that. Wait. Try another time. In many cases, giving them a little space allows them to circle back to you when they’re ready to listen.
That’s when your advice gets through and takes hold.