Tag Archive for adolescence

Adolescence: The Perfect Time to Contribute

Pre-adolescents and adolescents go through tremendous change. They change from elementary school to middle school to high school to college.  Their individual classrooms and teachers change multiple times a day. Their relationships with family and friends change. Their voices change. Their bodies change. Even their brain changes. In fact, their changing brain makes pre-adolescence and adolescence the perfect time for building the habit of contributing to family and community. One impact of a teen’s changing brain is their growing ability to think abstractly and consider the consequences of various actions and words. They want to make a contribution of consequence, a meaningful contribution as opposed to the simple act of making their bed (which they likely perceive as having little benefit to themselves or others). So, think about ways in which your teen can have substantial impact on others in the community—a regular volunteer position helping children or elderly or homeless for instance. When you want them to contribute to the home by doing chores, explain the “substantial benefit” of that chore. Don’t just make it up; be sincere. Your teen wants to make a difference. Provide opportunities for them to do so.

The teen brain also has a growing ability to take another person’s perspective and to understand another person’s feelings. They often “go overboard” with this growing ability in their attempt to become popular with their peers. This new ability grows so strong they worry about “bad hair days” or the “pimple that will ruin the dance.” But you can utilize their growing ability to take another person’s perspective and their desire to be popular by helping them consider how they might contribute to their home and community. For what group of people do they feel a particularly strong compassion? How might they like to contribute to others in a meaningful way? How do household chores impact others in the home? You might have these types of discussions with your teen while discussing chores, opportunities to serve, or ways of contributing to others.

The reward system in your teen’s brain is also changing. They experience greater positive feelings from new and exciting activities than we do as adults. This drives some of their risk-taking behaviors. However, research suggests that this same brain area (the reward system) drives kind and helpful behaviors as well. In fact, most people, including teens, find kindness and helpfulness a “feel-good experience;” they find it rewarding. Sounds like a great reason to build opportunities to make contributions of consequences into your teen’s life. Your teen’s brain is primed for making contributions of consequence. Create such opportunities in the family. Let them provide real and meaningful jobs like caring for younger siblings, helping with meal preparation, or participating in family decisions about food choices, rules, daily activities, or vacations.   Encourage them to become involved in their school through student government, clubs, or sports where they can take on leadership and decision-making roles. Provide opportunities for them to contribute to the community through regular volunteer efforts in areas where they have a particularly strong interest or passion.

My Teen Isolates…Is That Bad?

Parents often ask, “My teen comes home and goes straight to his bedroom, closes the door and isolates. Isn’t that bad?” Well…it depends. Researchers from the University of California and Wilmington College published a study showing not all solitude is the same. Some solitude was problematic. It was a red flag revealing a deeper issue. Other solitude was good, even helpful. It provided a refreshing, restorative time of self-reflection leading to personal growth and greater self-acceptance.

How can you tell the difference? By recognizing the reason your teen is choosing solitude. The motivation for choosing solitude differentiates problematic solitude from healthy solitude. If a teen chooses solitude in response to social anxiety, lack of friends, or rejection, they are at a greater risk of depression. They tend to have a lower level of autonomy and fewer positive relationships.

If solitude is imposed on a teen as punishment, they often feel like they are “missing out” on activities and opportunities. This can lead to feeling left out and lonely. It can contribute to depression and anger.

If a teen chooses solitude to help themselves “calm down” or for “peace and quiet,” it can prove helpful. In this case, solitude provides restorative time for self-reflection. These teens learn the skill of being alone and learn how solitude can enhance creativity and personal renewal.

Still, how can a parent know the difference? One way to determine if your teen is using solitude in a healthy or an unhealthy way is to ask them why they spend time alone. Allow them to explain what they are doing and why. This might be the start of a simple discussion about emotional self-care. You might also ask yourself some questions about your teen, questions you can begin to answer based on your own observations.

  • Does your teen have friends or are they a loner? If they have no friends, their isolation may raise some concerns. Why do they not have friends? Is it due to being bullied? Anxious? Fearful? Sad? This observation may lead to a discussion with your teen about their mood, their perspective on friendships, loneliness, and relationships in general.
  • Does your teen exhibit social anxiety? It’s ok to be shy and introverted. As an introvert they will likely still have a few good friends. However, if a person has social anxiety that interferes with them going places or interacting with others it may be good to seek outside help.
  • Does your teen seem energized after spending time alone? Many teens just need time alone to “re-create” their inner sense of peace after spending all day interacting in a somewhat chaotic and over-stimulating school setting. They need to unwind and enjoy a moment of “peace and quiet.” They need a time of personal restoration. If so, they will often feel energized after a period of solitude. 
  • How does your teen seem overall? Do they sleep well? Do they enjoy times with friends? Do they become tearful often? The answer to these questions can provide a great deal of information about the health of their solitude.
  • Does your teen talk negatively about themselves? Do they put themselves down? Are they excessively self-critical? If so, their isolation may raise some concerns.

These observations may help you decide if your teen’s desire to be alone is a problem or simply a healthy part of their development. If your answers raise concerns seek out some counsel from friends who have older children, a pastor, or a therapist.

Are You Teaching Your Teen to NOT Talk with You?

Most parents want their teens to talk with them. They long for intimate conversations and fun interactions with their teen. But, teens are notoriously secretive.  They are becoming their own person and may avoid talking about certain things with mom and dad. When all is said and done, however, teens really do want a relationship with their parents. They want to talk with their mom and dad. They don’t want to “be talked at” or “talked down to,” but they do want to “talk with” their parents. Unfortunately, parents may respond to their teen in

ways that teach their teen NOT to talk to them. They may actually encourage greater silence and secretiveness in their teen by responding to their teen in certain ways. For instance, here are five ways parents can inadvertently increase their teen’s secretiveness.

  • Making mountains out of mole hills. If everything becomes a big deal when your teen approaches you, they will talk less. Our teen is less likely to approach us when we respond with statements like “I can’t believe…” or “What were you thinking?” or “Why would you…?” or “You know better than….” These responses may cause your teen to feel inadequate and unaccepted. Also, if we yell and get upset when our teen tells us something, they begin to believe their actions and emotions overwhelm us. They may stop talking to us in an attempt to protect us from becoming overwhelmed. I’ve heard many teens say, “I can’t talk to my Mom. It’s too much for her. She just can’t handle it.”  Making mountains out of mole hills will push your teen into silence around you, especially when an important issue arises.
  • Giving your teen only partial attention. Our teens crave our attention. They don’t admit it, but it’s true. They want our approval. They long for our recognition. If we focus on the TV or the paper or a video game when they want to talk with us, they will give up and quit trying to talk with us. When we divide our attention between them and the football game or them and “Candy Crush” they will decide we do not value them. They will give up seeking our advice and become more secretive. If you want your teen to talk to you more, give them your full attention.
  • Not keeping their confidence. I have seen too many examples of parents talking about their teen’s difficulties on Facebook or with friends in public places. Why would a teen talk with a parent who does not keep their confidence? Would you talk to someone if you feared they would spread your “dirty laundry” all over the neighborhood…or internet? Learn to keep your teen’s confidence. Be faithful and confidential.
  • Giving lots of lectures. Our teens really don’t like lectures. Do you? Their eyes glaze over and they tune out. They hear the sound of Charlie Brown’s teachers: “Wa wa wa wa wa.” They focus on how irritating the lecture is. Lectures just don’t work. Keep it short and sweet. Better yet, listen! Then, after you have listened, listen some more!
  • Pushing them to talk. You really can’t push your teen to talk with you. The more you push, the more they dig in and refuse to talk. In addition, your teen is going through a developmental stage of “differentiation.” They are separating from you as their parent and becoming “their own person.”  This demands a lot of self-reflection and exploration. They naturally become quieter in regards to their parents. Parents actually find the most conversation with their teen occurs when they can accept the changing relationship and periods of silence. So, quit “badgering” your teen to talk and simply provide a safe and supportive environment where talking comes natural. Don’t worry, in a safe and supportive environment you will find your teen slowly opens up.

These five actions will push your teen toward silence and secretiveness. But, they also give you a hint about ways of getting them to open up and talk more.  Don’t miss next week’s blog in which we will look at actions you can take to encourage your teen to talk with you.

The Enemy of Teen Sleep

Cell phones have become the enemy of sleep for many teens. It’s no surprise when you consider these stats:

Teenager sleeps on the BooksIn addition, the blue light of cell phones and other mobile devices decreases the release of melatonin, a neuro-hormone important for sleep (Read Blue Light From Electronics Disturbs Sleep, Especially for Teens for more info). In fact, using any mobile device within an hour before bed is associated with an increased need to take an hour or more to fall asleep (Screen Time May Damage Teen Sleep explains more). If you want to conquer the enemy of sleep, try these tips.

  1. Avoid cell phones and other screens before bedtime. Do not use screens within 90 minutes of bedtime. Instead, read a book, relax, take a bath, and enjoy conversation. These activities will also limit the amount of blue light experienced before bedtime.
  2. Turn your phone to “do not disturb” for the night-time. No need to answer every text or message received through the night. Set the phone to only allow certain numbers to get through, like messages from your children or parents…for emergencies only.
  3. Remember the importance of sleep. A good night’s rest is much more important than Facebook or Instagram. Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep/night (Learn more in Teenagers, Sleep and Blue Light). Lack of sleep limits a teen’s ability to listen and learn, contributes to acne, and increases agitation, even aggression. Lack of sleep also interferes with motivation, memory, and concentration. It even slows reflexes (Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep for more on the impact of sleep deprivation on teens). Recognizing the importance of sleep can increase our motivation to help our children develop a healthier pattern of sleep.
  4. Curb cell phone usage in general. Set “phone boundaries” around meal times, family times, fun times…times when you will set the phone aside to focus on interactions with your family. Put the phone away so you can build intimacy and relationships.

Follow these four tips to defeat the digital enemy destroying your teen’s sleep. You might just gain a more rested—and pleasant—teen.

What To Do With Rude, Argumentative Teens

Research from the University of Virginia suggests argumentative, rude teens who pressure others to side may “grow up” to be argumentative, rude adults. More disturbing, these rude-teens-turned-rude-adults report high levels of communication and high levels of parenting challengesatisfaction in their relationships in spite of friends and romantic partners describing them as “impossible to get along with” or “impossible to talk to.” As rude teens, they developed “relationship blindness.” As adults, they remained “blind” to the impact of their negative behaviors on the people around them and their relationships with them. They do not pick up on social cues that allow them to adjust their behavior, to modify it from rude to polite, pushy to accepting, argumentative to cooperative. And, if there is one thing worse than a rude, argumentative teen, it’s a rude, argumentative adult who doesn’t even know how rude and argumentative they are!  None of us want our teens to grow up into a rude adult with “relationship blindness.” So, how do we make sure our teen’s normal argumentative behavior does not develop into relationship blindness leading to life as an argumentative, rude, and pushy adult?

First, and most important, model a better alternative. When you disagree with your spouse, model respect. Listen intently. Speak politely. Allow your spouse to influence you instead of stubbornly insisting he or she agree with you. Do the same with your peers. And, don’t forget to do the same with your teen. Listen tenaciously to understand your teen’s point of view. Remain polite toward your teen, even in the face of their seeming apathy. Look for areas of agreement. Even allow your teen’s point of view to influence you. Our teens learn best by watching us. So live the behavior you want to see in them. Model, model, model…and model again.

Second, provide times for you and your teen to talk.  Teens will become increasingly argumentative when they feel unheard and, as a result, ignored and devalued. Make time to converse. Listen rather than lecture. Become genuinely curious instead of interrogating to gather ammunition to support your perspective. Follow their lead and focus on their ideas and feelings rather than directing the conversation to the morals you desire to emphasize. Avoid giving unsolicited advice and offer simple door-opening responses like “really,” “that’s interesting,” “hmmmm,” or “what did you think/do?”

Third, talk with your teens about how rude, argumentative behavior impacts other people and relationships. Point it out in movies or sitcoms. Don’t overdo it. Just nonchalantly point out the impact of a character’s rude behavior and then go on to other aspects of the show. If they want to talk about the rude behavior, follow their lead. Otherwise, let it go. You can also use real life examples—examples from your own life or their life. Just don’t do it in a rude, argumentative way. Simply point out people’s response to polite behavior versus rude behavior. Point out the results of truly listening and responding to differences of opinion as opposed to constant arguing. Discuss the results of pushy behavior compared to the results of cooperative behavior.

Fourth, model a better alternative. Oh, wait. Did I already say this? Sorry. It’s worth saying it one more time though. Model the life you want your children to live!

Parenting Lessons From A Washtub Bass

I’ve always loved music. In my teen years I found the instructions for constructing a washtub bass—very cool. So, I got my family’s old wash tub and drilled a hole in the bottom of it. I turned the tub upside-down and attached an eye bolt into the hole. Next, I cut the handle off an old broom and notched it to so it could rest on the edge of the washtub. washtub bassFinally, I attached a rope from the eye bolt to the top of the broom handle. Voila! I had a washtub bass. I began to play around with it when my parents, hearing the sound, came in to see what was going on. With great pride I revealed my washtub bass. My parents were less than impressed. In fact, they were upset. I had, without their knowledge, ruined the family’s washtub.

I look back on this experience and realize something about adolescence. Adolescence is a time of increased abstract reasoning and emerging conceptual thinking. Teens experience an expanding awareness and a burgeoning of ideas. As a result, they see the world through a new lens, question the status quo, and offer innovative ideas and creative solutions. This creates a wonderful opportunity to cultivate a lifestyle of learning and growing. Daniel Siegel calls this aspect of an adolescent’s ESSENCE their desire for Creative Exploration (Learn more about the ESSENCE of adolescence in The ESSENCE of Adolescence). Unfortunately, teens lack the experience to recognize all the potential dangers and pitfalls of these creative ideas (thus the loss of one broom and one washtub in my teen home).  As parents, we can honor our teens by nurturing their creative exploration and guiding it in a healthy direction. Here are four ideas to help:

  1. Be an example. We are never too old to learn something new, apply creative solutions to old problems, or enjoy a novel adventure. As you learn and grow, share what you learn with your teen. Let your teen witness you living a lifestyle of creative exploration filled with a love of learning and adventure.
  2. Share excitement for your teen’s creative exploration. When your teen bursts with excitement over some new bit of knowledge or experience, share that excitement. Ask questions. Let them teach you about the source of their excitement. Learn from your teen. All of this will encourage them to continue learning.
  3. Take conversation with your teen to a deeper level. Become curious about the inner world of your teen. For instance, ask them what the source of their excitement motivates them to do. Explore how it inspires them and why it creates such passion. Find out what specific aspects they find most exciting. In the process, allow your teen to think and respond differently than you. Let them become passionate and even angry about things that do not create strong emotion in you. In fact, encourage that passion and explore it with them. Make your home a safe space in which you and your teen can really dig into, uncover, and explore ideas, fears, concerns, passions, and joys.
  4. Allow your teen to impact and influence you. Whenever your teen expresses a need, either verbally or nonverbally, respond to that need. If they need a hug, give them a hug. When they need space, give them space. When they need encouragement, encourage. When they express excitement, get excited with them. If they express outrage, allow the outrage and empathize with that outrage. When your teen makes a valid point, acknowledge it. Go a step further and allow your teen’s valid point to change your opinion when appropriate. When your teen makes a good suggestion, follow it. Allow your teen to witness his or her influence on you.

Practice these four ideas to nurture and encourage your teen’s creative exploration to become a lifestyle that will add joy and vitality to your teen’s life for years to come.   As an added bonus, you will add joy to your life. Even better, you will cultivate a deeper relationship with your teen.

Love Your Teen’s Risky Behavior

Teens love the thrill of taking risks. They seek out experiences that will stimulate their senses, emotions, and thinking in new and challenging ways. Daniel Siegel describes this novelty seeking as part of the adolescent’s E.S.S.E.N.C.E. (read The Essence of Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains at sunsetAdolescence for more information). Like our teens’ Emotional Spark (read more about the Emotional Spark of Your Adolescent’s ESSENCE), their Novelty (N) seeking stems from brain changes that produce an increased drive for reward. Novelty seeking plays an important role in teen development. It helps them try out emerging abilities. It prompts them to leave the familiar comforts of home and venture into an unknown world. Their Emotional Spark contributes to seeking Novel experiences with passion and gusto, enabling our teens to seek out and establish their identity in the adult world outside their childhood home. As beneficial as this is, it does carry risk, some healthy and some dangerous. At least four actions can help parents work with their teens’ desire for Novelty and adventure while buffering the potential dangers.

  1. Get to know your teens. Become a student of their interests, ideas, activities, friends… their life. I know you have known them all their lives, but they are changing. You see their bodies changing. Now get to know how their inner world is changing as well—their thoughts and emotions, ideas and values. Learn about their insecurities and fears. Explore their interests and ideas. Listen to their emerging dreams and their developing sense of self. You will find it exciting to learn about your developing teen.
  2. As you learn about your teens, provide adventures based on their interests and values. Create opportunities of healthy risk for your teen. These can include anything from BMX riding, mission trips, hunting, rock climbing, or video production. The possibilities are as limitless as your teens’ potential interests. The important thing is to shape the adventure around your teens’ interests.
  3. Communicate with your teen. When you communicate with your teen listen more than you talk. Show genuine curiosity in what they have to say rather than lecture, advise, or direct. Listen attentively. Show genuine interest in what they think. Be curious enough to understand them deeply.

To accomplish the three steps above, you need to spend time with your teen…as much time as you can. Find creative ways to spend time with your teen. Make the most of every opportunity to interact with them, whether while driving them to and from activities or hiking the Appalachians. The time you invest will yield great dividends of enjoyable conversation and intimate relationship.

Your teens’ desire for novelty can provide wonderful opportunities for you to connect with your teen. It may also spark new life into your middle aged lifestyle. Why not enjoy the benefits of your teens’ E.S.S.E.N.C.E for your sake and theirs?

My Teen Hates Me!

Do you ever get the feeling your teen hates you…that they don’t want you around? You know the scenario: teens don’t smile or interact at home but as soon as they see friends they perk up, smile, and interact with great energy. Or, teens, embarrassed by their parent’s simple remark, roll their eyes and say, “Maw-awm,” in their best agitated tone, “You can leave now!” Such scenarios can make a parent feel unloved. Don’t worry; your Cute Teenage Girl with Serious Expressionteen does love you. But, they are also beginning to develop their own life. They are exploring their independent sense of self in the world. To do so, they push against you (their parent) and become more intensely involved with their peers. They find companionship and support with other teens who are engaged in the same transition and the same struggles as them. Strong connections with other teens provide teens with an accepting environment in which to explore their emerging selves and abilities in the world outside of family. Research even suggests your teens’ positive peer relationships provide the best predictor of well-being and happiness throughout their life. Daniel Siegel refers to our teens’ drive for peer relationships as Social Engagement, a crucial aspect of our adolescents’ ESSENCE (read The ESSENCE of Adolescence and The Emotional Spark of your Adolescent’s ESSENCE for more). Unfortunately, all this can also mean your teens distance themselves from you, their parent. You may feel the distance as a loss or even emptiness at times. It may also increase your anxiety and worry. But, never forget, your teen does still love you. They still need you. They just need growing independence as well. How can you balance your teen’s need for independence with their need to stay connected to you? Try these 6 tips.

  • Pay attention to your teen’s inner life. Don’t get too caught up in their grumpy looks, rolling eyes, and impatient gestures. Instead, get curious about the emotions and thoughts behind these outward signs. Let them engage you in their philosophical discussions and emotional rants. Listen closely and you will learn about their developing inner world of thoughts, values, concerns, fears, and interests.
  • Accept your teen. You may endure ever-changing moods and constantly shifting interests. Accept your teen and their shifts as they explore their emerging self. Encourage. Listen. Support. Express, through words and actions, that you want them to become themselves and achieve their dreams, not your dreams.
  • Provide a safe haven for you teen. Create a home environment in which they feel safe, accepted and loved no matter wat. Let home be a place they can come to let their guard down, talk about anything from homework to their anger at you to the temptations they face at school. Accept the conversations as loving invitations into their private world of developing thoughts and ideas. Make your home a place they can turn to for support, encouragement, and guidance when the risks make them nervous.
  • Trust your teen to manage risk. Teens engage in risky behaviors that stem from their need to explore the world. Allow your teen to step beyond their comfort zone. Even more difficult, allow your teen to step beyond your comfort zone.
  • Focus on connecting with your teen. Connecting is even more important than correcting in many instances. If you take the time to connect with your teen you will find less need to correct. Your teen will also respond to your correction more readily when you have a strong connection with them.
  • Be present with your teens when they encounter difficulties. Don’t try to fix the problem; simply be present with them. Be aware and sensitive to what is happening. Tune in to how the problem is impacting them emotionally, mentally, socially, and even physically. Remain open to how various situations impact your own inner life as well. Engage in a conversation around the emotions, thoughts, and meaning of various difficulties. You might be surprised as a solution naturally arises.

Practice these six tips and you will find your teen feels secure in their relationship with you. Home will become a secure base from which they can go with their peers to safely explore their place in the world away from home and a safe haven to which they can return when difficulties arise. Most important, you will watch your teen will mature in amazing ways.

The Emotional Spark of Your Adolescent’s ESSENCE

Daniel Siegel suggests the ESSENCE of adolescence involves an Emotional Spark (the ES in ESSENCE—for an overview of the ESSENCE read The ESSENCE of Adolescence). Teens experience intense emotions sparked by changes occurring in their bodies and their lives. For instance, teens experience changes in their family role and responsibilities. They also begin to face the daunting task of determining the role they will play in the world outside their home. Hormones surge through their bodies resulting in physical changes as well. All these changes can result in self-conscious awareness, stress, and volatile emotions. In addition, teens’ brains are changing. The brain’s reward chemical (dopamine) has a lower baseline in teens. This contributes to your teen’s complaint of boredom. On the other hand, when teens reach a threshold of interest that releases the reward chemical, it releases at a higher rate and provides a greater reward. As a result, teens gravitate toward behaviors that will release dopamine and provide an exhilarating thrill. Unfortunately, some of these behaviors may involve risk. Add to this a teen’s tendency to see only the reward and not the potential risk, not the context or the setting or the values, and you can see how this adds to teen vulnerability. You can also imagine how this creates an emotional spark, an intensity of emotion in teens. They can swing from happy to angry, miserable to ecstatic, boredom to energetic interaction in the blink of an eye. They seek out thrilling adventures and exhilarating activities in life. That, perhaps, is one of the benefits of a teen’s emotional spark. It fills them with energy when they find an activity of interest. It can create a zest for life and drive for the ideal world. It empowers teens to find meaning for their life. In fact, many adults would benefit from creating an emotional spark in their own lives, to find that zest and excitement for the adventure of life.

Since that emotional spark also carries potential risk, teens need their parents to help guide and direct their emotional spark in a positive direction. They need parents to create an environment in which their emotional spark brings about productive results. Parents can help channel a teen’s emotional spark in a creative beneficial direction by:

  1. Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains at sunsetHonor your teen’s emotions by accepting their emotions, especially if you don’t understand them. Become curious about your teen’s emotions. Strive to understand the emotion and the priorities hiding beneath the surface of the emotion. Help your teen label their emotions and clarify the values undergirding those emotions. By doing this, you teach your teen that emotions provide information to consider when choosing an action, but the emotion itself does not drive the action.
  2. Honor your teen’s interests. Observe carefully to learn what sparks your teens’ interests, fuels their excitement, and drives their passion. Guide them to positive outlets for their passions. Introduce them to people and clubs with similar interests. Engage them and their friends in exciting adventures of their choosing.
  3. Develop a rite of passage for your teen. This does not mean forcing them into a 30-day survival test or some other extreme adventure. A rite of passage could be as simple as getting a driver’s license. I took my girls on an overnight back pack trip. My wife took them on a trip to NYC. The important thing is to discover what sparks their interest and find a way to use that interest to mark their move toward maturity. Nothing extreme; just something challenging and memorable that can become a celebration of taking one more step toward maturity.

Practice these three actions to honor your teen’s emotional spark and guide that spark in a productive way.

The E.S.S.E.N.C.E. of Adolescence

Daniel Siegel, PhD, talks about the E.S.S.E.N.C.E. of adolescence in his book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. He describes how the ESSENCE of the teenage mind presents wonderful opportunities and frightening risks for parent and teen. If Cute Teenage Girl with Serious Expressiona parent tries to stifle, muzzle, or oppose this ESSENCE, the teen may rebel, withdraw, or even experience depression. Instead, parents do well to engage their teen’s ESSENCE and creatively collaborate with their teen to help them harness, guide, and find healthy expression for it. What is the ESSENCE of adolescence? ESSENCE is an acronym that represents four aspects of the teenager’s changing brain. Let me explain.

  • E.S.—Emotional Spark. The reward circuits in a teenager’s brain are undergoing major remodeling. During adolescence, the reward circuits exhibit increased activity that result in teens feeling bored with everyday life while gravitating toward thrilling and exhilarating experiences. In addition, teens are experiencing epic changes in their bodies and relationships as well as their place in their families and their role in the larger world. Is it any wonder teen’s experience intense emotions in the midst of these changes? Moodiness, impulsiveness, and reactivity are not surprising when we realize the intensity of changes occurring on multiple levels in a teen’s life. On the positive side, these changes fill them with a zest for life and a drive to do something new and exciting in the world.
  • S.E.—Social Engagement. Teens exhibit an increased desire for peer relationships. Peers become a driving force in teenagers’ lives. Peer relationships provide mutual support in navigating the multiple changes teen experience in their life. In fact, research suggests positive peer relationships during the teen years are the best predictor of well-being, longevity, and happiness throughout life. Teens also need a strong supportive relationship with their parents. Supportive parents provide structure and encouragement, guidance and love to their teen during this time of transition and change.
  • N.—Novelty. Teens seek out and create novel experiences to satisfy the increased activity of the reward circuits in their brain. They need new and creative ways to engage their parents, stimulate their senses and emotions, spark their thinking, and engage their bodies. As parents, we can work to help them find ways to live passionately and adventurously while teaching them to think through consequences of actions and reducing risk of harm. One way to do this is to engage the teen’s creativity.
  • C. E.—Creative Exploration. Teens grow in their ability to think conceptually and reason abstractly as their brains become more integrated and mature. They reflect more on what they know and believe. As a result, they gain a new, and often ideal, perspective of how to impact the world around them. They ask questions and point out perceived injustices and discrepancies. They also seek out novel solutions for the problems they perceive in their world, their home, and even in their parents. This offers a wonderful opportunity to talk and connect with your teen as you share ideas and perspectives in a calm, non-judgmental discussion.

As you can imagine, each area of the adolescent E.S.S.E.N.C.E. presents challenges, risks, and opportunities. How can we, as parents, meet the challenge of the adolescent E.S.S.E.N.C.E.? How can we increase the opportunities of their E.S.S.E.N.C.E. while decreasing the risk? Those are excellent questions that I hope to explore over the next few weeks.