Tag Archive for teen

Improving Your Parent-Teen Relationship

Have you ever found yourself constantly irritated with your teen? It just seems that everything they do is done to agitate us and push us away. We begin to wonder where our sweet little girl who cuddled up with us has gone or what happened to our little boy who loved to play games with us. Unfortunately, we seem to notice more and more negative behaviors that reinforce and increase our agitation and worry. Those small but negative behaviors begin to form a filter through which we see every action and hear every word. We begin to hear simple replies as replies filled with attitude. Gestures and faces take on significant and negative meaning. Disrespect grows in our minds while our teens attempt to assure us they do not intend disrespect. Even this seems disrespectful.  Part of the problem we are experiencing was explained over 100 years ago by William James when he said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” In the mid-1900’s we learned that the brain only has a limited attentional capacity. We can only attend to so many things at a time (psychologists tell us we only have the capacity to attend to 7+2 chunks of information at a time). In other words, we cannot attend to every aspect of our teens’ behaviors. We are going to attend to and remember only those behaviors we “agree to attend to,” those behaviors we focus on. If we focus on all the things we don’t like, we will begin to see only cause for worry and concern when we see our teens. If, on the other hand, we focus on those things we can admire and be proud of, we will see those things that create further admiration and pride. Don’t worry, we’ll still see behaviors that need corrected. But, we will also increase the joy of having an intimate relationship with our teen. How can you keep the positive aspects of your teen in mind when their hormones and argumentative behaviors seem to overwhelm us? Here are a few ideas.

  • Remember, your teen is growing up. Their argumentativeness is preparing them to take a firm stand for their values in the world. Their risk taking behaviors are preparing them to take the risk of leaving home for college or vocational training. Rather than see these as negative aspects of their behavior, see them as training opportunities. Help them learn to channel those behaviors in a positive direction. (Read The ESSENCE of Adolescence for more)
  • Hug your teen as often as you can each day. Virginia Satir, a highly respected family therapist, once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”  Aim to promote growth for your teen by sharing as many hugs as they’ll accept each day.
  • Set an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to stop three times every day for 10 seconds. During those 10 seconds write down three positive thoughts about each of your teens. At the end of the day, tell them at least one of the things you wrote down.
  • Think of a gesture, picture, phrase, or object that reminds you of your teen. Each day briefly look at the picture or object, repeat the phrase, or make the gesture three to four times. You might do it when you wake up, eat lunch, return home, or before you go to bed. Each time you do, let positive, adoring memories of your teen come to mind.
  • Pray for your teen daily. Prayer really does change things. Ironically, the change often begins with the changed attitude of the one praying.

As you put these five bullets into practice, you will find your image of your teen changes. You will notice more positive behaviors. You will find yourself in a more satisfying relationship with them. You will enjoy their company more and admire their accomplishments.  You will have improved your relationship with your teen!

Encouraging Your Teen to Talk with You

Teens are notoriously secretive. But, your actions will encourage or minimize their secretiveness. It’s true. You can take certain actions that will encourage your teen to talk with you. In fact, put these five actions into practice to increase your teen desire to talk with you.

  1. Listen. Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your teen (or anyone for that matter) is the gift of truly listening. Listen with your ears to hear the words. Listen with your eyes to hear the body language. Listen with your heart to hear the emotions that lay beneath the surface. Listen intently to understand. Listen with the goal of understanding to the point of emotional connection. Don’t worry about an answer. Just LISTEN.
  2. Ask more than tell. Part of listening well is asking questions. Ask questions to assure you understand what your teen means to say. Then, ask questions that can prompt your teen to think about situations and circumstances in new ways. Ask questions to determine what they already know; and, ask questions to help them delve more deeply into areas in which they are gaining knowledge and experience. They will learn more if given the opportunity to think and process than from a lecture or explanation.
  3. Give them space to grow. Your teen is becoming an individual with his own personality, desires, goals, and values. He needs space to go through this stage successfully. He needs opportunity for self-reflection and exploration. He needs the freedom to talk with other people—peers and other trusted adults. Give him the space and freedom to do so. And create an environment where your teen has the opportunity to talk with you, where talking to you comes naturally. For instance, create a calm and enjoyable family dinner time, create opportunities for family activities, and create times in which you are together in nonthreatening situations such as driving to and from practices. In these nonthreatening environments, your teen has the opportunity to talk. When he does, refer to bullets number one and two.
  4. Accept disagreement. Your teen is developing her own mind, her own personality, her own perspective. Allow her to disagree with you on certain topics. In the long run, she can disagree on how to take out the garbage or comb her hair. She can even disagree with you in her political views. She can have different interests and perspectives. After all, you have spent years encouraging her to become “her own person,” encourage her to do so now by leaving room for disagreement.
  5. Stay open and accept moments of silence. Teens naturally go through periods of silence with their parents. Accept it; BUT, stay open for moments when they choose to talk. If they know you are available they will choose to talk with you…and they often want to at what we perceive as the most inopportune moments. They need to know you value them above whatever else may be important to you. So, when they choose to talk with you, enjoy the moment. Put down the paper. Turn down the TV. Pause the game. They are more important. Give them your full attention and listen.

Practicing these five tips will encourage more conversation between your teen and you. You will enjoy the opportunity of a growing relationship with your teen!

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.

Parenting a Teen Starts Early

One of the best kept secrets in parenting a teen is to start early; in fact, the earlier the better. You can begin parenting your teens when they are children. That may sound strange, but let me explain.Cute Teenage Girl with Serious Expression

  • If you want a teen to listen and talk to you about “anything,” start by listening to them when they are children. Give them a childhood of knowing their parent is interested in hearing their opinions and stories. It will demand patience on your part to listen to your child tell you the same story in excruciating detail for the hundredth time; but, listening with full attention establishes you as the “go to person” in your children’s eyes. It makes you the person they will think of when they have important matters to discuss as a teen. It opens the door for you to have the important life discussions you want to have with your teen.
  • If you want your teen to have a desire to spend time with the family, establish routines that include fun family times. Make dinner time a family time of conversation, laughter, and sharing rather than arguments and lectures. Enjoy playing together. Add in some fun surprise activities now and again. Let your children learn they are part of a family filled with laughter, fun, and sharing. As a teen, they’ll want to return to that family time and again.
  • Practice an open door policy. Encourage your children to invite their friends to your house. Keep a supply of drinks and snacks available for friends who stop by. Get to know your children’s friends. Make you home one that your children and their friends love to visit. Then, when you children become teens, they’ll still come to your house to hang out and have fun. An added bonus—you’ll know where they are and what they’re doing as teens.
  • If you have areas of concern for your future teen, get involved early. For instance, start listening to music together now. Sing together. Listen to the radio and talk about the lyrics of various songs. Expand the options of musical opportunities and availability. As another example, include your children in making choices when shopping for clothes. Allow them to express their unique tastes. Discuss fashion trends and what dress communicates. As your children become teens, these interactions are more likely to continue. Potentially conflictual areas like music and shopping become areas of developing relationships rather than constant arguing.

It’s never too early to start parenting your teen; in fact, the sooner the better. Prepare for the teen years by becoming involved during their childhood. If your child is already a teen, do not fear. Focus on the relationship with your teen because it’s never too late to start parenting your 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.

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.

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