Lazy Parenting Hack - UNDERSTAND THE SCIENCE
Today is a follow up to yesterday’s post on teens 🙂
I talked a little about where does the behavior come from. I know so many parents who are struggling with uncommunicative, moody, distant, detached and defiant teens. The challenge for us as parents is to be able to distinguish between “normal” teenage behavior and that which may be a cry for help or a symptom of mental illness.
While we as parents don’t often understand where it comes from or why they all of a sudden seem to be a different person, understanding as much as you can about the teenage brain can help give some insight. And once we understand this information, maybe we can approach our teens with a new perspective and new strategies.
It is important to note that the latest research makes it clear that teenagers’ brains are not fully developed. Their brains continue to undergo massive change through their early 20’s. While the brain doesn’t grow in size, massive connections are being made and the different regions of the brain strengthen their ability to communicate with each other. The last part of the brain to “link up” is the front (the pre-frontal cortex), the decision making, planning and self-control area.
This is why teenagers forget to bring home their text book to study for the test they have tomorrow-they have difficulty planning ahead. They often struggle with emotional regulation and are often impulsive and big risk-takers. Mix these behaviors with alcohol and drugs and there could be tragic and life-threatening situations that have permanent consequences. As well, with so much change occurring in the actual physiology of their brain, alcohol/drug abuse can permanently altering their brain and their IQ or ability to learn. This massive period of growth in their brain also means they are more susceptible to mental illness, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. About 70% of these diagnoses occur during adolescence and the early 20’s.
BUT, the GOOD news is that it ALSO means that their brains CAN GROW in a positive way if they are appropriately engaged and stimulated - through exercise, education, community involvement. The fact that their brains are undergoing such rapid change (similar to the first 5 years of their life) means you as their parent CAN continue to make a HUGE impact on them and helping them overcome and learn from the challenges and mistakes they make. So how do we do this?
1. Build a trusting relationship. Share, earn and keep their trust.
2. Empathize, remember what it was like to be a teenager and the emotions and feelings you struggled with.
3. Respect them. Lead by example. Don’t belittle or embarrass them in front of their peers. Do not criticize their ideas or opinions. Engage in meaningful conversation and model the behavior you want back from them.
4. As much as I champion the idea of fostering independence in your teens, offer to help them when needed. If they seem overwhelmed, or trying to “do it all” have real discussions around self-care and realistic expectations on their time.
5. Show them you care. All the time. Find their love language. Whether that is telling them you love them all the time, giving them kisses and hugs or doing small thoughtful things for them, make sure they know without a doubt that they are your world and that you are the person in this world who loves them the most.
Above all, keep an eye on them and if their behavior suggest something outside the realm of “normal”, get help. Seek guidance. Find a therapist. There is no shame in using the community of professionals around you to help guide and ensure the health of your teens. Because again, they are your whole world.