The deceiving thing about a teen is that, though their body may be approaching adult size, the fact remains that some areas of their brain are still child-like. In particular, the main part of their brain that is not fully developed is the part that helps with things like logical decision making and understanding the importance of avoiding dangerous situations and behaviors. In an article published by the Queensland Government, they wrote, “During the teenage years, young people have to make many decisions about school, their friends, and their future. Yet, the parts of the brain that control decision-making don’t fully develop until early adulthood. So a teen’s developing brain places them at greater risk of making poor decisions and being less able to consider the consequences of their choices.”
Neurologists have determined that the frontal lobe does not fully develop until a person is in their 20’s, which means that the decisions that teens make are primarily controlled by emotion. This explains those times when you have tried to explain the short or long-term benefits of something to your teen, only to have them explode, or break down in tears, demanding that you are killing them with your decision and begging you to believe that they know what is best. To them, what they feel MUST be true, because that is simply how their brain functions (for now).
So how the heck do you survive the teen years? Here are some tips:
1) Be patient with your teen – Do not expect your teen to think like an adult, because they simply do not have the brain of an adult. While it is important to gradually give your child more responsibilities, and to allow them to have an opinion and participate in decision making with you, be prepared for them to make poor choices at times. Learning from the consequences of their poor choices is part of their brain development process. If you have the expectation that your child will always do the right thing, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Alternatively, if you head into the teen years (from about puberty on) knowing that rough waters are ahead, and that it’s perfectly normal for your teen to be highly emotional and to make poor decisions at times, then you will not only avoid frustration, you will enter that time of parenting prepared.
2) Be patient with yourself – Do not expect yourself to be a perfect parent. Parenting is HARD! There will be times when you don’t know how to handle situations, and when your own emotions will get the best of you. Show yourself grace! If you ever do handle a challenging situation too harshly, learn from it and forgive yourself. It is perfectly healthy and okay to go to your child and say, “Listen, what you did was wrong, and your punishment still stands, but I am sorry that I raised my voice when I was talking with you about it.” Apologizing to your child doesn’t mean that you have to reverse the decision you made, or that you are allowing them to get away with poor choices. If anything, it helps to teach them the power of self-reflection and how to be humble when they express their own emotions incorrectly. I encourage you to have a support system in place – at least one person you can talk with and who will provide you with much needed pep talks along the way – as you face the adventures of teenhood.
3) Use this time to educate your teen – While on the one hand this is a very challenging time of dealing with your emotional teen, this is also the perfect window of opportunity for you to help provide them with tools that will last a lifetime. Even adults struggle at times with making decisions based on emotion, rather than logic, so now is the perfect time for you to educate your teen about the difference between emotion and logic, and how making important decisions based on emotion can lead to a tumultuous life. When your teen is feeling very emotional about a situation, you can help them to understand that emotions can be deceiving at times, and can lead us to make choices that are not ideal for our future. By helping your child understand that there will always be times in our lives when we have to make decisions that don’t feel good, but are logically the right thing to do, you will be helping them to develop healthy neuropathways, you will be teaching them the art of self-discipline, and you will be setting them up for a successful future.
4) Remember that “happiness” is not always what is best – As a parent, we want our children to feel happy. That makes sense, because when they are happy, we feel happy. Just be careful to not put so much value on maintaining “peace and happiness” that you (out of love and good intentions) mistakenly allow them to make choices that will not be best for them in the long run. Empathize with your teen, listen to their pain, comfort them, but keep in mind that there will be times when you will have to allow them to feel sad or angry because you need to choose what is best for them. I, myself, have had to face those challenging times when one of my teens was angry with me because I felt it was best to say no to their request. Those are hard times! And trust me, when your teen is yelling, or the tears are streaming, you may question your decisions or be tempted to cave. I’ve been there! But as a mom who has come out the other side of teenhood with some of my kids, I can assure you that when you make decisions that are good for your children, it all works out in the long run. I have experienced multiple occasions where one of my older kids has said to me that they are thankful that I didn’t allow them to make the bad decision they were about to make when they were a teen. My oldest daughter has even said to me, “I was SO positive I was right about certain things when I was in high school, but boy was I wrong!” All this to say, hang in there mom and dad, you will eventually pass through the teen years, and your son or daughter will thank you for protecting them through that time. : )
To learn more about the teen brain, I encourage you to watch this 3 minute video by Boston Children’s Hospital: The Teenage Brain and its Effect on Behavior, as well as read this article posted by Queensland Government: Why Teens Make Bad Choices and How You Can Help Them