Parenting the Teenage Brain
Most of us who are raising middle-school aged kids agree that it can be a frustrating, wonderful, difficult, exciting, exhausting yet remarkable journey. And just when we think we’ve got this down and we are on a roll, a new twist develops and we are back to figuring out the best way to respond to this human who seems to be morphing before our eyes. Parents of young teens take solace. Know that you are not alone. Most of us here on Bainbridge Island are navigating this parenting thing with varying amounts of grace, or lack thereof.
So what’s going on with our growing teens that can often make them seem unpredictable, illogical and, well, a bit out of control at times? Could it be their brains? Science says, "yes", it is their developing brains. Have you viewed the below video “The Teenage Brain Explained?” Sci-Show does a great job of explaining some complicated science with both clarity and humor—something we could all use in our parent/child relationships. It is worth the 10 minutes to watch with your family. You will come away with a better understanding of why parenting teens and pre-teens can be a bit of a roller coaster at times. You may also feel a bit more compassion for what your youngster is going through.
A note of caution: It may be tempting to take a fatalistic perspective and view some of these ideas as excuses for simply tolerating negative behaviors or attitudes. We may be wise to use this science and insight as a foundation for empathy and compassion even as we set boundaries for behavior and family interactions. The parenting script below may help you glean ideas of what conversations in your household could sound like as you negotiate discussions with your youngster:
"I know what you are going through is not easy. I've been there and it is not fun at times. Please know that I am trying to be a good mom/dad and I am not always exactly sure what that looks like. Yet this yelling [and/or bad behavior, using the "silent treatment," etc...] is not a pattern we want to set for you or for our family. Let's talk later about how we can best support you and establish some reasonable boundaries for all of us - we want your input."
"We love you even in the midst of it all and we know you are and will continue to be a remarkable person. We want your life to be a wonderful adventure. We want you to take risks,but healthy ones. We will get through this together."
It is best to avoid name-calling and yelling things like, "What is wrong with you?" or "You are acting like a crazy person!" Tempting as it may be, these types of responses reduce our chances of developing supportive relationships with our kids. That is what they need from us to help them, and ourselves, make it through this challenging and important season of life. As we all look forward to the development of our teen’s prefrontal cortex, let us remember that we can also enjoy these young people as we empower and love them as they are.