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"Yes, Your Teenager's Brain is Crazy": Parenting 101

Yes, what you parents and grandparents are observing is true, and now brain research tells why.  According to an article in the Dallas Morning News (2/29/16, D. Howland) "the outbursts, the emotional 'allergy' to parents, and even the risk-taking behaviors is actually valuable to their growing up."  We've known for more than a decade that the teenage brain is different from that of adults and younger kids. In the beginning of what amounts to developmental blooming of wiring that connects the 'pleasure center' (the nucleus accumbens) and the emotional storage center of anxiety/fear/flight (the amygdala) to the executive problem-solving, foreseeing consequences of the prefrontal cortex starts to take place. But that takes time. "...[T]he engine pumping drama, stress, quick tempers and high-key emotions has more horsepower than the prefrontal cortex's calm thought.  The fires of pleasure and reward are also stoked by hormones, which make sex a more attractive idea." So pleasure-seeking, risk-taking behaviors are "louder and more fun," than the softer, 'second thoughts' of the rational thinking that develops later.  The rate of growth and connections being made by these three areas explains why even 'good kids' get overwhelmed by events or challenges that are easier as they age. It makes it hard to have a long-term perspective, "and it's probably why accidents, homicide and suicide are the top killers of children between 15 and 19," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

A professor of behavioral neuroscience at UCLA, A. Galvan, says that "teenagers' brains grow this way for great purpose....This extra excitability in these areas of the brain helps teenagers ...seek out more friends and gradually gain the confidence to leave the family. These changes [allow the teen] to explore." A professor of psychology and director of the Cornell Medical College in New York, B.J. Casey, has shown that "anxiety can be harder to shake in teens," and more than that, teens are "more susceptible to adult influence and less vulnerable to peer pressure than many of us realize." '"Opportunities and experiences...and exposure to pro-social role models to regulate emotions help to ...strengthen connections...between these centers.  'Helicopter parenting' that prevents a teen from failing also prevents the lessons that flow from their mistakes and the opportunities to be accountable for their actions,'" Casey warns.

Overprotection can slow development, but "teens very much still need the adults in their lives," the experts say. As the teenagers explore new areas of their lives outside of the family, they are figuring out who they are in relation to  others. "The timing is right...when they're still at home and, hopefully, still have parents and caregivers keeping an eye on them." And, if the parent is versed in BrainStyles™, they will help even more by recognizing and focusing on their natural brain-processing strengths in dealing with problems, and point out the overview that these gifts make possible with others at school, work and in the family.

"Even older teenagers and young 20-somethings living at home, studies show, ...need fewer services for depression, anxiety and other ills, than those away at school," according to W.E. Copeland, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.  "Psychologists speak in terms of 'scaffolding' to describe the role of parents in teens' lives. Every expert interviewed...said that means clear rules must be enforced and attention must be paid."  As one dad who is close to his family and sets a high standard for his teens while supporting and loving them openly says, "I tell them they're the river and I'm the banks of the river. If I don't provide the banks (structure, rules, consequences), the river just turns into a swamp that's useless."

MORE TIPS.  "make opportunities to [talk] with your teen outside of dramatic times of trouble...Go for a drive, take a walk, have a meal one-on-one...and 'Ask them open-ended questions...to get them to do the talking." Reinforce their openness and willingness to think through a situation.  "They're struggling too, and know they're not adults and that they don't think like adults." Look for ways to make them right, smart, and proud.

"Definitely seek help for your child if you think there may be trouble or notice major changes, like big drops in grades or hygiene, little  interest in spending time with friends, sleeping too much or if thing that once gave them joy no longer do....[K]eep in mind that the kid who slams her bedroom door or yells at you isn't necessarily the one crying loudest for help....The quiet ones that aren't showing everything--it doesn't mean they're doing OK. They're all different and there isn't a single 'normal' path. And most kids grow up to be pretty decent people."