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Understanding the Teen Brain and Years

We have all been there and I would for a minute ask you to go back and reflect on how those years were for you.

I for one was quite a rebel and always thought that I knew more than my parents.

When I look back now I feel that I did things that perhaps my children will end up doing, but then I started to look into what changes they will experience as teenagers and what is the things I can do as a parent to best support them as they enter adolescence.

It is roughly between the ages of 11 and 19, when adolescence is considered a critical time of development , not just on the outside but on the inside- the brain.

Adolescence is time of important changes in the structure and function of the brain; other than the first three years of life, no other developmental stage is characterized by more dramatic changes (Steinberg, 2011). For years, the “roller coaster” of adolescence was blamed on hormones. Recent advances in technology and research have led to the ability to “see inside” the adolescent brain; these studies indicate that the brain, not hormones, is responsible for teens’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Let us briefly look at what is happening at the teenage brain. The brain's remote control is the prefrontal cortex, a section of the brain that is the decision making part that weighs outcomes, forms judgments, solves problems and controls impulses and emotions. This section of the brain also helps people understand one another. This part of the brain continues to develop until the age of around 24 years i.e. early adulthood.

Because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teenagers might rely on a part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems more than adults do. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behaviour.

So, you may find that as your teenager is developing, they might:

- take more risks or choose high-risk activities

- express more and stronger emotions and

- make impulsive decisions.

Here are some tips for you to help your teenager encourage positive behaviour that will  help strengthen good positive brain connections.

  • Develop good healthy routines if you do not have one already in place.

  • Encourage your child to take healthy risks. Taking healthy measured risks will allow your teenage to gain new experiences, learn to become more independent

  • Have behaviour boundaries in place and involve them in creating these with an opportunity to negotiate them. Our young people more often than not need guidance from their parents and other adults.

  • Get involved in the decisions your young people make. Don’t tell them what they should do but ask them about possible courses of action they might choose, and talk through the potential consequences. Encourage them to look at pros and cons.

  • Help your young person find different channels or ways of expressing their emotions and controlling their emotions.

  • Always find ways to stay connected with your young person. Be open and approachable. Give them helpful attention by a. enjoying and being interested in who they are and what they’re doing b. by being responsive – listening to them when they want to talk, even when it might be inconvenient c. by being guided by the young person rather than always taking charge and imposing your will on them (although sometimes this is necessary)

  • I think it is also important for a parent to talk to their young person about their developing brain. Understanding this important period of growth might help your teenager to process his/her feelings in a more positive way.

  • Use good positive body language with your young person. As you may or may not be aware that communication consists of Words (7%) Tone of Voice( 38%) and Body Language (55%) so when communicating with your young person please be aware of this. A smile is a good way to greet your teenager. Remember it is not what and how you speak to your teenager, it is what they hear and see.

  • Give them space

  • Ditch the why questions

  • Remember that your young person will be greatly influenced by his/her peers. Friendships are extremely important to adolescents .

  • They will do things to fit it and may get influenced easily. Be there for them.

  • One of the most influential ways to parent your teen, in addition to be a good listener, is to be a good role model, especially when dealing with stress and other life difficulties, as teens are actively trying to figure out their own coping strategies and will learn from you.

I would like to highlight that during the teenage year’s your young person’s sleep habits will change.This is because the brain produces melatonin at a different time of the day. This makes your child feel tired and ready for bed later in the evening. It can keep your child awake into the night and make it difficult for her to get up the next morning.

Sleep is essential for a healthy brain development. Ensure that your teenager follows a good bedtime routine by :

  • Ensuring your child has a comfortable, quiet sleep environment.

  • Encouraging ‘winding down’ before bed, away from screens including phones.

  • Reinforcing a regular sleeping routine. Your child should aim to go to bed and wake up at regular times each day.

  • Encouraging your child to get enough sleep each night. On an average teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Let them sleep in late on weekends as they may be catching up on their sleep.

Think of a teenager as an Adult in training. Remember that their brain is still developing so they will sometimes act as adults and be very mature and responsible but then at others times want your support like a child.

Namita Bhatia


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