by Monica Ramunda, psychotherapist
Adolescence can be a very challenging phase, not just for your child but for you as well. Most parents make the mistake of thinking that they know what is going on inside the teenage mind because they themselves have been through this. But you have to realize that times change and so do the situations your children face.
The key to effective parenting is having an understanding. You need to know what goes on inside the teenage mind. Not what they are thinking about, but why their brains work the way they do. Here is some insight that may help you understand your teenage child.
The Teenage Mind Explained
In terms of their physical growth, adolescents are at their peak. But on the inside, their brains are still developing. Dr. Elizabeth Sowell from the University of California conducted an extensive study on brain development. By using magnetic imaging, she and her colleagues found that the teenage mind is physically different from the adult brain. These differences affect a teenager’s ability to make decisions and perceive events.
During childhood, the gray matter inside the mind increases, meaning the nerve connections increase. At the age of 11 or 12, the pruning process starts. This is when the brain loses the nerve connections that are infrequently used. This pruning continues till the mid-twenties, when the brain becomes fully developed. It is due to this process that adults are able to make sound judgments. Since the teenage mind is still going through this phase, they are unable to process long term consequences of their actions.
Another factor is the frontal lobe, which controls the attention span and impulsive decisions. This is the last part to develop inside a human mind. The prefrontal cortex becomes fully formed in adulthood, which is why adults can make rational decisions. But since this is still developing in the teenage mind, the teenagers have to use the amygdala for decision making. This is the emotional part of the brain that controls anger and fear. This is the reason that teenagers appear to be three times more emotional than an adult.
These differences in the brain mean that not only do teens base their decisions on their emotions, but they also perceive events differently than adults. A teenager might see your surprise as anger or your disappointment as disapproval. Since they are using a different part of the brain to perceive things, they are processing things differently. This is a major reason as to why teenagers and adults have trouble communicating on the same level.
What Can I Do?
The kind of thought processes and decision-making abilities teenagers develop at this age are crucial to their transition into adulthood. The teenage mind is easily influenced so you have to be careful. Here are a few points you should focus on:
- Try to make your children realize the consequences. Teens are emotional, so try to teach them about responsibility. Make them see the connections between their actions and the outcome through logical reasoning. They may not respond immediately but they will eventually learn.
- Try to give them their space. Teens have to deal with a lot of physical and emotional changes. Let them find their own emotional outlet. Just keep a check that it is something constructive.
- The teenage mind tends to think only in terms of the current situation because they haven’t developed foresight yet. This can cause depression and anxiety, especially if they can’t see beyond a failure or a bad experience. Help them understand that there will be a time beyond the present. Teach them that bad times will pass and their emotions about the current circumstances will eventually change.
- Be patient and listen. If you try to save the day by taking a hold of your kid’s life, then they will never learn how to take actions on their own. Instead, help your child arrive at the right conclusion by themselves. Try to be a sympathetic ear for them when they are in trouble and be their guide.
When to Take Precaution
Adolescence is a very delicate age. Since teenage minds are still forming connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, there is a higher chance of them developing mental problems.
Emotional turbulence is to be expected of any adolescent. But, if you see your child displaying significant behavioral changes, then it is best to consult a specialist. Things like a sudden loss of appetite, disinterest in activities or excessive aggression can be warning signs of a problem.