Oh the trenches of parenting a teenager. Sometimes it can feel like your living through the terrible two’s all over again, riiight?!? Only now they are much bigger and certainly more vocal. It can definitely be a roller coaster ride with days of laughter, excitement and all the feels of raising an awesome human being to go out into this world. Annnnnnnnd then there are other days that are more like a tornado hit, spun everything out of control and left you feeling like a complete disaster.
Yes, this time of life can be difficult and confusing for parents, but it is also the same for our teens. So in our ever changing quest of parenting, when it comes to learning HOW to connect better with our teen, it’s important to first understand more about what is actually happening during this time particular stage. There is actually a neurobiological basis for why teenagers experience such extreme emotions and mood swings.
What is Actually Going on Inside the Teen Brain?
Teens Process Information with the Amygdala: So what in the heck does that mean??? The region of the brain that is responsible for producing emotions, impulses, aggression, etc is the amygdala. This is also the portion of the brain that allows us to feel all this stuff too! And of course -THIS- is where teenagers process all their information…thus the emotional roller coaster all the time!!
Teens Prefrontal Cortex is Not Fully Developed: The rational part of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex. This helps us to respond to situations with good judgment AND helps us to understand much more about long-term consequences. The teen brain is still developing, and as a matter of fact, our brains are not fully developed until we are in our mid to late 20’s! So, during this adolescence phase of life, the connections that fire between the emotional part (amygdala) and the decision-making part (prefrontal) are not fully developed. Thus making it difficult for rational thoughts to be a part of what is going on inside the brain.
What Can Parents Do to Connect?
Validate: Let your teen know that it is perfectly normal to feel the way they do. Remind them often that they are resilient and competent.
Don’t Assume the Worst: The natural progression of life is to grow into maturing adults. It is normal for teens to push away from their parents a bit during this time. After all they are trying to figure out what they want in life, who they are and what they want to become. It’s ok for them to make some decisions for themselves and even mess up a time or two!
Build Mutual Trust: Teenagers need the ability to earn trust and responsibility. So give it to them. Don’t hover, rather provide a safe place for them to land when they need you. It is important for them to feel like they can be open and authentic with you. So don’t try to always “fix” for them, but rather provide emotional security for your teen by just being someone they can trust.
Take the Time to Listen: Mostly our kids just need to know we care and will listen to them. When your teen comes to you to talk, a great tool to use is ask if their hope is for you to help them or just listen. Then oblige.
Help Them to Name Their Emotions: When emotions such as rage, jealousy, loneliness, or humiliation are swirling around, it’s easy to just say I am “mad” or “angry” or “sad”. It is important to drill down those particular emotion(s) that they are experiencing and dig deeper to give them it’s proper name. This will help them understand better and make it more manageable for them to work through.
Get Them Talking: We’re not talking pelt them with questions, but find out what their interests are. The car can be a great place for conversation starters because they don’t have to make eye contact. If you are at a loss, there are a lot of fun conversation starters out there just grab a book or give google a look.
Make Family Time a Priority: Whatever your family interests are – do that! Whether it is family game night, movie night, cooking together or go shopping together, just make sure you are making it a priority to spend time together as a family on a regular basis.
Studies show that teenagers who engage in quality time with their families are more likely to have better mental health, are more confident and are also less likely to drink or do drugs.
Our teens need us and it is so important to do whatever it takes so that we are connecting with them. Keep it fun and remember… this too shall pass.