To all the parents who think their teen has absolutely lost it,
Before we go on, I NEVER want to minimize the struggles teens are going through these days. The fact is they live in a very different world than any generation that came before them. I think there are a lot of factors contributing to the rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide in teens, but that’s not what this blog is about. This is about what is very normal in your teen—baffling to you at times, but also very normal. Parenting a teen is kind of like the rudder on a ship. You’re directing it, subtly, with no sudden movements to prevent capsizing, but without a sufficient rudder, well…you remember Jack and Rose.
The stage of development that your teen is in focuses on peer relationships and independence. They are trying to separate from mom and dad and are trying to align and be accepted by their peers. This is both normal and good. There also needs to be balance in the way parents respond. Your teen, though contrary to what they might tell you, still needs you. I’m a grown adult who has lived on her own for many years and I was talking with a friend recently when she said, “This sounds like a mom question.”
You have lived more and experienced more. You are an important player in your kids’ lives. But if you tell your teen that, capsizing is a risk. At the same time, you can’t be too hands off because without any steering from someone who can see the horizon, where does the ship end up?
So how do you be a rudder? By being curious and by asking questions that get them thinking about the big picture. Help them come to their own conclusions and recognize that sometimes the conclusion they come to will end with some natural consequences. Some have to learn by their own mistakes. Let them (within reason–again with that happy medium ).
So, what’s normal?
The adolescent brain is doing a lot of changing. It’s restructuring, pruning, and strengthening neural connections. The region of the brain most impacted during this time is the region that is mainly responsible for processing emotions—the limbic system. This is why a bad haircut feels like the absolute end of the world, including tears, screams, and throwing things. Every emotion is intensified during adolescents—happiness, sadness, and everything in between.
Dopamine is also a major player in the adolescent brain because there is an increase in neuronal activity involving this neurochemical. Dopamine makes us feel really good. Teens have lower levels of dopamine with higher spikes. That’s why your teen is so bored by the day-to-day and seeks risky and thrilling activities. It’s also why teens are at higher risk for addiction, including addiction to food and people. It’s not that teens don’t see consequences, but the thrill outweighs the risks. How can you help them find outlets for healthy risks? Teens also seek novelty. The thought of working a 9-5 makes them want to crawl out of their skin. This is a great thing that they’re seeking something out-of-the-box. Remember when you were excited by the prospect of everything? Filled with so much hope and ambition for what your life could look like? That’s where innovation comes from! We need that. That desire is what inspires them to move away from home and figure out what their role is in the world.
Adolescences is an exciting and confusing time of life. Get excited with your teen about how their life is changing. If they feel like you can share in their excitement, then it keeps you connected. And as long as you’re connected, you can act as that rudder. Steering your child as they take the lead.
Keep on keeping on,
*The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).