Teenage brain explosion

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10 August, 2015 Dr Linda Friedland Parenting/Teenagers

Doors slamming, raised voices, sulking and monosyllabic responses may be just some of the features you have experienced during the transformation of your cherubic child into a gangly teenager.

Far more difficult for teens than the notorious physical changes, is the enormous brain development they undergo at this time. They endure (unbeknown to us or to them) changes as radical as when they were toddlers. Remember the excitement and praise lavished at each major developmental milestone – clapping your hands every time they said a word or took their first shaky steps? As our 14 or 15 year old reveals the by-products of a similar brain surge, by challenging our assertions or expressing beliefs in conflict with our own, they are (sadly) unlikely to receive similar applause. Also, cerebral and physiological growth spurts are accompanied by a new phenomenon – their peers’ opinions matter more than their parents’.

In the publication aptly called Whatever! (Piatkus), Gill Hines and Alison Baverstock explain that because teens fall awkwardly between two phases, namely childhood and adulthood, they are very different from either group. “Their socialisation is different, their needs and wants are different, their bodies are different and they are faced with increasing school pressures.” They are also trying to express their independence at the same time as being compelled to conform to their peer group. It’s no wonder they’re at risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse and reckless behaviour.

“Their socialisation is different, their needs and wants are different, their bodies are different and they are faced with increasing school pressures.”

We can assist our kids through this stressful time with a few wise strategies. We require a toolkit of compassion, understanding acceptance, firm boundaries and open and honest communication. We need to expect change and, more importantly, expect our authority to be challenged.  As much as their emotional and physiological change is necessary, so is our acceptance. Also give them space to take the steps.

I agree with Jo’burg-based psychologist Jacqueline Sonnik who urges us to keep those lines of communication wide open. There is a huge relief and comfort for teens to know that they can express anything and not be judged. The fact that they speak about taboo subjects does not mean they are doing these things. It means they are understanding the world out there and bouncing the concepts against the family code of conduct. Let them talk, really listen and then express your view in a non-judgemental way.  And don’t think you can control them. It kills self-confidence and sets up rebellious behaviour. Respect their space and privacy and don’t stop hugging them