It’s official! You finally have a teenager on your hands and you are super excited about the changes that are coming your way. Right? You may even be anticipating challenges to occur and your family and friends are saying to you “good luck, teenage years are hard. Your child is going to be moody with an attitude all the time.”
Understanding your teenager’s behavior does not have to be something that is puzzling to you. Your child’s brain develops quickly between the ages of 3-5, but the most dramatic and intense growth spurt of the brain occurs typically between the ages of 12-19 (known as adolescence). All of this change that is going on in your teen’s brain causes them to wonder how can they deal with themselves, while you are a parent is wondering how will you survive these years.
WHAT CHANGES DOES YOUR TEENAGER’S BRAIN GO THROUGH?
Scientists, researchers, and psychologists have come a long way in being able to study and understand how the brain functions. As a result, it has led to further insight into children and brain development as they correlate to each other.
Teenagers are often irrational, impulsive, and moody. At times it may seem as though your teen doesn’t think before they act and do not consider the consequences of their actions. Well, studies have shown that teenagers differ from adults in the way they behave, make decisions, and problem solve. This is because your teenager’s brain not being fully developed. Their brain reaches its biggest size in early adolescence BUT doesn’t fully develop and mature until they are about 25 years old. YES! You heard right! 25!
“Scientists have identified a specific region of the brain called the amygdala that is responsible for immediate reactions including fear and aggressive behavior (here teens are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, act on their impulses, and have aggressive behavior). This region develops early. However, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act (skills like planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses), develops later. This part of the brain is still changing and maturing well into adulthood.”
The Limbic system in the brain (where the amygdala is located) is important to look at as a whole because it is responsible for reward-seeking and is aroused by social (peers) and emotional factors. The limbic systems develop before the prefrontal cortex, which means that the desire for rewards and social pressures will continue to override rational thinking until the cortex catches up to the limbic system.
So what does all of this mean in basic terms? As a parent, you will start to see rapid changes in your teenager’s mood, you may start to observe your teen’s behaviors similar to how they behaved like a toddler, it is difficult for them to control their emotions, and difficult for you to understand them.
CHANGING BRAINS MEAN THAT YOUR TEENAGER WILL ACT DIFFERENTLY FROM YOU
Teenagers are more likely to:
- act on impulse
- misread social cues and emotions
- get into accidents
- get into fights
- engage in dangerous or risky behaviors
Teenagers are less likely to:
- think before they act
- stop to consider the consequences
- change their inappropriate behaviors
HERE ARE 6 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TEENAGERS
Teens are going through a time of identity searching
During Adolescence, Teens begin to search for a sense of self and personal identity because they now have the tools to do so (self-concept – what they believe about themselves and self-esteem – how they feel about themselves). They may say they want to change the style of their hair, or you may notice a change in their clothing style.
They are starting to question who they are through personal values, beliefs, and goals. To figure out their identity you will notice that your teen is:
- becoming more independent
- looking for a society that they can fit into
- establishing social status
- experiencing intimacy
- working on achieving competence
- determining the sexual identity
Teens want to spend an immense amount of time to themselves
Social Life take a central role
As your teenager begins to search for who they are and where in society they fit in, social life takes a central role in their daily activities and thoughts. They spend less time with their family and more time with their peers either in person or through technology. Online communication increases where there is a peak in Internet use, text messages, and social media. My husband’s brother who is 15 years old spends the majority of his time on his phone or playing live-action video games. Whenever we visit and happen to see him, we count ourselves lucky.The dynamics of social relationships begin to change as well. You may notice a change where your teen is shifting away from platonic friendships and moving towards intimate and romantic relations.
How old were you when this shift occurred? I was 13 and remember my body going through all these stages (physically, mentally, emotionally) all at once. A very confusing time for me. Let me know in the comments below.
Teens are vulnerable to stress
Because of the rapid and dramatic changes that your teenager’s brain is going through, how they respond to stress will differ to adults. Believe it or not, teens have a lot on their plate during adolescence: intense brain changes, frequent emotional changes, and on top of that external factors such as work, school, expectations, and social connections:
Work – teens who have to work are not able to engage in other activities, be able to spend time with family and friends, and simply enjoy life
School – today, teenagers are expected to know what they want to do and where they want to go for college earlier than ever before. Even before adolescence they are placed on “success” tracks and are expected to do well and exceed in all that they do. This pressure can place your teenager under tremendous stress
Expectations – Teenagers have a perception that they are expected to be successful at every single thing they do. They feel pressure from parents, teachers, family members, coaches, and friends to not fail. Failure is seen as unacceptable as opposed to a learning opportunity
Social connections – we now live in a world where social connections are not only done in person but it is done via different social media platforms. As a result, teens may feel that they have to be “on” all the time because their every move is being judged by their peers. There is constant pressure to be cute, smart, popular, & sexy.
Teens start to develop the ability to understand abstract concepts
Ever notice your teenager acting or behaving as though they know-it-all? Are they arguing or debating with you more? Asking a lot of “why” questions? Taking up a cause such as spiritual beliefs, women’s rights, or social injustices?
Well, there is a reason for that. Jean Piaget a developmental expert found that during adolescent years, your teenager begins to move from actual and concrete experiences, and begins to think in abstract and more logical terms. Your teenager is starting to think about the future and all that it may entail (social connections, fitting in, what others think of them, career path, relationships).
Teens are vulnerable to peer pressure and risky behaviors
TIPS TO HELP BUILD AND FOSTER A HEALTHY TEENAGER
- encourage positive behavior
- promote good thinking skills
- ensure adequate sleep
- encourage creative ways for them to express themselves (art, sports, music, dancing)
- have open communication – talk through decisions
- Promote structure and routine
- Give guidance and boundaries while providing an opportunity for negotiations
- Stay connected
- Be a positive role model
- Talk with your teen about the changes their body is going through
- Provide frequent verbal praise
- Encourage empathy
- Talk about immediate and long term consequences of their actions
- Be supportive
- Help them with decision making and problem-solving
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2016). Teen brain: behavior, problem-solving, and decision-making. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Teen-Brain-Behavior-Problem-Solving-and-Decision-Making-095.aspx
- Mcleod, S. (2018), Erik Erikson’s stages of development. Simply psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html#identity
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). The teen brain: 7 things you need to know. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-7-things-to-know/index.shtml
- Psychology Today. (2015). Teenage stress.
- Raising Children Network (Australia). (2020). Brain development: teenagers. https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/development/understanding-your-pre-teen/brain-development-teens
- Somerville, L. H. (2013). The teenage brain: sensitivity to social evaluation. Associations for Psychological Science, 22(2), 121-127. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0963721413476512