Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Teenage Brain Part I

“I’m on strike!  Yep I am on strike with my teenage son and it’s a battle of wills

I have been getting really frustrated with my fourteen year old son over the last few of months and have even started a hash tag on Twitter called #teenlogic - although it’s not exactly trending there are tweets there from both parents and teenagers.  If you are reading this and have a teen yourself have a tweet on this hashtag and alleviate some of your inner stress and laugh at the same time! 

“Mum you said l've done nothing all day so why are you so cross with me?” #teenlogic

Yes, I know I am not alone in this parenting game of bringing up a teenager, the problem is I’m a single mother and I think sometimes it makes it doubly difficult especially when I am also a working mum and recovering from cancer let alone all the other daily issues that affect us both but things that a teenager just doesn’t seem able to think about!

“Mother Nature is providential. She gives us twelve years to develop a love for our children before turning them into teenagers.” - William Galvin

On my son’s thirteenth birthday it was as if an instant transformation took place and now he is fourteen its wow it’s like he is another being, an alien species - irresponsible, selfish, lazy, insensitive and grumpy – although, on the plus side, also someone with a developing formulation of opinion, humour, and someone capable of great creativity, and inspiration.

In the time it takes you to understand a 14-year-old, he turns 15” - Robert Brault

It’s not just that I am picking up his dirty clothes (some of which have been washed and have just ended up on the floor getting dirty again), wet towels and cleaning the bath out after him, throwing away crisp packets or empty packets in the cupboard - searching out for an accumulation of dirty plates, cups, glasses from his bedroom - his inability to wash up even a fork to eat with, or to put things away; it’s also the lack of conversation, forward thinking, insensitivity, deliberate misunderstandings, selective hearing in the way he never hears me when I ask him to do something and when he does it’s always in a minute or when I am ready to do it but it never happens so I end up doing the tasks myself!  I end up nagging and shouting at him which I  really don’t like doing as it stresses me out. And yes I did go on strike for a little while, refused to cook for him and do his washing - it worked for about a minute but then again I did give in!

“Saying you’ll do it later...never gets down.  Story of a teenager’s life.”

And when I do manage to have some kind of conversation with him I only get sound bites back or a conversation which goes over my head as sometimes he talks in a different language!  We also fight over access to the laptop and guess who loses (yes I know I should get him one but when he wants a top of a range laptop and nothing else it is not going to happen!).  As a single mother I sometimes feel unappreciated, unable to relax when I come home from work knowing I can’t do everything myself and getting very annoyed - it feels as if am always going around in circles and arrive exactly at the same point where I started. What does it take for me to teach him that he has to take some responsibility for his home environment, and to be more sensitive? 

“Teenagers who are never required to vacuum are living in one.”

Ok, I know his hormones are certainly responsible for many things such as his fixation on sex (although x-box holds more fascination at the moment) and social standing.  The onslaught of testosterone in both male and female adolescents at puberty literally swells the amygdala - the brain center associated with the emotion – so I can blame that for the slammed doors, sudden up and downs in emotions but hormones apparently have nothing to do with behavioural changes, i.e the fact that your daughter or son can’t bear your singing voice, even if you don’t sing out of tune!  I have a friend whose daughter will not let her play her music in the house without her getting annoyed!

“One of the most embarrassing things for teens is their parents!”

 As I said I know that I not alone with this problem – and in fact apparently I have it quite easy compared to other parents out there.  However, there is a part of me that is at loss on how to deal with the changes which are going on, so I thought it may help me to know about the on-going research on the teenage brain and to understand (not to make excuses mind) that his brain is in overdrive and has started to work in a different and illogical way and thus this knowledge may give me some parenting tips on how to raise a teen, also relieving me of some stress as well. 

“The biggest test for parents is not how they parent their teen, but how they respond to the disorder and unpredictability.”― Sarah Newton

 By the age of six the brain is already 95% of its adult size. But the grey matter, the thinking part of the brain, continues to thicken throughout childhood as the brain cells get extra connections, much like a tree growing extra branches, twigs and roots.  It was once thought that the brain was fully formed by the end of childhood but now it is believed that between childhood and adulthood the brain’s “wiring diagram” becomes more complex and more efficient, especially in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.  This is the part of brain that is responsible for impulse-control, judgement, decision-making, planning, and organization and involved in other functions like emotions, and that the teenage/adolescent brain does not reach full maturity until around the age of 25 with the area of the brain responsible for reasoning and problem solving, developing last.  Oh my not until 25 the mind boggles of what I have to go through yet! 

"Mothers of teenagers know why animals eat their young"

 The process of thickening of the grey matter peaks at about 11 years old in girls and 12 in boys, roughly about the same time as puberty starts. After that peak the grey matter thins as the excess connections are eliminated or pruned and the "use it or lose it" principle come into play. Those cells and connections that are used will survive and flourish and those cells and connections that are not used wither and die. During the teenage years they lose about one per cent of their brain's grey matter every year so basically what is happening in the teenage years is that their brains are being de-cluttered. Wish mine could be de-cluttered again!

“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.”

So think about it, if your teen is doing music, sports or academics these are the cells and connections that will be hard-wired. If they're lying on the couch or playing video games or watching TV those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.  Not sure where my son falls into this category – although he is constantly on the computer or X-Box he is building up a You Tube Network Channel (DoubleupGaming) creating videos and sound bites, learning about how an You Tube business can develop and knows more about copyright then I will ever know!  
“Teenagers...dey tink dey know everything. You give dem an inch, dey swim all over you.”  –Sebastian, Little Mermaid

The last to process in the brain is the fatty myelin insulation - the brain's white matter that speeds transmission needed for those areas for the complex task of entering the world. This period is thought to be a crucial period of learning because although the wiring is getting upgraded once it’s done, it's harder for us to change. This is uniquely a human development and although it seems a bit crazy that we humans don't do this a bit earlier in life - apparently, though, if we did we wouldn’t be so smart.  

“Teens do NOT think the way adults think because they absolutely, positively can't do that yet. Adolescent brains just aren't ''hard wired'' like adult brains. ”

Over the past decade, scientists have started to grasp exactly how distinctive the adolescent brain is and how crucial the years between ten and twenty- five are in terms of its development.  The research that has been undertaken are starting to change the way that parents, teachers, the medical community and policymakers are raising and managing their teenagers in many societies. 

“Teenagers are the most misunderstood people on earth. Treated like children but expected to act like adults.”

Part II of Teenage Brain looks at what this all means and some tips for parents (and me!) for raising and understanding their teen better.  Meanwhile one more thing on the hashtag #teenlogic

"No really I wasn't invading your territory I only went into your room to hunt down the missing, plates, forks and cups."  #teenlogic

No comments:

Post a Comment