Monday, 1 October 2012

The Teenage Brain Part III - Parenting tips

A teenager's psychological flaws are typically blamed on society, bad parenting or out-of-control hormones and if we were describing a group of society as selfish, reckless, irrational, irritable and impossible it could only be one thing: the teenager – that odd creature that invades our homes for what seems like an eternity and tests the limits of our reasoning skills and patience.  I think I should just say here that teenagers are not like this all the time 24/7 and there are times of laughter, admiration and pride and the fact that I just love my teenager to bits!

However, by enabling me to glimpse inside a teenager's brain, it may make me a better parent more sympathetic to my teenager and realise that he has a deep rooted need for both greater independence and tender loving care.

The teenage years are critical to your son’s or daughter’s future development. Skills and habits laid down now are likely to persist through life.  

“Adolescence is a new birth, for the higher and more completely human traits are now born” - G. Stanley Hall

So as a parent what are some of the things I can do to help my son but also help me to keep sane?!

Fundamentally there are four things to remember:

1.         Stay connected to your teen
2.         Keep the communication lines open
3.         Ensure your child knows they are loved
4.         And that they are appreciated and valued for who they are not what they do or achieve.

“I raised my three teens with love, perseverance, tenacity, sweat, tears, prayers, lighting candles, and the list could go on.” Ana Monnar

Here it is then, eventually (!), some tips to guide you and your teenager through adolescence:

·   Continue to parent your child as you have always done, but be a little bit more forgiving. Give them a break – don’t expect them to act like fully functioning adults...because they're not.''

·   Engage and guide with a light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence -  don't just walk away and think your teen is ready to make decisions without your input (even if they think they should!).  Be there for them. Remind your teens that while you're not running their lives anymore, you are ALWAYS available for advice and help, no matter what comes up.

·   Don’t make your teen feel worthless (they may develop self-esteem problems, and act up to the way you think they are) - respect their opinions, listen to their arguments, debate ideas with them but don’t try and put your beliefs on to them so they have to think like you. Help them to explore the questions, rather than give them answers

“We teach teens what we think they ought to know, and we never tell them what they want to know.” - Sue Johanson

·  Offer your wisdom—valued not because it comes from parental authority but because it comes from the parent's own struggles to learn how the world turns. Teens can appreciate that if parents once faced the same problems as them they you may remember a few things worth knowing.

“I laughed when my son asked me if I knew a particular Duran Duran song and was surprised when I did – doesn't he realise that the 80’s were my clubbing years!”

· Part of communicating with your teen may require the insight that they're not necessarily hearing what you say!

“I like talking to a brick wall- it's the only thing in the world that never contradicts me!” - Oscar Wilde

·   Understanding that your teen is on their way from  turning away from the family and toward the world of equals

·   Empathize and let your teen understand that impulses are hard to fight, but the end results could be disastrous. Teens tend to take time to ponder important decisions and weigh the options but they should be able look at both sides of an issue and consider the consequences.

·   Praise when good, treat when done something extra special and always say thank you for a chore completed whether you had to nag them or not! 

“I'm a teenager. I have a messy room. I spend most of my time online. I go to bed late and I'm crazy about one person.”

·   Knowing, understanding, and building your relationship with your teens and perceiving that social rejection is a threat to their existence especially in formulating the respect of their peers.

·   Give your teenager a measure of trust in his bid for independence.  But let them know that independence must be earned by responsible behaviour and give them a little more independence at a time, not overnight.

·   Let your teen make their own mistakes, but lovingly guide and support them and learn when you just have to let them go.

·   Invest some time in their interests even if you have no interest in it yourself!

·   Leave teen alone when they want to be left alone - space is needed but be there when they want you to be although you may need to make them aware of your own need to be alone and that this may not be at the same time as theirs.

“When on the way out of door to go out for the evening my son says “I don't want you to go out tonight I want talk to you”.  You had all weekend to do that!”

·  Develop a sense of humour! Enjoy your teens as they develop into adults

“Learned a new word to day from my teen today – ‘Derpy’!”

·   Limit your teen’s behaviour – help them learn by example for example how you treat your spouse, strangers, friends, deal with stress and time management.  Parents may need to first look at their own risk taking behaviours. Teenagers are do watch you and imitate your responses to life. For example things like drugs use, including smoking and alcohol,  and your teen may model you in this regard

“Angry because I came home late from a night out - who's   the parent?”

·  Give you teen opportunities to practice the skills that they need to accomplish their goals as adults, and so to become expert planners and/or practice basic skills like cooking and care giving.

·   Help your teen to manage sensory overload of being bombarded with information, and multitasking as routine as chatting with friends on online,  with practical strategies for making in-the-moment decisions

·   Talk to your teen in terms feelings, ie. “you look like you're feeling really down today or "I can see you're not really happy."

·   If your teenager spends an hour on the Internet instead of focusing on homework, it's because their brain doesn't register delayed gratification. Even though the teenager can vaguely register that there will be punishment later on, the appeal of fun now is too strong.

·    Help your teen get organized with calendars and planners. Teach them to write down deadlines, meetings, and dates and then post them in visible places. Help them understand that waiting until the very last minute to complete an important assignment is a sure bet for stress and disappointment.

·   Let them sleep in when there are no expectations to the day.

“Getting outta bed is one of the hardest challenges of the day for a teenager”.

·  Don’t make them feel that they are to blame for your failures. 

·   Recognise your teen’s drive for sex, power and respect within their peer group,  and try to explain the risks involved of what could happen if they don’t have impulse control  and educate them on the consequences of their actions.

“At sixteen, the adolescent knows about suffering because he himself has suffered, but he barely knows that other beings also suffer.”

·   Understand that the emotions of a teen reaches highs and lows – this is the time of Romeo and Juliet after all.  This is also the time that self-esteem issues can be a real danger that that this may not be obvious on the outside persona.  Be on the lookout for self-harming, or self-destructive behaviour

“I'm a teenager. I text at the speed of light, listen to my music too loud, roll my eyes, fall in love easily & get my heart broken.”

·  Knowledge of a subject for a questioning teenager is important – for example instead of saying don’t do drugs tell them that a teenager who smokes pot will still show cognitive deficits days later – so if they are doing an exam it could hinder them. An adult who smokes the same dose will return to cognitive baseline much faster than a teenager.

·   Encourage participation in youth programmes which provide challenging real-life experiences with a degree of protection and supervision

·   Make them aware that they can be anything they want to be as long as they are realistic about their own gift and skills and work at anything they do and not to start something and not finish it.

·  Take your teenager to work more often, if you can, giving them responsibility of helping and watching others at work.

·   Encourage your teen to go camping, travel, take on a summer job with real responsibility.  Create opportunities for your teen to meet more people – this can create a wider circle of friends, which can generally makes your teen healthier, happier, safer, and more successful.

“Too many adults wish to 'protect' teenagers when they should be stimulating them to read of life as it is lived.” -  Margaret A. Edwards

·  You could plan a sensation-seeking experience, trip to a theme parks, or even a skydive or a fast drive.  Note though that the love of the thrill usually peaks at around the age of 15 and a love of novelty takes over which can lead directly to useful experiences which aid their brain connections.

·   Engage your teen with social interactions, stimulating opportunities (which they may not appreciate until they are doing them) along with general sensation reward and you could light a fire for inspiration.

·   Teens can be enormously smart and knowledgeable but directionless, enthusiastic and exuberant but unable to commit to a particular kind of work. There is strong evidence that IQ has increased dramatically as more children spend more time in school, but there also evidence that higher IQ is correlated with delayed frontal lobe development so ensuring your teens have some responsibility, participation in social events, and using practical skills is just as important as study.

·  The teen years may be the time when potential poets start scribbling furiously in notebooks.  Before the brain is fully moulded this is a great time for them to say take up the guitar or learn a new language. Not that your teenager will listen if you tell them this. But just knowing that the teenage brain needs more time and experience to develop may help both you as the parent and your teen to survive adolescence.

“In scientific terms, teenagers can be a pain but they are quite possibly the most fully, crucially adaptive human beings around and without them humanity might not have so readily spread across the globe.”

Maybe as a single mother and my son being an only child, my expectations on him are higher, but fundamentally he and I have to be our own team –he has got to understand that there are certain responsibilities he has got to have and do – and there are certain responsibilities I have as a parent.  So he and I have come up with a plan together. 

There is a saying – “Drop it, pick it up.  Open it, close it.  Take something out, put it back.”   – My son is lousy at number 1 and I am not good at number 3!  There are definitely some tips above I am going to use, and there is some tips I can take away for myself as well especially on the organisation bit.

I bought my son a drill so he could take some responsibility for doing some of things that need fixing around the house – but three months on they still need doing but frankly this is a problem many women have without having a teenager around!  There are other things as well, giving him chores of sorting out the rubbish, changing the cat litter , feeding the cats in the morning before school, put away the dishes, keeping his own room tidy, cook a meal for both of us once a week, feed himself on the days I have activities during the week, do the important things first, i.e homework, instead of going straight on computer, pop across road to shop when and  if I need him too, clean the windows, clean up after himself i.e. after he has had a bath, and finally  take at least 5 minutes to organise himself before going to bed and to go to bed earlier so not so tired the next day.  The most amazing thing will be when he starts to wash-up the dishes!

It’s not just doing the chores that matter, it’s also an issue of showing more respect, sensitivity and kindness for both him and I and I would hate to pass on a son to another woman where he has grown up expecting her to do everything for him! 

Perhaps if I felt less stressed after walking through the door after work and seeing how much I need to do to keep us in a tidy and clean home, plus ensuring we are both fed well and healthy more quality time can be spent together and I can do more that is on the parenting tips above! 

My son has his dreams for the future and if I can steer him through his teens he may be able to make them come true.  

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