Living With Teens – Some Insights to Navigate through these Tumultuous Times

Well it’s no secret that when kids hit their teen phase they can be difficult, demanding and unpredictable.  I recall my own teenage years; an emotional rollercoaster, feeling I didn’t fit in, thinking my parents didn’t have a clue, not opening up about my real feelings and generally hating the world.

So it’s not easy.  We know this.  We have experienced it first hand.  But now that WE’RE the parent how can we help our children through one of the most tricky phases of their lives and make it a little easier on them (and us!)

What’s Really Going On

What we need to know is that our kids are going through huge changes and transformations – which might be self evident when we start to see them towering above us but there’s more going on than just the physical changes.  And this is all to do with the brain.

There are a myriad of chemical changes going on within the teen brain.  The front part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, is still developing and this is where our decision making and executive functions like problem solving come from.  Teens are more likely to default to the amygdala, which is a part of the brain responsible for our emotions.  This is why we can sometimes see aggression or impulsive behaviour and decisions that can appear reactive rather than logical.  The teenage brain also has lots of plasticity, meaning that it has the ability to change and adapt – it is regularly strengthening and adding new connections whilst pruning information that it does not need.

Because of these changes going on in the brain and the subsequent changes in the behaviour of our kids, we may not feel as connected to them or think that they’ve morphed into an entirely different being that we don’t recognize!  Of course there are a whole host of hormonal changes going on too so when we take it all into consideration that is A LOT OF CHANGE.

So How Can We Help?

  1. The first thing is DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY if your child is acting up, mouthing off or generally being hostile.  Remind yourself that their brain is developing and they themselves may feel as if they have little control over their emotions.  So go easy on them, there is no point in fighting fire with fire – if you can regulate your own emotions and stay calm and in control it means that situations will not escalate.

2. It can be helpful to TALK TO THEM about what’s going on (choosing a time when they are calm and relaxed of course) to explain that their brain and body are going through a lot of changes which may make them feel frustrated and out of sorts at times – but that this is all perfectly normal.  Reassure them and let them know that you are there for them if and when they want to talk (without judgement).

3. It is important to remember that sometimes when our teens are being confrontational or abrasive what they are really crying out for is LOVE AND CONNECTION! So (again choose your moment wisely) but when they do allow you near them, tell them how much you love them, HUG them – children are never too old for hugs no matter how old they get!  And remember that through this act of hugging you are both releasing the chemical oxytocin, otherwise known as the ‘love hormone’ – it lowers blood pressure and stress and helps everyone to relax.

4. The good news is that THIS PHASE WILL NOT LAST FOREVER (hurrah!) BUT current research suggests that the teen brain is still developing until the age of 25!  So be mindful of this but keep in mind that this is all temporary.  Take note of your own stress levels and remember your self care – of course we are more likely to react to our teens if we are already stressed ourselves, so make time for yourself too.  By doing this you are not just helping yourself but those around you too!  Kids pick up on our moods and they know they are more likely to get a reaction from us if we are tired, stressed or run down.  I can guarantee that if you are feeling more relaxed and centred within yourself, things that would normally stress you will just wash off your back.

5. REMEMBER TO ENJOY THIS TIME!  As our teens grow and develop it is a chance to connect with them on a different level – they are coming into their own as young men and women and we will see many, many changes and different sides to them.  They are learning to assert themselves, be more creative, explore, so ENCOURAGE THEM.  They are trying to figure out their identities and where they fit in the world.  It can be a challenging time but it can also be exciting as they experience new things and develop new interests and passions.

To maintain a healthy relationship with our teens, a healthy dose of understanding and patience will go a long way – as well as, of course, a sense of humour!