My mother used to have a sticker on her Red Volkswagen van in which she transported four teenagers to 3 different schools: It read: Parents of teenagers need all the prayer they can get.
Amen to that.
Another thing, I’m finding, is that parents of teenagers need all the insight they can get. And parents of Wonderfully Wired parents need a bit of extra grace.
Here is your quick Tuesday cheat sheet of insights into 10 developmental, emotional and cultural changes affecting teenage baffling behaviour: as discussed by my guest on this month’s episode, Dr. Jeannine Jannot.
1. The teenage Feeling Brain (the limbic system) is much more developed than the teenage Thinking brain. (The prefrontal Cortex) . The PFC is largely responsible for executive functions such as decision making, problem solving, judgment, impulse control, attention, concentration, and focus and isn’t fully developed until your mid or late twenties! Your teenager looks like an adult but isn’t developmentally one yet.
2. Teenage Memory is much more detailed than at any other time in life.
This results in a feeling that the smallest details count and are important and means the adolescent brain is a sponge for both positive and negative experiences.
A new capacity to think in the abstract gives the teen capacity to think deeply and profoundly and ask bigger questions which can really freak teens out.
3. Neurons in the teen brain are being pruned. Just as in a garden, where pruning the overgrowth allows for further growth and expansion, neural pruning enables the human brain to develop and grow. Recent research shows our teenagers go through the same kind of malleable brain period as a toddler - all this change and unpredictable behaviour is because of a normal developmental stage that won’t last.
4. During this time the self-centeredness of the toddler reappears. The teenager becomes more able to see things from multiple perspectives but tends to feel these perspectives are focussed on them. We call this the spotlight effect: a fixation with what others think of them.
5. During adolescence sleep rhythms change. The circadian sleep cycle, (that’s the time we go to sleep and get our best brain- restoring rest), changes at puberty to produce the sleep inducing hormone later in the evening. This is why your teenager who only gave you monosyllables before 10am is suddenly opening new tabs of conversation at 11pm when you are flailing. It’s so critical that we know this about the teenage brain as sleep deprivation is a massive problem in modern teenagers.
6. It’s good and necessary for your teen to start questioning your authority.
Dr Lisa Damour, author of Untangled, asks us to remember the story of the Wizard of Oz. There is a scene where the main character, Dorothy discovers that the mighty Oz is just a little man pulling levers behind a curtain. Dr Damour explains how our teens reach a stage where they get a glimpse of us ‘behind the curtain’. Once they realise we are quite human, that our rules can be quite arbitrary and that we are not infallible, the game changes.
7. Procrastination feels like delegation. Dr Jannot explains that the brain research about procrastination shows that assigning a task for yourself to do in future activates a similar part of the brain to asking someone else to do the work. Now that your teen is starting to manage his actions and the resulting consequences, not simply doing things to please you, he has to find the motivation in himself. But when he is assigned a task, future-him feels like it has been delegated to someone else. Nice.
8. Social pressure is real. Dr Jannot explains that slighting, from peers, causes a similar response in the teenage brain to physical pain. While that thinking brain is still lagging behind it often loses against the strong emotive response of wanting that pain to go away. It’s also worth saying that the pressure our teens feel isn’t just from peers but from themselves and their perceptions of our expectations.
9. Adulting is a verb. Dr Jannot discusses the most incredible cultural change in our kids from when we were teens. Millennials and Post-Millennials (like my own teenagers), don’t talk of being an adult; they talk of ‘adulting’ as an activity, a verb. One can adult when it’s absolutely necessary and delay it when it’s inconvenient. Understanding this difference in cultural thinking might just help us not be so utterly baffled by what seems irresponsible and emotional to us.
10. Teens go through huge emotional and developmental changes at the same time as their parents! I’ve long been interested in why we give so much grace and research to the changing teen but so little to the middle- aged parents raising her. As I contemplate the second half of my life, the meaning I search for and the value I want to contribute to the world I am parallel to my teen as she “thinks deeply and profoundly and asks bigger questions, affecting (our) moods and emotions!”
Resources I love: