It may be really hard to admit that right now, you really cannot understand your teen’s behaviour. In fact, you might not particularly like them at all. If ever there’s going to be a stage of life where you’re going to clash with your child, it’s this one. If that’s you, I can assure you that you’re not the only parent out there who has had it with their teen.
What’s going on in that teenage head of theirs?
We know that developmentally, a teenage brain is undergoing a massive amount of change. Crucially though, a major part is still yet to be developed. This part of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for decision making, problem solving, impulse control and weighing up consequences.
Due to the prefrontal cortex not being fully developed, which won’t happen fully until mid-adulthood, the amygdala is used instead. The amygdala is the control centre of emotions, which means that decisions, problem solving, impulses and risk taking all comes from there. As such, all of these functions become either much more intense and/or inhibited.
That means emotional experiences are at their most intense, the willingness to take risks at their highest, and taking action without thinking about consequences are most likely to occur. So if your teenager acts and sounds irrational at times, or they’re moody, that’s why. They simply do not have the brain function to see, feel or do things the way a parent can.
Who on earth are they listening to?
It may appear that your teen is not listening to you, and appear as if they don’t need you. They do, just not in the way it used to be. Everything they experience during this time period is new, their emotions are running high, their bodies are changing, relationships and expectations are different. This can be highly stressful.
On top of that, teenagers are starting to find and develop their identity, and as such, want and need to spend more time with their friends. It is a normal and necessary part of their development. However teenagers have an added challenge which previous generations haven’t contended with. That is the sheer bombardment of messages via social media of ‘who’ and ‘how’ to be.
Despite all this, parental support, encouragement and guidance is still highly necessary. In fact, your teenager wants that more than you may realise. Research has told us that they will take on the morals and values of their parents while also want help to make decisions that can affect the rest of their lives.
But I’m not being listened to?
It’s all about the language and the tone you take during the conversation and if you are approachable. Your teenager will want to talk with you, not be talked at. The greatest source of your teenagers self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of belonging all stems from their relationship with you, their parent. Your relationship with be the barometer with which to measure risk taking behaviour, impulse control with the highs and lows of their emotional experience.
You’re the Boss
Teenagers will always push the boundaries. Your job is to make sure your border control is operational. If they need to home by a certain time, that’s the law in your house. Speaking disrespectfully and rudely to you is simply not acceptable. You set the tone of how the relationship works, not the other way around.
Is this challenging for parents, definitely! It’s not an easy road and large doses of patience are necessary when dealing with a teen. It can be helpful to remember what your own teenage years were like, and if it really was all that it was cracked up to be back then.
What were your teenage years like?
I hated being a teenager. I hated school, my body was changing in ways I’d prefer it didn’t, and everything, just everything felt embarrassing.
I had big problems in my life that seemed trivial to my parents but were huge to me. Like, my best friend called me names behind my back. Or there’s a boy I really like but he doesn’t know I exist. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be learning at school and I feel so dumb. I don’t like my teacher.
Did you ever go through those types of things? Did your parents even know you were thinking and feeling that? How would you have liked them to approach it, remembering how moody you were?
If my teen was feeling or thinking of any of things, I’d want to know about it. The only way to do that is by being able to communicate with them effectively.
How to approach your teen
Often teens feel like their either being interrogated or spoken to like a child. As their independence grows, so is the need to communicate in a different way. Opening conversations in a variety of ways can helpful. You can:
- Ask their thoughts about a current topic on the media.
- Find out how they feel about something you heard from another parent what’s happening at school.
- Talk about things your teen is interested in to get an idea of what they like and why.
These are non-threatening ways of talking with your teen so you can open up conversations where they feel comfortable to talk with you without the fear of being judged for their own actions. You will also be able to get some kind of idea of how they’re thinking about things, and an indicator of how they behave when you’re not around.
Where to go for parenting help
Relationships Australia runs regular parenting courses where you can learn new skills to help parent your teen. Details can be found at the following link.
The important thing to remember is that your teenager needs you more than they realise and show.