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Understanding and Supporting Teens

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Understanding and Supporting Teens

Many parents struggle with finding ways to support their teens, engage their teens, or connect with their teens. As a teen specialist, the challenges are understandable to me, and especially now as a parent of a 9 and 12 year old (the teen years are around the corner and seemingly already here sometimes..lol). As a parent, you have spent their whole lives protecting, guiding and directing them in life and now they want nothing to do with you, fight for privacy, and push you away. You know your teens in some ways so much more than they know themselves, but in other ways the reality is, you could be losing touch. I am not saying this is the case for all teens, but a very common issue I see in therapy.

Teens are in a unique developmental stage of “Individuation.” This means that they are breaking away from their parents view of the world and beginning to deconstruct the ideologies and values and perspective of their parents/nuclear families and are now reconstructing the world in their own world view. They are “trying out,” or perhaps “trying on,” new perspectives and new values to see which ones fit well with them. This is a rapid evolving process where ideologies and perspectives are adopted, discarded and new ones adopted and so on, for quite some time. In this stage of development teens are more interested in interacting and learning from their peers than their parents as part of their self-exploration of themselves and the world. Teens are hard-wired to begin searching out life through experiences and interactions with their peers.

From various trainings I have attended, I have learned that – from a brain development standpoint – the teenage years are considered the time that the brain is the most creative and curious about the world and most capable of thinking outside the box. For this reason, teens need space, support and room to explore new relationships, ideas and experiences. In addition, this is the time when the teen brain’s “acceleration system” is wired up for exploration, but the “braking system” is not yet well established or working. In more plain terms, good judgement and ability to weigh out pros/cons before acting on an idea is a work in progress! The braking system isn’t fully operational until we are into our early twenties. This helps explain the impulsive behaviors we see. This can be hard or even scary for some parents. Understandably so.

Communication is a way to keep your radar fine-tuned and tapped into your teens. However, your approach to communicating with teens may need to evolve and recalibrate in regards to the dynamics of who is identified as the expert here. Having a curious interest in, and realizing that you can learn from, your teens is a great way into their world. Let go of assumptions and know-it-all attitudes and be open to the possibility that you can discover new things about your teens ideas and experiences just by taking time to explore. Another goal of keeping lines of communication open is to find creative ways to stay engaged so you can increase your opportunities for getting to know what your teens are up to and help your teens with thinking things out. A way to do this would be to go for drives, go for walks, go for coffee, watch movies, watch youtube, listen to their music interests, color together, or do anything out of the ordinary to break old patterns of engagement so you can create something new. Let your teens know by your actions, that you are still interested, care and want to know how they are doing and what they are doing…. The more your lines of communication are open, the better able you will be to know about, support and help them with their challenges.

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