As the mother of 15- and 16-year-old daughters, I’m often puzzled by what my teens are thinking. In fact, several years ago my sullen and surly girls so perplexed me that I decided to study neuroscientific and psychological research on adolescence.
I discovered that adolescent brains are full of dramatic change, emotional upheaval and powerful neurochemical surges—not just hormonal, but whole-body altering adjustments!
Knowing what’s happening inside teens’ brains can help equip us to make better parenting decisions.
A massive construction zoneBefore your children show physical signs of puberty, their brains shift from the explosive neurological growth of childhood to a process of change that includes "synaptic pruning and myelination." Their brains are being remodeled—transitioning from the openness of early childhood to the specialization and integration of adulthood. While this is essential, neurological remodeling is messy, complex, taxing and—at times—annoying.
What you can doHave shorter, more frequent conversations. The under-construction adolescent brain responds best to brief interactions. This is especially true when it comes to talking about “big issues” like technology, substance abuse, sex and relationships, treating family members with respect and even the development of their faith. Teens respond better to an ongoing dialogue than they do to a “one and done.” Use fewer words, carefully chosen, for greater influence.
“Emotional brain” versus “executive brain”
The brain’s emotional center, the limbic system, comes online early—and with ferocity—during the adolescent years. A teen’s executive functioning—the ability to plan, make wise decisions, control impulses and anticipate consequences—doesn’t mature fully until he is 23 to 25. You may see flashes of brilliant executive functioning, moments when you think, Finally, he’s got it, but those moments could be followed by a foolish choice like spraying his biology teacher with a fire extinguisher on the last day of school.
Discover your strengths and weaknesses as a parent. Good parents aren't perfect. And that's okay. There's no formula to follow, but there are ways you can grow every day.