Teenage Brain 102

You may remember our question from last week:

What is my teenager thinking?

And the answer:  They’re not.  At least, not in the ways we might be thinking they’re thinking...  See last weeks’ blog for exactly what is happening inside of the brain of your teenager.  In the midst of all of those things, he’s got a lot of strikes against him walking into a new school year.  And so does your teenage daughter.  Here are a few things you can do to help:

1) Share the information.  Research has taught us so much in the past few years about the adolescent brain.  Schools are changing their education structure and even school hours to accommodate the ways adolescents learn, and struggle in school.  But kids are often unaware.  It can help your teen to know where he or she is vulnerable.  Especially in impulse control, these vulnerabilities can set your teen up for trouble.  Talk to him about it.  Share with her why you are concerned and even set the structure of your home the way you do, to help him learn as his brain is growing.  He’s not quite as ready to tackle the world as he might believe.   

2) Help them move.  Physical activity actually enhances brain growth.  Just as recess comes to an end for kids, their brains actually need the prolonged periods of activity.  Require your teen to participate in a sport.  You can allow them to choose, but make sure they’re getting their bodies and brains moving in a way that will help their brains grow.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I see many teenagers who have tutors for one class or another.  Because of the way their brains are developing, they truly may need more help than their teacher is able to give in a short class.  Be open to the idea.  It is not necessarily a reflection of the intelligence of your child, just the fact that their brains are in a state of great agitation, which can significantly hinder the learning process.

4) Give structure.  Create a structure around your child’s grades.  Give consequences if they fall below a certain point, keeping aware of your child and their capabilities.  Keep the consequences short and intense, with the ability for them to be lifted if the grades rise.  Because of their impulsivity, adolescents often need external motivators to make good choices.  There will be a time they will be motivated internally, it just might not be quite yet.  

5) Be patient.  Their brains are growing.  In the midst of that growth, they’ll make mistakes.  You did, too, as a teen.  Give structure, but also give them ample grace.  They are learning, and sometimes that learning takes place slowly.

6) Encourage often.  Teenagers are, in many ways, the worst versions of themselves.  And it’s not just you that’s aware of this.  They are, too.  Teenagers struggle more with their self-esteem than any other age in a child’s life.  They need your structure and help, but they also desperately need your encouragement.  Help them see who they can be.  

The adolescent years are the most turbulent time in a child’s life.  You provide, as a parent, a steady source of support, help and encouragement.  Don’t give in and don’t lose hope.  They are becoming.  And God is growing their hearts and their brains in ways that will bring about His good and glory in their lives.

Recommended Resources:

The Wonder of Boys, Michael Gurian

The Wonder of Girls, Michael Gurian

Wild Things, Stephen James and David Thomas

Raising Girls, Melissa Trevathan and Sissy Goff

Raising Boys and Girls, the Art of Understanding the Differences (a DVD curriculum), Sissy Goff, David Thomas and Melissa Trevathan

1 Spinks, Sarah, “One Reason Teens Respond Differently to the World:  Immature Brain Circuitry,” Inside the Teenage Brain.  PBS.org.

2 Ruder, Debra Bradley Ruder, “The Teen Brain:  A work in progress,” Harvard Magazine, September-October 2008.