There is much to be said about trying to conduct life around an adolescent. All jokes aside, trying to live with an alien may be too polite a comparison! Adolescence is a time fraught with the pursuit of identity. Erik Erickson described the time as revolving around identity versus role confusion – a time of psychosocial crisis where a person has to resolve a conflict. The term psychosocial provides an interesting dynamic; where teens are torn between self-differentiation and internal forces versus the external forces and pressures of society and their parents. During this time, adolescents begin to explore different parts of themselves and engage in rehearsal of different roles. They begin to formulate and experiment with different ideas about the world and themselves within this world – who are they; what do they want for themselves; what do they believe to be true?
The structure of the adolescent brain provides valuable insight into the ‘alien-ness’ of teens. Recent developments in research have indicated a far later maturation age of the human brain than initially thought. Brain scans have now indicated that brain maturity is only reached in the early 20’s and that the parts of the brain responsible for controlling impulses and planning ahead are among the last to mature. Evidence also suggests that the brain circuitry involved in controlling and regulating emotional responses is changing during adolescence.
The behavioural implications of these changes represent something of a rollercoaster. By the very structure of their brains, teens are unable to adequately formulate consequences for actions and effectively control their impulses. Their emotional responses are dramatic and often unexpected while logic and emotion are often not linked as two sides of the same coin. While this rollercoaster is necessary for teens to become well-adjusted, cohesive adults; parents may feel completely overwhelmed.
1) Provide an open forum for discussion. Giving your teen a space where they feel comfortable to discuss their emotions and concerns is invaluable. Parents should be prepared to hear things they may not want to hear. However, as the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. Parents need to monitor their emotional responses to their teen and try their best to not become angry or emotionally charged. A parent’s responses and reactions will dictate how much is shared with them in the future. Keep the door open so that they know that they can come to you at any time to talk.
2) Decide and discuss rules and acceptable behaviours beforehand. Planning, predictability and structure are a parent’s best friend during the teen years. Having an open discussion with your teen before an event allows both parties to be aware of expectations and boundaries. This discussion includes co-formulating fair consequence for transgressions.
3) Give teens an option. If their only option to get home is by getting into a car with a drunk driver, let them know that they can call you, no matter what time it is. Unconditional positive regard implies that you may not agree with or accept their actions, but that you will always accept them as people. Teens should know they can call you no matter what and that your emotional response will be predictable.
4) Talk about risk taking. Teens need be aware of the worst case scenario, whether it be sex, drugs or any other risk taking behaviours. Parents and teens can also discuss options or taking appropriate risks – taking up a new sport or joining an adventure club may be some ideas.
5) Formulate expectations. Again, forewarned is forearmed. Set up a process of checking in so that you are aware of where your teen is and who they are with. Setting up this expectation ensures accountability from your teen and allows parents to feel secure in that there is a game plan. For example, if your teen is out with friends and your standard check in time is when they arrive and when they leave – the consequences of not checking in at these times are a phone call followed up by going to fetch them. If your teen is aware of this right off the bat, there is a predictability and structure that serves both parties.
6) Seeking professional help does not imply weakness or failure. Sometimes an independent third party can assist you and your teen to start speaking the same language. Professional assistance is invaluable and often incredibly beneficial!