05 Apr Secrets of Parenthood: Teens
In the final chapter of our “Secrets of Parenthood” series, we’re talking about teenagers. But before we go there, let’s start by talking about two things: hormones and the brain.
Hormones are often the scapegoat for irrational teenage behavior, but how much are hormones to blame? During puberty, adolescents experience surges of the sex hormones for the first time: testosterone and estrogen. Their bodies are seeing unprecedented levels of these hormones in the bloodstream, and they can exaggerate feelings like aggression and mania.
But what about a teen’s ability to handle these new hormones? The answer to that lies in the brain. Dr. Jay Giedd, now a professor at the University of California–San Diego, conducted a longitudinal study on the adolescent brain. In this study, Dr. Giedd found that the brain continues to evolve through the teenage years. One of the last parts of the brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for self-control and judgment. Charles Nelson, a child psychologist at the University of Minnesota, explains that teens “are capable of very strong emotions and very strong passions, but their prefrontal cortex hasn’t caught up with them yet. It’s as though they don’t have the brakes that allow them to slow those emotions down.” To read more about the study, click here.
Now that we understand a little better why teenagers might act the way they do, let’s look at what you can do to help make the journey a little smoother.
Don’t Ride the Roller Coaster with Them
Riding it with them won’t help your teen, and it will only stress you out. I’m not saying that doing this will always be easy. It takes work, but your sanity will thank you for it later. What your teen needs from you is support and understanding. Just to clarify, I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to let your teen run rampant and blame it on their hormones. Even within the realm of “irrational teenage mood swings,” there are normal and abnormal parameters. If your teen is engaging in risky sexual behavior, abusing drugs or alcohol, or becoming physically violent, then it’s your responsibility as a parent to get them the help they need.
Work on Your Poker Face
This goes hand-in-hand with the point above, and having a good poker face is one of the ways that you can stop yourself from riding the roller coaster. Along with the hormonal changes, teens often feel an enormous amount of pressure, whether it be from school, peers, or family. They’re also feeling more independent, even though they can’t always act on that independence. Plus, they’re experiencing physical changes that might make them self-conscious. Like we said earlier, what your teen needs is your support. If they see you rolling your eyes or stifling a laugh at their displays of emotion (even if your reactions are justified), they won’t look to you for support. Maintaining a poker face helps you position yourself as the “steady in the storm” and the one they can lean on when life becomes overbearing. It can help you stay connected to your teen. Try your best to keep communication open with them and to guide them as they work out their problems on their own.
For more information on the web, visit healthychildren.org. If you have questions or would like to discuss any concerns you have regarding your child’s health, you can schedule an appointment with me, Dr. Kathryn Mandal, by calling 817-617-8600 or scheduling online at continuumtx.com.