The Adolescence Roller Coaster

If you have a teenager in your home, it might seem like you’re on a constant emotional roller coaster with highs, sudden drops, twists, and turns. Don’t worry, you’re not alone on this roller coaster. In part, you can blame brain development and biology for fueling this ride.

Let’s Talk Brain

Think back to your teen years. Do you have a memory of doing something SO stupid, you look back and ask yourself, “what was I thinking?!” That thought may be followed up with, “I don’t ever want my kids to know about that.” The teenage brain, is not like a child’s brain or an adult’s brain. Around puberty the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotion, intensifies; while, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for– well, being responsible doesn’t develop until mid twenties (Giedd, 2015). Some argue it doesn’t finish developing till age 26 or even later.

So what do you have? A human who is wanting to be more social, wanting to find emotional connection, and feelings that are intensified. All the while, there is a lack of proper decision making, moral judgement, and planning. Can you put a face to this person?

So What Do You Do Mom or Dad?

Here are a FEW suggestions, but remember that each teenager is an individual and there are no cookie cutter answers.

First, remember that this is an EMOTIONAL BEING who at this time is wanting social interactions and emotional connection. So, as difficult as it may be, try to validate your child and not dismiss their “dramas” as dumb teenage nonsense. Remember how important your teen issues were at the time. Suzie Q breaking up with you felt like the end of the world, or hanging out with Johnny B was what you were born to do. So, the risk of breaking curfew to be with Suzie or Johnny was, in their brain, extremely important. Validate and show empathy that you recognize the importance that they felt. This does not mean that you agree with what they did or consent to their wrongful actions; but, you can show that you care about their feelings and recognize their thoughts as valid.

Second, remember that the decision making part of the brain is still growing. So they may need some guidance, you may need to S-P-E-L-L it out for them when it comes to making choices. Here are some tips:
Be specific. Do say what time to be home by, not “don’t be out too late.”
Consequences should be commensurate with the transgression. Don’t be too hard- “You’re grounded for the rest of the year.” It’s January and they were 15 minutes late. Don’t be too easy- “I’m going to take away the car,” but you never did or will. Find the middle ground. If your child is an hour late from curfew, instead of grounding them for the whole weekend try just 3 hours on Friday night from 6-9pm. Maybe then you won’t seem like “THE WORST PARENT EVER” over three hours, though no guarantees can be made.
Get em where it hurts- consequences need to matter to them. “Go to your room” may not be that bad of a consequence if your child is connected to friends via social media and their room is tricked out with the latest gaming devices and flat screen TV. Your daughter isn’t taking out the trash like you asked? Change the wifi password until she does.

Final Thoughts

Most importantly, know your kid and let your kid know you. If you are considering therapy for your child. Consider family therapy. Many parents would like individual therapy for their child because it is “their problem.” Keep in mind that while your child may definitely be off in their own world, their problem is your problem. Family therapy doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone sits in the room together every session. Individual sessions can still be held with family therapy. Investing in your teen with time and emotion will be worth it in the long run. Contact Crownview Medical Group to get in touch with a trained medical professional specializing in family therapy.

Giedd, J. N. (2015). The amazing teen brain. Scientific American, 312(6), 32-37.