When dealing with our teenagers it often feels like they see the world very differently from us. A common feature for many of them is their frequent mood swings. We used to think that teens respond differently to the world because of hormones, or attitude, or because they simply need independence. A recent study has shown that this has to do with how teens and adults process emotion and the parts of the brain involved. Teenagers rely on the amygdala or primitive brain, while adults use the pre-frontal cortex or rational brain. The amygdala, known for the fight or flight response and gut reactions, is responsible for highly charged emotions. As they mature and enter adulthood, the study showed the transition of the center of activity away from the emotional, instinctual brain and toward the executive, rational brain.
How do we help our emotional teens at this time of transition? This tends to require a lot of sensitivity from the parents, who benefit from learning to read non verbal communication such as silences, hesitations, posture or facial expressions. This is a time when they appear to communicate less as they begin to separate from their parents and long for independence, but they still need your emotional support. Adolescents have not yet formed an identity and this can be a source of confusion and stress. They’re suddenly confronted with issues that they’d given little thought to before: periods, shaving, sexuality and comparing themselves to everyone else in their peer group.
Learn to recognize when your teenager wants to talk. There are likely to ask questions out of character. For example, if they ask how your day went and they never, do this is a sign that they are looking for a deeper conversation. Encourage them to express their thoughts and try not to rush in with your opinion as this could bring the conversation to an abrupt end.
As hard as this may be to put in practice, try to stay calm when a situation appears to escalate. The more volatile your teen’s emotions appear to be the more important it is for you to keep control. By doing so you will be showing them that they can confide in you and they are more likely to share their worries or mistakes.
It can be difficult to make sense of the fact that our children are growing older yet they behave like they are getting younger. At times it helps to try and remember the difficulties we encountered around that age and to share them with the adolescent in our life. This can create a bond and remind them that we were not born adults.