Parenting Tips For Teenagers Vol 7 – The Teenage Brain

This is part of my monthly series on Parenting Teenagers.

Over the last couple of months I have really seen clear signs that our eldest is moving through adolescence. I remember reading in He’ll Be Ok: Growing Gorgeous Boys Into Good Men, by Celia Lashlie, that forgetfulness was very common in teenage boys. I can ask Master 14 to go to his room to get something for me and he will go off to do it, but never return. When I follow him up, the majority of the time I can tell he has gone into the room to get the required item, become distracted and forgotten completely what he went in there for.

While researching the topic of forgetfulness in teenagers, I came across this fantastic parenting teenagers tip sheet by Monterey County Office of Education. You can download the tip sheet in full here which I highly recommend doing as it has some great info for parents, but I have quoted below some facts about the teenage brain which are helpful in putting the behaviour of a teenager into perspective. {Edit: that link is no longer working but I did find a copy of the sheet I had saved and you can download it here –  Teens.}

Brain Development Facts:
1. Teens lose 1/3 of cerebral cortex causing them to sometimes be confused and very forgetful – starting around age 12, they need to be reminded about simple tasks – rather than hounding them, ask them “how would you like to be reminded?” Do not “do” for your teen, do “with” them. For example, if they often forget their backpack or lunch or gym clothes, have a checklist posted by the front door on what they need to bring to school and pause there before going out the door. Make them responsible for what is on that list.

2. Age 24 is when the male brain is fully developed.

3. Playing multiple sports (not specializing) or involved in different activities is important for the wiring of the brain because diverse experiences help development.

4. Alcohol and drugs have a profound negative affect on a teen brain.

5. Teens interpret situations with the part of their brain that is called their Amygdala (emotion part of brain) which is why they are overly sensitive and personalize everything.

6. Yelling or screaming at teens does not work since this activates the “fight or flight” response – either they end up yelling and screaming back at you or completely shut down.

7. Teens have 40 times the sex hormones of a child and 3 times higher than an adult.

8. Increased testosterone in males causes negative and aggressive thoughts.

9. Increased estrogen in females causes moodiness.

10. What teens choose to do during adolescence plays a major role in how their brains are wired for life.

As frustrating as I find him at times, it is so helpful to remember he is experiencing significant brain development at this stage of his life. While knowing the stage he is going through is developmentally appropriate won’t make it easier per se, it does give me a great level of comfort that his behaviour is within the realms of normal.

The key learning for me from the above list was point 5. Sometimes I have been completely taken aback by the teenager’s response to my comments or requests. I have considered him to be overreacting and have probably been too dismissive of his feelings. Being sensitive to criticism and personalising generic comments is something I have seen in our teenager and now I know it is related to his brain development, not just to him being over reactionary, I need to think more carefully about how I address certain issues with him and the words I use.

As a parent I am grateful for the internet which allows me to seek out information that can help me better parent my teen.

Have you come across any good parenting articles recently for teens or other age groups?