Teens, Brains and Behavior

by Debbie Landi LCSW
Site Director at Jordan Middle School

As parents of kids in middle and high school, we can often feel confused by their behavior and expression of emotions.  We may think they reached a certain point of maturity in their emotional and social life in elementary school and are then morphed into totally new creatures come middle school.  Rest assured, this is all natural.

The brain is going through significant change and development throughout our life.  Medical research proves that brains are not completely matured and grown until approximately the age of 24 or 25.  Tremendous changes are occurring in our children’s bodies and brains during the middle and high school years.

At the beginning of middle school, children’s brains are generally at the stage of thinking concretely.  They engage in concrete problem solving and are generally logical and rational.  As children move through middle school, however, the brain starts to develop and children enter into more formal operations.  Most middle school and high school students are at this stage of development.  They begin to be able to think abstractly and hypothetically.  They begin to be able to think about their own thoughts – to have introspection and self-analysis.  They develop more insight and perspective.  What this equates to is the behavior we typically see in adolescents:  questioning of norms and authority; conflict with parents; testing of consequences.  The task of this age is to differentiate.  To find oneself as an individual.  To question family and community norms to determine what makes sense to him/her.  To determine what qualities and characteristics they will take on.  To become an independent adult.

We have all seen and know the above behavior well.  Knowing that this is very normal behavior helps with some of the difficulties and tension.  However, we also know that it is typically a challenging time between parents and their children.  How can we as parents and others in the community help our kids through the differentiation process?  An answer you have heard often:  1) listen with respect; and 2) take time to connect.  Research tells us that teens value respect, honesty and straightforwardness from adults.  The more respect you show your teen, the more respect you will get in return.  Listening to your teen makes them feel valued.  If they feel valued and heard, they are more likely to value and hear you.  Take the time to connect with your teen.  It doesn’t have to be formal.  It can be while driving to a sporting event, while doing some shopping or running errands.  Most importantly, the more connected they feel, the more they will stay away from the temptations of adolescent life and the more able they are to have a healthy differentiation.

So the next time you are finding yourself frustrated with your differentiating teen, breath deep and remember it is all a natural process.  A natural process to embrace and, see in the big picture of nurturing, a process of becoming an emotionally healthy adult.

One Response to “Teens, Brains and Behavior”

  1. Reblogged this on Laura Lamere and commented:
    Thanks for this insightful article – It is a great reminder for parents of teenagers! I’ve reblogged on http://LauraLamere.com

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