Teenagers. We often think of them as foreign beings—similar to Martians—especially when we are trying to communicate with them. We ask them to clean their rooms, and we get an eye roll and a sigh. We tell them that we love them, and we get a shoulder shrug. We ask them about their day, and we get a response of “fine.” We ask them to spend time with us, but they would rather hang out in their room with the door closed. Then one day, we inadvertently hit a raw nerve by asking whom they are hanging out with that particular evening. Suddenly, World War III erupts in the living room with screaming, yelling, tears, doors slammed and walls punched.
These challenging episodes can cause parents to ask: How do I relate to and communicate with my teenager? This article offers insight into teens and their behavior, and provides advice on how to better communicate and connect with them.
- understand teenagers and their behavior
- appreciate your teen's developmental stages
- give teens space to roam
- realize a teen’s need for instant gratification
- forget to accept the shifting role of parents
- overlook the importance of just listening
- underestimate the need to develop strong relationships
- wait too long to seek professional help
Parents must understand that teenagers are just like them. We all have emotions, feelings, worries and stressors. The teenage brain is not developed enough to be able to process all of this information and manage it in the most beneficial way at all times.
The brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25 years. This means that information initially hits the emotion center of the teenage brain first—and then travels to the logic and reasoning portions of the brain. Thus, teenagers often react based on emotion, rather than allowing enough time for logic and reasoning to kick in.
In addition, it is vital for parents to understand that teenagers who engage in defiant, destructive or dangerous behaviors–such as smoking, drinking, cutting, lying, stealing or having inappropriate relationships–are often doing so because they are trying to get an unmet need met.
Parents must understand the normal developmental stages that their teens go through. When kids are in adolescence, they walk a tightrope between childhood and adulthood. On one side of the tightrope is the playground where moms and dads cuddle you, comfort you when you scrape your knee, push you on the swing, play football with you and listen to your awesome stories from the day. On the other side of the tightrope is the big forest of adulthood. This forest is full of adventure, risk, beauty, strength and independence. At times, teens want—and need—to jump off the tightrope and play in the kid playground. But there are other times when teens need to jump off and begin exploring the adult forest.
Parents need to be sensitive during each of the teenager stages. Does this mean that parents must allow kids to roam freely when they are in the adult forest? Not exactly. They must provide appropriate boundaries in the forest. This also means that parents must understand that their role as parents has changed from the time when their children were babies until now. When children were babies, parents provided all of the control because kids were not able to make any decisions for themselves. They provided safety in the way of cribs and car seats. They set up play dates with the children they believed were positive influences. They provided supervision for trips to the park. But now that their children have evolved into teens, their role has shifted into an influential role, rather than a controlling one.
Until our mid 20’s, our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is logical and reasonable, is not fully developed. In the teen years, our “emotional brain” is more active and our “rational brain” is not fully developed. Consequently, this leads teens to make very poor choices because they are hijacked by their need for instant gratification.
When kids become teens, parents can no longer set up play dates and choose their children’s friends. However, they still should provide boundaries on where they can hang out and what time they need to be home. Parents can influence teens in making positive friend choices by providing them with modeled behavior in their own friend choices. And they can talk to their children about positive choices, character and integrity.
While teens walk on their tightrope, they are trying to discover themselves, learn who they are, what they like and how they feel about different topics. This is the best time for parents to learn to listen. While parents often want to have answers and advice, they must become listeners. Whenever your teens wants to talk–even if it is about the new science fiction movie they just saw—be sure to sit and listen. There may be something said in that conversation that cracks the door open for more conversation. If nothing else, it maintains and builds a strong relationship with your teen.
Create healthy, fun, loving relationships with your children. Provide them with acceptance, appreciation, affection and consistent boundaries. Be sure to offer teens an open dialog about morals and values.
If you see your teenager’s behavior radically changing, consider getting help from a therapist, counselor, mentor, and/or pastor. Sometimes, parents can’t “hear” their children, or kids can’t talk to their parents because of their relationship history.
Other times, a teen’s issues are very challenging and end up being more than a parent can handle. Teens may be experiencing depression, anxiety, ADHD, poor self-esteem, the effects from an abusive relationship, bullying or an addiction.
If your child’s behavior appears to have changed over a couple of weeks, it is time to address the issue with a trained professional counselor. Do not wait until this behavior has gone on for too long.
Raising teens in today’s complex world can be quite challenging. The key to success is understanding your teenagers and their behavior, as well as learning to effectively communicate and connect.