Adolescence can be a challenging and confusing period for teens and parents. But there's biological explanation as to why teenagers behave the way they are. The logical thinking part of a teen's brain is not fully developed until age 25, which mean teenagers are exceptionally weak in making rational judgements and decisions. They have low awareness of long-term consequences, and they are not able to weigh danger and safety effectively.
Before we jump into saying teenagers are always so rebellious and difficult, we have to take a step back to understand that the adult and teenage brains work differently. While adults think with the logical part of the brain (prefrontal cortex), teenagers think with their emotional part of the brain (amygdala). In other words, teenagers feel more than they think. Hence their decision-making process is very much dependent on their emotions, not so much of logic and rational thinking.
Now that we have a better understanding of the teenage brain, we can use these parenting tips to raise a teen more effectively. Below are 3 important Do's and Don'ts for us to keep in mind while nurturing a teen.
Firstly, nagging on teens don't work. In this digital age, teenagers experience various societal pressure and negativity from school, social media and friends. Going home to a parent that nags further reinforces the "I'm not good enough" mindset in teens. Second, nagging is about us, not the kids. We nag because we are afraid that our kids will be in danger. We nag because we refuse to accept the fact that our teenage kids are growing up and are capable of making decisions for themselves. We nag because we feel powerless over our own lives. That's why we want to exert control on our kids so we can be in power again.
DO'S: LET THEM EXPLORE AND LEARN
Adolescence is a stage for self-exploration and development of personal identities. This is the time where teens want to make choices and gain a sense of control of their own lives. They may have odd fashion sense, unique music preferences, and different circle of friends. That's perfectly normal. As parents, we want to respect their choices and style. It doesn't mean we have to like EDM music, but just by showing our respect and interest in the things they like shows them they matter to us. And most importantly, we want to prepare them to live and learn from the consequences of their choices and behaviour.
Teenagers are no longer kids. We can't expect them to obey each of our requests and demands. While we want our children to share the same interests and views as us, we need to let them have the freedom to decide what they want for themselves. After all, they are not us. When we constantly control our teens, we are telling them that we have no faith in their decision-making abilities. This can have negative effects on teens, such as insecurities, lack of independence, and low self-esteem.
DO'S: SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
While we can't expect our teens to comply with everything we say, we can set reasonable expectations for them. Instead of focusing on academic results and achievements, we want to focus on their character. We want to encourage them to be honest, kind, respectful and generous. We want to support them when they fail and give them the confidence to try again.
While it can be difficult to let go control, it is important for parents to take on the role of a supporter to our teens and guides them in the right direction.
Discipline is about guiding, not punishing. Be mindful to not exert your control by giving them ultimatums and threatening comments like "If you don't do this, I'll..." Teenagers may take this as a challenge, and they will defy more. Avoid nagging teens about their shortcomings, and do not use sarcasm and demeaning language on them. This can put them in a defensive mode instead of reflecting their wrongdoings.
DO'S: SET REASONABLE LIMIT AND CONSEQUENCES
The teenage brain not yet fully capable to rationally think of what's right to do. That's why it is our duty to help guide them to understand rules and consequences. To encourage teens to behave well, we have to learn to treat them with respect. Instead of enforcing rules on them, we can discuss and come up with a reasonable plan.
Keep rules simple and clear. For example, instead of nagging your teen not to stay out late, you can set a curfew time that is agreed by you and your teen. Discuss possible consequences to their actions (allowance cut, grounded, etc).
Ensure mutual understanding. You want to be sure that your teen agrees and understand your rules and consequences. They are more likely to comply when they understand.
DON'T IGNORE BIG EMOTIONS
Teenagers feel more than they think. Often, it feels like an emotional roller-coaster. They were happy one minute and upset the next. This emotions shift are a normal part of adolescence. As teenagers navigate life, they are faced with extra challenges like puberty, a pre-developed brain, academic demands, social media pressure, friends, and parents' expectations. All these can be overwhelming for teens, and it can be difficult for them to talk about their feelings. Most teens choose to bottle up their feelings and eventually leading them to depression and anxiety. That's why it is important not to ignore those big emotions. Create a safe space for them to express and confide in you.
DO'S: EMPATHISE AND SUPPORT
When teens are experiencing a high flow of emotions, the last thing they need from us is our judgmental reactions. Sometimes parents can quickly jump into conclusion and take teens' emotional experience lightly. When we dismiss their feelings, they will feel unheard and ignored. And when we react with anger, they will feel threatened and attacked. Instead, we can empathise and be there for them. We can remain calm and guide them to regulate their emotions. Encourage them to open up and express their feelings to you. While we can't help them solve their problems, we can support them throughout these emotional journeys. We want to let them know we will be there for them regardless of their feelings.