ADULTS AND TEENAGERS: WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM EACH OTHER

Many parents approach their child’s adolescence with some degree of dread. Adolescence is often considered a challenging and stressful time with more disagreements between parent and child. It is also a common idea that teenagers don’t need their parents as much as they once did. While it is important that adolescents have the opportunity to gradually develop independence, their mental health and wellbeing continues to rely on a warm and close relationship with their parents.

In his book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, renowned neuropsychiatrist, Daniel Siegel, aims to help parents and teenagers approach this important developmental stage as a team. He suggests that there are four main qualities that characterise adolescent brain development: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity and creative exploration. Parents play a crucial role in helping teens develop these important qualities while also helping them avoid the associated risks.

  1. Novelty Seeking

Adolescents tend to seek out more thrilling and exhilarating experiences. This change can involve a greater sense of adventure, passion, curiosity and openness to change. Teenagers can also be more impulsive and, therefore, need their parents to help them reflect and think through the consequences and risks of their behaviours.

  1. Social Engagement

Teens are motivated to connect with peers and develop new friendships. These supportive relationships are important for their wellbeing throughout life. Sometimes teenagers can feel satisfied with these friendships and withdraw from adults. It is important that teens have a supportive home environment where they can continue receiving adult input to work through social problems and peer pressure.

  1. Increased Emotional Intensity

The emotion centre of the brain becomes more active in adolescence than in childhood or adulthood. This means adolescents can experience more joy, humour and energy! On the other hand, intense emotions can make teens more moody and reactive. Teenagers look to their parents in learning how to regulate emotion and manage stress.

  1. Creative Exploration 

Adolescents become capable of conceptual and abstract reasoning. They can think more flexibly, imagine, innovate and create in new ways. It is also common for teens to struggle at times, with their sense of identity or direction in life. Parents are important in helping their teenagers feel understood, affirmed and guided.

Parents are invited to nurture these four qualities not only in their child’s life, but in their own. Siegel (2014) makes the point, “when adults lose the four distinguishing features of adolescence… life can become boring, isolating, dull and routinised”. So despite the inevitable challenges that come with adolescence, both parent and child have the potential to learn a lot from one another during this transformational time.

For further reading and practical tips on connecting with your teenage child, the following resources are recommended:

References:

  1. Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (2014) by Daniel Siegel
  2. ‘Parenting Adolescents’ by Steinberg, L. & Silk, J. S. in Handbook of Parenting Vol. 1: Children and Parenting (2002)

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