Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being.” I do not know his intended audience, but parents and secondary teachers would do well today to keep this sentiment in mind when dealing with adolescents. In the book Brainstorm, Dan Siegel, M.D. suggests that how teens navigate their adolescence has real consequences for how they live the rest of their lives. While there are always risks and downsides, the teen mind has the following unique positive qualities as a result of a major growth spurt that occurs in the brain between the ages of 12-24.
- A search for the new and novel. This byproduct of an increased power in the brain's reward circuitry creates a natural urge to explore the world, to try new things and ways of being. While the downside can be taking dangerous and impulsive risks, the upside is being open to change and a sense of adventure.
- A need for social connection. The teen years are marked by the importance of friendships. If teens become too isolated from the adults in their lives, this can increase risky behavior. But the ability to make strong friendships predicts well-being and satisfaction throughout life.
- Intense emotions. Life quickens, becoming more vital. While this can mean moodiness and over-reactivity, this intensity creates immense energy and a zest for life.
- Creativity and curiosity. This openness to the new combines with the teenager's acquisition of reasoning, abstract thinking and a creative bent. While this can sometimes lead to a crisis in identity or lack of direction, the upside can be out-of-the-box innovative thinking and creative exploration of life's possibilities.
If you are a parent to a teen, it may be helpful to reflect on your own parenting style to make sure you are parenting in a way that best prepares your adolescent to “leave the nest” or “fly the coop,” usually after high school graduation. There is research to validate that there is a particular style, known as the “authoritative style” of parenting, that does this best.
Here is a link to a website called Parenting for Brain, which gives a thorough explanation of the “authoritative style” of parenting. You can even read more about the various parenting styles and take a quiz to discover yours.
To learn more about dealing with adolescents, RSVP for Rachel Pallesen’s presentation on Wednesday, May 16 from 9:30-11:00 a.m. at http://yis.to/brain-May16.