Each phase of childhood comes with its own unique set of blessings and challenges, doesn’t it? Teenagers get a bad rap, but as my daughter enters high school, I have had many wise friends tell me to savor these days—that the teen years are some of the best. As a rookie mom of a teen, I’m imagining that it’s a lot like those first few months with an infant. You’re so sleep-deprived that sometimes you want to rush your child on to the next phase, but once you get there, you think back to those days wistfully.
To help you enjoy the teen years rather than just endure them, read on for some insights into your teen’s brain.
— Nicole Balza
Parenting teens can be exhausting, frustrating, and seemingly impossible! As a parent of three adolescents, ages 14, 18, and 20, daily conversations in our home often start with What were you thinking? Why would you do that? Didn’t you know that would happen?
Teen brains are still under construction
Parental frustrations in dealing with teens/young adults (ages 13-25) often come about because of a lack of knowledge about the developing adolescent brain. In order to better understand the teenage brain, it is helpful to view it as “still under construction.” Although physically the brain has reached its adult size during adolescence, its planning and judgment processing center is not fully developed until age 25.
Being informed about how the teen brain functions can help parents be more understanding and more intentional in providing what teens need most.
What does this mean? It means that as adults, we are able to examine long-term consequences, think rationally about events, and use good judgment in our daily lives. Due to the ongoing refinement of neural circuitry in the frontal cortex of teen brains, teens are more likely to act emotionally than rationally. Their behaviors are driven by feelings, not thought-out planning.
Another important characteristic of the still developing brain is that it is more susceptible to temptation and pleasure-seeking activities. In addition to planning and reasoning skills, the still maturing prefrontal cortex is also responsible for impulse control. This is where we see the biggest impact technology has on teen brains. Smartphones and apps are designed to hold the attention of the user with colorful icons and constant notifications. It’s no wonder teens and young adults can’t put them down. Research has demonstrated that getting a “like” or a “snap” or a notification causes a release of dopamine (a chemical messenger) in the brain. This “dopamine rush” provides an elevation in mood, attention, and/or motivation to do more of the same. Coupled with a lack of impulse control and an inability to evaluate long-term consequences, technology and the teen brain can be a recipe for disaster.
Parents can help nurture teen brains
As Christian parents, we are reminded that we should “be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). In the 21st century, it is still the Lord’s will for parents to “train” their children in the way of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6 NIV 84), not of the world. Here are some first steps parents can use today to make wise, godly parenting decisions and help nurture the teenage brain:
Listen to your children. Oftentimes they just need a place to vent their emotions. They do not want your advice or solutions; they need to blow off steam. Creating a safe environment for your teens to do this makes it more likely that they will come to you in the future with their concerns.
For more information on understanding your teen, visit centerforparentingeducation.org for informative articles on adolescent development and what parents of teens need to know.
Discuss the possible outcomes of certain behaviors with your teen. This helps the teen brain establish the link between cause and effect.
For more information, review the following TED Talks with your teen: Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain and Insight Into the Teenage Brain: Adriana Galván (available on youtube.com).
Model good digital habits by putting your smartphone away when you talk to your teen and during important family time. Face-to-face communication helps your teen feel valued and important.
Go to humanetech.com for more information about managing technology. Videos and downloadable resources are available for parents and students regarding managing your time and technology more efficiently.
Encourage healthy eating and sleeping habits. Teens should get between 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep negatively affects problem solving and increases emotional reactivity.
For more information on healthy habits for teens, go to healthychildren.org and search “adolescents” or “teens” for varied articles on parenting, depression, nutrition, and more.
Watch for warning signs. Due to hormonal changes, poor impulse control, and an emotionally-reactive brain, adolescence is a period when many mental health conditions become more prevalent. Watch for any or all of the following as they are signs your teen needs professional help: significant change in grades, increased/ decreased need for sleep, significant changes in appetite, loss of interest in favorite activities, social isolation, talk (or joking) of suicide or “not being around,” and/or use of alcohol/drugs.
Visit Christian Family Solutions, christianfamilysolutions.org, to talk with a professional counselor. Web-based video counseling is available.
Develop a partnership with your teen
Adolescence is a tumultuous time for teens and parents alike. Being informed about how the teen brain functions can help parents be more understanding and more intentional in providing what teens need most. Parenting teens is not easy, but there is hope. Chemically, scientists have proven the brain’s plasticity, or ability to modify and change based on experience. Therefore, parents and teens can continually work to communicate more openly and modify habits to promote healthy brain changes.
Finally, and most important, as Christians we rely on God’s promises. His words in John 16:33 reassure all parents of teens and young adults: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Author: Laura Reinke
Volume 107, Number 07
Issue: July 2020
- Parent conversations: How can parents and kids manage stress?
- Parent conversations: What do your prayers for your children include?
- Parent conversations: How do we resist making our parenting law-based?
- Parent conversations: What Bible passages do you turn to most as a parent?
- Parent conversations: How can we help kids develop positive, healthy habits?
- Parent conversations: What tactics do you use to encourage children to tackle difficult tasks?
- Parent conversations: How can we model good listening skills for our kids?
- Parent conversations: How do we help our kids move on from mistakes?
- Parent conversations: How can we instill gratitude in our children?
- Parent conversations: How can parents find the balance between being too restrictive and too permissive?
- Parent conversations: How can we teach kids to be good friends?
- Parent conversations: What life skills will help young people as they transition to adulthood?
- Parent conversations: How do we discuss death with our children?
- Parent conversations: What does it look like for a father to be a strong Christian leader?
- Parent conversations: How can we help young adults stay engaged in the church?
- Parent conversations: What do parents need to know about video games?
- Parent conversations: How do parents not let worry get the best of them?
- Parent conversations: How do we teach our kids to value all people?
- Parent conversations: When parenting philosophies differ
- Parent conversations: How can we help today’s overwhelmed teens?
- Parent conversations: How can parents maintain a healthy marriage?
- Parent conversations: You might be a Lutheran parent if . . .
- Parent conversations: Parenting post–high school: What is a parent’s role?
- Parent conversations: How can families use the hymnal in their worship life at home?
- Parent conversations: What should Christian parents teach their children about gender?
- Parent conversations: What is vocation? How does it apply to parenting?
- Parent conversations: Why do siblings fight? How should I react when they are fighting?
- Parent conversations: How do we teach children resilience?
- Parent conversations: How do I approach vaccines as a Christian parent?
- Parent conversations: How can I explain the Sixth Commandment to a young child?
- Parent conversations: How can I help my child have an optimistic outlook?
- Parent conversations: What if we can’t follow our Christmas traditions this year?
- Parent conversations: What are ways to foster a rich prayer life in children?
- Parent conversations: How can I let the gospel shine as I parent?
- Parent conversations: How should I handle a child’s separation anxiety?
- Parent conversations: How should families prepare to go back to school?
- Parent conversations: How does a teen’s brain work?
- Parent conversations: How much should I monitor my child online?
- Parent conversations: How can parents reassure children during an uncertain time?
- Parent conversations: How can I stay calm when my child is out of control?
- Parent conversations: Should I give something up for Lent?
- Parent conversations: How can I keep my child engaged in attending church?
- Parent conversations: How can we help a stressed-out kid?
- Parent conversations: How can we nurture a proper view of “stuff”?
- Parent conversations: How involved should parents be in a child’s homework?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Are we modeling kindness for our children?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What’s the best parenting advice you’ve received or given?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How should we handle it when people undermine our parenting decisions?
- Parent conversations: How can we prepare children for summer camp?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How do parents find contentment?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we help a family with a sick parent?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can parents model healthy cell phone use?
- Parent conversations: How can we protect kids without scaring them?
- Parent conversations: What does your family’s bedtime routine look like?
- Parent conversations: What do I need to consider before I give my child a cell phone?
- Parent conversations: How can we teach gentleness and strength at the same time?
- Parent conversations: What should we do when our children grow silent?
- Parent conversations: What should we teach our children about the Reformation?
- Parent conversations: What is our goal as parents?
- Parent conversations: How does a parent’s role change over time?
- Parent conversations: How should I handle a disagreement with my child’s teacher?
- Parent conversations: What are the building blocks of a strong parent/child relationship?
- Parent conversations: What Christmas traditions do you cherish in your family?