What Your Teen Needs from You
The teen years are definitely not a time for parents to shy away from their child. It’s important to stay tuned in and connected. I know, it’s mystifying. Your once care-free, adorable child has now become a bit scatter-brained, he's having wild mood swings, he's taking risks and behaving in such a way as it seems he no longer needs or wants you around. It’s puzzling and sometimes it’s quite hard to figure out the right thing to say or do. Don't get discouraged, hang in there, because although his behavior is sometimes mysterious, he really does need you.
Ages 11 to 12
At this age, your child’s hormones are beginning to kick in and believe it or not, there might be a backslide in basic skills such as spatial learning, memory, and reasoning. Helping him with organizational skills, building and recognizing memory cues, and keeping daily routines are what you can be focusing on at this stage. Remain supportive and show outward affection, even during disagreements. Help your child learn sound decision-making skills by helping him to consider and recognize differing viewpoints, and help him to develop the ability to think through situational pros and cons. Your tween’s brain is rapidly developing at this age and if he builds a strong ability to make sound decisions now, he will have less of a tendency towards anxiety, will get into fewer conflicts with his peers, and will likely be less argumentative.
Ages 13 to 14
These years are often described as wildly emotional, so brace yourself but know that you are not alone.
Your young teen is likely becoming very sensitive to his classmates' opinions, reacting strongly, probably overly so. His response to stress has run amok, while at the same time, that developing brain is still years away from maturity. At this stage, parents' best move is to help their child figure out social cues such as facial expressions and body language, and to teach the coping strategies such as self-soothing, exercising, listening to music, and meditating. Be sure to model those skills yourself. Your teen learns from watching you! Any coping strategies your teen learns at this stage of his life can become ingrained and develop into lifelong habits. Guide your teen and encourage him to choose friends with whom there are common interests and to walk away from those “friends” who are unkind. It is also important to talk to him about repairing friendships, making amends, and compromising after a spat with their peers.
Studies also find that positive, unconditional family support is a vital stress buffer, and that teens whose families provide strong emotional support are less likely to become depressed during times of severe stress, so keep planning family activities and stay in daily touch with your teen.
Ages 15 to 16
The young brain is still developing and during this developmental stage, thrill-seeking and risk taking are what it’s all about. Thanks to an increased sensitivity to the dopamine that is released, your teen's reward receptors are fully engaged, giving him the associated feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Take more risks and more dopamine is released.
So what’s a parent to do? Studies show that the ability to make and keep good friends during this stage is important. This is because having friends that he an trust, that he can count on for support, and who make good decisions themselves makes teens less likely to engage in risky behaviors themselves. Keep working on helping your child with his social skills. Teens who feel that their parents are warm and supportive, and who feel close to their parents are more likely to take fewer chances. Make sure to spend time with your teen, show respect and help him talk through problems, while doing your best to avoid arguing or yelling.
Ages 17 to 18
You’re probably seeing even greater changes in your teen at this stage. He suddenly has more of an ability to change and develop and may achieve gains in his capacity to learn at higher levels of complexity than before. Areas of the prefrontal cortex are now more fully developed and this area of the brain is not only responsible for judgement, but also problem solving, planning, and strategizing. Social skills are still maturing as well, and although he is now developing a stronger sense of empathy, he is probably still having some trouble with more complex social situations such as figuring out people’s motives and attitudes.
Again, be present, be available, plan family time, encourage conversation, and relax and be as non-judgmental as you can during these years. Also important though, is to allow your young adult more freedom, and more leeway to make decisions and work through problem-solving on his own. He is preparing to launch out into the world. Be there for him and give him the skills for success that he's going to need.