Understanding Teenage Behaviour
This is a shout-out to all parents of teenage children. Are you struggling to cope with the “eccentricities” of your teen? Some of you may be driven to the brink and unable to understand what exactly is going on. Your relationship with your child is not what it used to be and you are concerned about it. Well, then read on. This article will help throw some light and help you decipher your teen’s behaviour.
THE TEENAGE YEARS AND IT’S CHALLENGES
The teenage years or otherwise known as adolescence is a phase marking the transition from childhood to adulthood and is accompanied by changes and challenges. All of us have gone through it. Some of us may have had it tough and for others, it would have been relatively easier with a good support mechanism in place. But all said and done, this is a difficult phase with highs and lows for both the child and parent.
During this period, the child is undergoing a great deal of transformation – physical, emotional, psychological, sexual etc, arising out of hormonal changes. Often times children find these changes distressing and confusing because they do not fully comprehend what is happening to them.
This is a period marked by mood swings, aggression, impulsive behaviour, a search for identity and a growing need for independence. Friends gain more importance than family, peer pressure takes over, changes in behaviour are observed and there are increasing conflicts between parents and teenagers. Teens seek new experiences and can sometimes get exposed to harmful or dangerous situations: smoking, alcohol, drug use, reckless driving or sexual behaviour, etc. At the same time, adolescence is also a time when teens are expected to make crucial decisions regarding their field of study, future careers and so on, which adds to the already existing pressures of growing up.
Insecurities with regard to their bodies plague them at this stage as the self-worth is often associated with body image and how others perceive them, especially their peers. How they appear to the opposite sex also matters a great deal to them during this stage as they discover their sexuality.
The influence of social media cannot be discounted as it has an enormous bearing on the formation of their opinions, attitudes and in their interactions. This is something that most of us as parents would not have had to deal with during our formative years, as social media was virtually non-existent then or at its nascent stage.
Their self-worth is particularly fragile during the adolescent phase. They wrestle with overpowering feelings that they are not liked by others, that they are not good enough, that they are failures, ugly or unintelligent. And again, however self-conscious or embarrassed they might feel with the bodily changes they experience, on the other hand, they might find it equally disturbing if they do not undergo them at the same time as their friends or peers. Early or late maturation can result in feelings of inadequacy and frustration. It’s a double-edged sword in this case.
They go through an emotional roller coaster during this phase with every emotion getting heightened be it fear, irritation, pleasure or frustration. With extreme emotional feelings, many teenagers are prone to depression as they are not equipped to handle this tornado of changes.
If you as a parent are equally bewildered by the transformation in your teen and have difficulty making sense of the behavioural changes in your child, it will help to also understand how the teenage brain works. This will give you an insight into the “why” and “how” and make you more prepared to handle them in a more effective manner. So, let’s delve into it.
HOW THE TEENAGE BRAIN WORKS:
It will be useful to comprehend that the teenage brain is still under construction, with a lot of brain remodelling taking place during this phase. To break it down, the brain itself has three major parts – the “Hind Brain”, which takes care of our survival responses – breathing, respiration, heart rate and so on. Then we have the “Mid Brain” which is associated with emotional processes and the “Fore Brain” which is the thinking part that controls emotions and helps understand consequences.
For teenagers, the Fore Brain or the Pre-Frontal cortex which is responsible for complex thoughts, future planning, controlling impulses and emotions as well as forming judgements is still developing and continues till the child is in the mid-twenties. The lines of communication in the brain known as “synapses” are still growing and the prefrontal cortex is the last to take form. Now that will explain the erratic behaviour of your teen. It tells us why teenagers are so impulsive, living in the moment and finding difficulty in planning ahead.
At the same time, due to hormonal changes, deeper structures in the brain that process emotions and rewards get affected. This makes teens highly emotional and their focus is on things that give them instant gratification. It explains why they like to spend more time with friends, why there are glued to their mobiles and why they try to break the rules.
With the focus being on big rewards, it also explains why when you try to pat them or hug them, in many cases you might just get a shrug or a half-hearted smile in response, but if you present them with a big reward like the latest mobile phone or gadget or something which is perceived to be big, they will light up like the brightest star. Neuroimaging studies have proven this. What we as parents need to know is that when we are dealing with our teenager, we are actually dealing with the emotional brain as their thinking brain is still developing. Teenagers tend to view the world based on feeling than on thinking.
While all this brain-building is at work, the brain is also getting “pruned”. What does this mean? It means that the teen starts losing connections that are not used enough. It is a “use it or lose it” phase. This implies that adolescence can be a crucial time to use the brain – for instance learning a new language, playing an instrument, engaging in sports, writing poetry etc. Doing these will hardwire those connections and make them last. The good news is that the structure of the brain can be changed as the brain responds to experiences. Whereas, if your teen is going to sit around playing video games all day long, those are the connections that will survive. What your child focuses on during this crucial phase essentially determines what he or she will be.
Now that you have understood the reasoning behind your teen’s changes or behaviour, you will be better equipped to help them navigate this challenging phase.