If you have a teenager I can almost hear your frustration; if you have been through those teen years, I can see your relief.

Why is it our teens seem so difficult to communicate with and manage? It is science.

When we can understand how the teenage brain is developing, it can assist parents to guide and instruct rather than anger and frustration.

Our teen’s brains are barely 50 – 60% developed. They, in fact, have considerable brain developing left to do. The last part of a brain to develop is the frontal cortex. This cortex is the part of the brain responsible for planning, decision making, risk avoidance and impulse control. If you notice, these are most of the frustrations we have with our teens. Nice to know they are developing normally.

How then can we as an adult parent, adjust our behaviour and understanding to alleviate the deluge of conflict so many experience with their teens?

The teen believes that are grown up. They look at themselves in the mirror and see themselves in an adult body. Therefore they must think and do as any adult. They want to be trusted and treated like an adult while clearly, this adult behaviour is not yet possible for any teen. They are only in the learning stage.

What is interesting is the teenage brain is quite susceptible to stress. Everything is elaborated and exaggerated, hence why logical discussion can be challenging at times, often actually.

How then do we communicate, tolerate and aid our developing teen?

1. Ask and listen. We as parents must never nullify their drama or exaggerated event. We empathise, listen and enquire what we may be able to do to assist them or better still, ask them how they believe it should be handled. Always agree with their suggestion and if you feel it is off track suggest another one or two options for them to make a selection. Always allow them to follow their selection, even if you feel it is not the best choice, this way the teen learns.

2. Rehearse. Teens find it advantageous to rehearse an event before it occurring. For instance, if they are going to a party and are worried they may be pressured for sex, drugs or alcohol beyond what they feel comfortable with, practice having those peer conversations as this will make them more confident and self-assured to manage their emotions.

3. Plan. Just a few simple plans can work well for the teen, making it their choice is best. Parents can help a teen prepare for most things with a little planning, and the best outcome will be achieved when the teen makes their own choice. The parent ‘suggests’ two options and asks their teen which one may be their best choice. If the teen has another suggestion, perhaps consider going with that.

4. Do not Judge. Our teen is not bad; there is always a reason for their behaviour. Discover the reason and deal with that as the behaviour is a symptom of that reason. Our teens are usually great kids. If they are angry – why? If they are quiet  – what is going on in their life or peer circle? There is a reason. None of us, including our teens, get up in the morning deciding to be horrid.

5. Trust. We must provide a degree of trust in our teens. They are still learning and may make wrong decisions however this is how we all learn. Allow mistakes and when they make one, never chastise as, after all, many adults continue to make mistakes, and their brain is developed. When a mistake is made just ask them if that worked for them or if perhaps another decision may have been better. Focus on the better, not the mistake.

It is imperative we provide our kids with self-confidence to make choices or mistakes and to manage the consequences. We must help them build resilience and self-esteem in their choices and decisions aware they will never always get it right every time. This is where they develop strategies for life.

Kids emulate parental behaviour so if parents are anxious, stressed and angry, so may your kids. If you need to reduce your anxiety why not take charge and do that now? Your teen will then replicate this response during their teenage years.  Hence it is important to view your teen not as an isolated singular entity but as part of the family entirety. Parents having issues with their teen should sometimes look at where these behaviours may have originated. When you can see that, adjust your behaviour and watch your child adjust there’s. It works well.

Love your teen. Guide your teen. Enable them to be the best-developing adult they can become, and this is achieved through patience, support, love, tolerance and understanding.

We were all teens once if you remember, we all went through it and came out the other side alright; they will too.

Read more from Dr Karen 


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