Understanding The Brain Of A Teenager And How To Help Them Cope
As children become teenagers, their brains grow and change. These changes affect their thinking and behaviour. When you understand how, you can better help your child build a healthy teenage brain.
Building a healthy teenage brain
The combination of your child’s unique brain and environment influences the way your child acts, thinks and feels. For example, your child’s preferred activities and skills might become ‘hard-wired’ in the brain.
How teenagers spend their time is crucial to brain development. So it’s worth thinking about the range of activities and experiences your child is into – music, sports, study, languages, and video games. How are these shaping the sort of brain your child takes into adulthood?
You are an important part of your child’s environment. You mean a lot to your child. How you guide and influence him will be important in helping your child to build a healthy brain.
You can do this by:
- Encouraging positive behaviour
- Promoting good thinking skills
- Helping your child get lots of sleep.
I ENCOURAGING POSITIVE BEHAVIOUR
While your child’s brain is developing, your child might:
- take more risks or choose high-risk activities
- express more and stronger emotions
- make impulsive decisions.
Here are some tips for encouraging good behaviour and strengthening positive brain connections:
- Let your child take some healthy risks.New and different experiences help your child develop an independent identity, explore grown-up behaviours, and move towards independence.
- Help your child find new creative and expressive outletsfor her feelings. She might be expressing and trying to control new emotions. Many teenagers find that sport or music, writing and other art forms – either as a participant or a spectator – are good outlets.
- Talk through decisionsstep by step with your child. Ask about possible courses of action your child might choose, and talk through potential consequences. Encourage your child to weigh up the positive consequences or rewards against the negative ones.
- Use family routinesto give your child’s life some structure. These might be based around school and family timetables.
- Provide boundaries, and opportunities for negotiating those boundaries. Young people need guidance and limit-setting from their parents and other adults.
- Offer frequent praiseand positive rewards for desired behaviours. This reinforces pathways in your child’s brain.
- Be a positive role model. Your behaviour will show your child the behaviour you expect.
- Stay connectedwith your child. You’ll probably want to keep an eye on your child’s activities and friends. Being open and approachable can help you with this.
- Talk to your child about his developing brain.Understanding this important period of growth might help teenagers process their feelings. It might also make taking care of their brains more interesting.
II PROMOTING THINKING SKILLS
Brain growth and development during these years mean that your child will start to:
- think more logically
- think about things more abstractly – things are no longer so black or white
- pick up more on other people’s emotional cues
- solve more complex problems in a logical way, and see problems from different perspectives
- get a better perspective on the future.
You can support the development of your child’s thinking with the following strategies:
- Encourage empathy.Talk about feelings – yours, your child’s and other people’s. Highlight the fact that other people have different perspectives and circumstances. Reinforce that many people can be affected by one action.
- Emphasize the immediate and long-term consequences of actions.The part of the brain responsible for future thinking (the prefrontal cortex) is still developing. If you talk about how your child’s actions influence both the present and the future, you can help the healthy development of your child’s prefrontal cortex.
- Try to match your language level to the level of your child’s understanding.For important information, you can check understanding by asking children to tell you in their own words what they’ve just heard.
- Prompt your child to develop decision-making and problem-solving skills.Try role-modeling and suggesting a process that involves defining the problem, listing the options, and considering the outcome that leads to the best solution for all involved.
III GETTING LOTS OF SLEEP
During the teenage years, your child’s sleep patterns will change. This makes your child feel tired and ready for bed later in the evening. It can keep your child awake into the night and make it difficult to get up the next morning.
Sleep is essential to healthy brain development. Try the following tips:
- Ensure your child has a comfortable, quiet sleep environment.
- Encourage ‘winding down’ before bed – away from TVs, mobiles and computers.
- Reinforce a regular sleeping routine. Your child should aim to go to bed and wake up at regular times each day.
- Encourage your child to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. While the ideal amount of sleep varies from person to person, the average amount of sleep that teenagers need is around nine hours
But don’t wrap your child in cotton wool! Too much parental attention might alienate your child.
Staying connected and involved in your child’s life can help you to learn more about how your child is coping with stress. It can also help you keep an open relationship with your child and ensure that your child sees you as someone to talk to – even about embarrassing or uncomfortable topics.
It is thought that children are more likely to be open to parental guidance and monitoring during their teenage years if they’ve grown up in a supportive and nurturing home environment.
Every child experiences changes at a different rate. If you are concerned about your child’s rate of development or you have concerns about your child’s changing body, thinking or behaviour, you could start by talking to a school counsellor.
Hence, the first and best counsellor for your child is YOU