By: Jamie Klemashevich
“I believe my child has been inhabited by aliens.” Most parents of adolescents don’t say it out loud, but find themselves thinking “who is this child?!” It can be difficult for parents to know what’s really going on. Is it hormones? Is it a phase? Should I take my child to see someone? Why do they seem so out of control? My mother, God bless her, had three teenagers in the house at one time. She called it “The House of Hormones” and said she was never sure who each child would be from day to day. This is a common, disorienting experience for parents of adolescents! Let’s see what we can learn by diving inside the mysterious mind of the teenager:
Yes, adolescents experience hormone changes. Even more significantly, they experience changes to their brains! The limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, fully develops before the prefrontal cortex. In fact, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until around age 25-30. Here’s why that’s important: the prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that helps us logically evaluate our emotions and engage in functions like long-term planning. It is the executive part of the brain that uses reasoning. Now back to my sweet, blessed mother. She often used to say with utter exasperation, “What were you thinking???” The secret is that we weren’t thinking. At least not the way that a truly adult brain can think. Asking a teenager to reason and plan like an adult is like asking a toddler to swim the English Channel. They do not have the ability. So there they are, our precious teenagers, with the capacity to experience the full intensity of adult emotions and without the capacity to modulate them with adult reason and logic. No wonder they seem so distressed!
You, as the adult, have the benefit of a fully functioning, reasoning brain. That is why you set the limits and why you stay calm in situations that feel out of control to your teenager. There are so many beautiful benefits to the adolescent brain like passion, creativity, and desire for connection that we could also explore. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend the book Brainstorm by Dan Siegel. I also realize that it can seem almost impossible to communicate effectively with your teenager. It is hard! And since they are teenagers, sometimes they don’t want you to be the one to help them. That can feel so helpless and frustrating. If your teenager seems like they need some extra help with depression, anxiety, self harm, or just plain self confidence, this may be the perfect time to connect with a counselor at Restoration Counseling. If you want to learn to communicate more effectively with your teenager, we would love to help you with family counseling! You are not alone on this journey. It takes a village, and we would love to be part of your village as you raise your adolescents and children!