It’s no secret that the changes adolescents go through are phenomenal. If you live with one, you’ll probably be familiar with the tears, the fighting, the yelling and the angst – yours and theirs. You might also have felt the distance – so vast some days a small planet could get lost in the space between you. Then there are the times they are completely wonderful – hilarious, affectionate, creative, protective. The ups can be amazing, the downs can be awful and the way they get from one to the other so quickly can be mind-blowing.
For a long time, we put the baffling behaviour of adolescence down to a fierce surging of hormones. Though hormones play a role, it’s brain development that’s actually the culprit. The things that can send us, and them, into a tailspin are actually a really normal, healthy and important part of the adventure they’re on to figure out who they are and where they fit in the world.
- The (not so) terrible teens
- Five unexpected behaviours to expect from your teen
- Why we need to talk to our teens about 13 Reasons Why
The more you can see things through their eyes, the more what they do will make sense, and the stronger your relationship will be at the end of it. Here are some things your teens need you to know.
1. We don’t want to disconnect from you
The emotional centres of our brains are on fire. Our highs are brilliant, our lows are excruciating, and we can flip between them without warning. Our fight-or-flight response can be triggered easily and we might yell, swear, say awful things (fight) or shut down (flee). We don’t like how this feels and we don’t want to disconnect from you, even though that’s the vibe we might send out. You matter to us. What you think and the way you see us is really important. There are so many reasons we do the crazy stuff we do, but wanting to disconnect from you is never one of them.
2. If you have to say ‘no’, let us know that you get it
We’re pretty sure that when you say, “No”, it’s because you don’t understand. Of course you’ll need to say it sometimes, but if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong.
3. No more ‘I told you so’s’
We’re going to make mistakes – no doubt about it. It’s how we learn and grow and if you shame us for the fall, you keep us from the lessons. Yes, you did tell us so, and yes, we should have listened, but we didn’t. We can’t turn back time and we can’t undo whatever stupid decision we made, but we can learn from it.
Help us with that by making it safe enough to own what we’ve done and figure out what it means. Listen to us, let us know that it’s okay, and help us uncover the lesson. That’s what makes you different to everyone else in our lives – your patience, your energy, your support and your wisdom. There are things we learn from the fall that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
It’s our job to try lots of things, fail some things and figure it out along the way. It’s how we get ready for life.
4. We aren’t you
There will be things you were great at that we suck at and will always suck at. But then there will be things that take us to full flight. We may have found our thing or it might still be coming, but we all have the makings of something great in us.Don’t stop us from trying out new things, even if they seem silly or useless. We’re looking for the thing that lights us up and it might come from somewhere unexpected. Great things often do. Be patient and let us surprise you.
The part of our brain that thinks about things creatively is sparking like never before. We’re thinking about the world in different ways and experimenting with who we are and where we fit in. As a healthy, normal part of that, we’ll question the status quo and we’ll question you. Don’t shut us down, even if you disagree. The only way we’ll listen to your point of view is if you respect ours.
That might feel unfair, because we won’t always respect yours. Remind us that you want to hear what we have to say but that we need to be respectful while we say it. We can tend to forget that sometimes. It’s just that what we have to say is really important and we’re worried you won’t get it.
5. If you want us to act like adults, don’t treat us like kids
We’re experimenting with being adults. It’s important for us and it’s important for you, so don’t treat us like kids. We’re stuck in this in-between space and it’s really confusing some days.
We’re starting to have the responsibilities of adults, but with the limits of children. Start trusting us with more freedom, more space, and more room to make our mistakes. Sometimes we’ll disappoint you and sometimes we’ll surprise you. We’re letting go of the rail, and we’re going to wobble a bit before we stand tall.
6. We need to find out who we are without you – don’t take it personally
You might wonder why things are a bit distant between us. Sometimes we feel it too. We love you as much as ever but we’re experimenting with needing you less. Needing you less doesn’t mean loving you less.
If we’re ever going to stand in the world as independent adults, learning how to do that needs to start now. We’re trying to find out who we are and where we fit in the world and that’s something we need to do on our own. It might feel like we’re pushing you away, and I suppose we kind of are, but it’s only temporary. When we figure it out, we’ll be back. Don’t worry if it takes a while.
7. We will live up (or down) to your expectations
The greatest reason we have to do the right thing is to preserve our relationship with you. We want to keep your respect, your trust and the connection we have with you. When it’s not there we have nothing to lose, and that’s not good for anyone. It means everything to know that you believe in us.
8. Our friends are everything
We need comfort, visibility and security. We’ve always needed it and we’ll need it for the rest of our lives.
It’s a human thing, not an adolescent thing. It’s why we humans love groups – it’s how we feel safest and strongest and it’s been that way for thousands of years. Up to now, our group – our tribe – has been with you, our family, but it’s not good for us or you if we stay dependant. We’re experimenting with other groups who can meet our needs when we step into the world as adults.
These groups are our friends and if we’re disconnected from them, it feels like death. We need to feel close to them – it’s how we feel strong, safe and secure. It’s normal and it’s healthy. That doesn’t mean you have to let us do everything we want with them, but understand why we might unravel when you get between us.
9. Social media is important – please don’t take it away
A lot of adults say that we’ve lost the ability to connect because of social media. The truth is that we still connect, we just do it differently to you. We always know what’s happening and who is in trouble. We can be there for each other whenever one of us needs it.
Yes, there’s a dark side, but when the light shines heavily on one side of something there’s always going to be a dark side. Talk to us about the risks but don’t assume we’re all falling into the hole. We have to learn to navigate this because it’s not going anywhere.
10. We need information
Nobody ever got into trouble because they had too much information. Talking to us about things like sex, drugs and drinking won’t make us go out there and try it. We already know more about most things than you think we do. Talk to us about the risks, and trust that we will use the information well.
11. We’re smarter than ever, but sometimes our decisions won’t be
We crave the high that comes from trying out new things. It means we’ll engage with the world in really great ways, but it can also mean that we take risks. There’s a good reason for this and it’s to do with the dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is what makes us feel alive and it’s released when we try new or unfamiliar things. We all have it and we’re all driven to get more of it.
This is a good thing. It’s what makes us explore the world and experiment with our place in it, otherwise we’d be living with you forever and we wouldn’t experiment with other relationships, jobs or activities. We wouldn’t contribute to the world and we wouldn’t explore it. Our dopamine levels are lower than yours, which is why we might seem bored sometimes.
When we do things that are new or exciting (or risky – it can be a fine line), its release in us is higher that it is in you. As well as this, the part of our brain that thinks about consequences and helps make good decisions isn’t fully online yet. See the problem? We’re looking for the ‘high’ that comes with trying new things but new things can also be risky things and we don’t have all the stop signs in place yet. Support us in finding ways to get the ‘high’ that won’t get us dead, injured or in jail. Sport, new activities, hobbies or anything that pushes us against the edges of ourselves might do it.
Disapprove of the stupid things we do, but know that it’s when we’ve done those stupid things that we need to hear more than ever the reasons you think we’re great.
12. We don’t sleep in because we’re lazy
Our body clock is different to yours. We’re least awake in the morning and we come alive in the afternoon. It’s why we’re often up late and in the mornings seem to be in energy -saving mode.
And finally? We love you. We seriously love you. We don’t always show it, and sometimes it will feel like we’re pushing you away. The distance isn’t because you don’t matter anymore, it’s because we need to know who we are without you.
Adolescence is complicated and there will be plenty of bumps along the way. Probably some yelling, tears and feisty words too. Know that it’s all part of what we have to do to get to where we’re going, and know how much we want you there when we find our way through.
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