Rethinking The Teenage Years

Culturally, what are the current views about teenagers? We are constantly being bombarded by negative reporting and commentary about the impulsive, reckless, inconsiderate, know-it-all behaviours of teenagers. In fact, just the mention of the word "teenager" and many of us conjure up images of awkward looking kids with pimples, braces, and out of control hormones.

I just watched a great webinar put on by Dr. Dan Siegel of the MindSight Institute in California. He just released a new book called Brainstorm which describes the fundamental changes in the architecture of a teenage brain and how we as parents and a society can change our beliefs and see the teenage years as a time of great potential instead of a train wreck waiting to happen

To quickly summarize Dr. Siegel’s webinar, adolescence is a time of transition between childhood dependency and adult responsibility. It is a period of immense brain changes starting with exuberance (new brain growth) around the ages of 10 and 11.  Then the pruning of certain existing neural connections occurs; this is followed by the myelination of remaining neurons to increase speed and effectiveness of communication between neurons.  If all goes well, we have solid integration of the various components of the brain by the age of 22+. New exciting research in the field of brain plasticity suggests that experience has a giant impact on building and changing the brain for better or worse

For parents of teens, this means we need to change our beliefs about what is happening with our teen so we can look at this transition in a positive light. Integration of the brain is the basis of good health (body, mind and our relational world). By promoting healthy habits and pursuits, communicating in a loving way, and supporting our children emotionally we can create the environment and positive experiences necessary for healthy integration of the coordinated adult brain. Dr. Siegel describes the" ESSENCE" of Adolescence which can be explained as follows:

ES   Emotional Spark

This is the increased passion, vitality and emotionality that our teens display. The downside may be increased moodiness, storminess and unpredictability

SE Social Engagement

Teens value time with their peers, a push for their own identity separate from family, and opportunities for collaboration. In a healthy environment, they learn to reach out for support and get along well with others. On the negative side, peer pressure may become a big concern

N Novelty

Teens have potential for innovative thinking and new ideas. They become restless with the familiar and seek out novelty. Sometimes, this urge for novelty will manifest itself in risk taking behaviours

CE Creative Exploration

The mind of a teen is full of new perceptions and awesome problem solving capability. We need to provide stimulation and new healthy experiences to spark that creative response and enable it to flourish

So in closing, we need to change our lens when looking at this critical stage of development. Teens need a supportive, connected home life with diverse opportunities to experience new challenges and adventures. They need to practise different roles and find their passions, talents and interests. The science of building a healthy integrated adult brain demands "Essence".  Help your teen make it happen.   All the best, Joanne

Celebrate your teen!

“Surviving and Thriving” as a Parent… Entry# 1 – What is Your Parenting Style?

Happy New Year! The start of a new year is a practical time for reflection and fresh starts so I thought I'd change up the direction of my blog a tiny bit. My plan for the next little while is to do some blog entries in the form of a parenting workbook called "Surviving & Thriving as a Parent....  A Workbook for Family Harmony". I hope these entries will serve as opportunities for reflection on our parenting techniques, offer tips, and help us develop some healthy goals for our families. So let's get started....... I really welcome your feedback, editing, comments, stories, and input. Don't be shy; share your experiences and thoughts if you wish.

Effective parenting requires reflection, introspection, flexibility and resilience. We have to look back on where and how we learned to be parents, and our experiences and values definitely influence and help us chart the course for where we want to go now with our children.

How were we parented?

Do we carry any baggage from our own childhoods? How are we triggered today from those experiences?

How has society changed with respect to parenting since we were young?

How would we like to parent our children?

What are our goals?

What are our values?

First let's take a look at three main styles of parenting:

THE AUTOCRATIC PARENT - severe, controlling, seeks child's submission; emphasizes obedience, rules and order. Children are constantly being controlled and don't learn to think for themselves. They may misbehave when they think no one is watching. They may respond with aggression or helplessness, and /or be withdrawn

THE PERMISSIVE PARENT - difficulty setting and/or maintaining limits, rules and healthy routines; wants to be child's friend; oscillates between indulgent and strict parenting to cope with child's behaviour. Essentially, the child is in charge. These children may have difficulty accepting "no" in relationships and may be less than considerate of the feelings of others. They may behave immaturely and potentially lack self-control.

THE DEMOCRATIC PARENT - sets clear rules, limits, expectations and routines; communicates with kindness , warmth, openness and respect; remains flexible while setting  consequences that teach; encourages child to assert their feelings, needs, and beliefs; practices problem solving with their child. These children grow up understanding the "give and take" of relationships. They learn to think for themselves and consider their needs and the needs of others.

Sometimes as parents, we may alternate between these three styles of parenting based on the specific challenge or situation, our own stress levels and the "goodness of fit" between us and our child. By "goodness of fit", I am referring to how similar or different your personality and temperament are to your child's.(e.g. introvert versus extrovert, active versus more sedentary, intense versus more relaxed, etc.). You may be consciously trying to be a democratic parent for the most part but when you get triggered or stressed you revert back to your factory settings i.e. the way you were parented as a child. You might hear your own parents exact words slip out of your mouth: "Do it because I said so", or, on the flip side, "you don't need a curfew, I trust you honey". Have a look at your interactions with your family and examine what type of parenting you practice currently. I love the way the authors of "Raising Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers" put it... "Do you want to parent by chance or by choice?"  All the best, Joanne.