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
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!