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We Understand Teen Drama!
   It's All In The Brain

Over the past decade, researchers have found it's not just a case of raging hormones. Teens may actually not be able to help their reactions due to dramatic changes in their rapidly developing brains.

James Chattra a pediatrician practicing in Redmond, Wash. says that at about age 12, the brain begins a massive shift in the prefrontal cortex, or the "thinking" part of the brain.  "It's going through this amazing pruning and rewiring and shift. But because of that, sometimes the prefrontal cortex that allows us to take a break, stop and think, is not working as well."   About half of the "thinking" neurons in certain regions of the brain are literally "wiped out."  So in light of this biological reality, what can parents do?  For starters, parents have to understand the massive brain change that's occurring with their teenager even in situations more dire and dangerous than petty disagreements.

A Game Plan For Parents

Fighting with your son over car privileges?    Can't get your daughter to log off Facebook and finish her algebra homework?  
 Try these tips.

  Staying Cool

Here's a typical scenario;   Your child goes to a sleepover. The kids sneak out, go to someone's house, and spray shaving cream all over the house and cars. The police come, give them a tongue lashing and send them back to the host family, who promptly delivers them home to you in the middle of the night.   Sometimes, parents say, "What were you thinking?"  

And the joke's on us.  They weren't thinking.  They were running like wildebeests in the canyon. Just go, go, go.  You know, they were flooded and excited and not really thinking through the consequences of their actions.  In situations like this, the first line of defense for parents is to stay calm.  Tell the teen to just go to bed and that you will deal with consequences tomorrow.  Ask them to write a note of self-reflection about their regrets, why they went off track, what they would do differently if given another chance, and what skills they might need to avoid the situation in the first place.  They may even writing a letter of apology to the host family, the family that got shaving-creamed, and maybe even the police officer who wasted his time responding to the incident.  Based on the quality of this self-critique parents can then determine discipline or consequences.  It will be small, medium or large, based on the quality of the self-critique and how much the parents believe their children learned from the mistake.  Parents might even have the teenager suggest their own discipline. And there's an added benefit to the teens' writing. It engages the "thinking" part of the brain, and gets the teenager away from the emotional frenzy of the night.

  Emotional Regulation And Parents

Steering clear of emotions is difficult, even for adults. It's something parents just have to learn how to do.

There are some obvious tools: Step outside for a moment.  Take a breath.  Think mindfulness or Zen.   Back in the days of authoritarian parenting in the '50s, obedience and propriety were high values.  Digressions from good manners, respect and good behavior were often met with punishment.  But then in the '60s and '70s, things changed.  Parents wanted higher self-esteem for their kids and closer relationships with them.  Fear-based, power-coercive relationships went the way of the rod in classrooms.   So it's no wonder that today's teens feel much more free to act out than their predecessors ever hoped.  And they do.  Just ask any parent of a teenager, who will likely complain about rudeness, ill manners, constant criticism and even being yelled at by their teenager.  But over the past decade, researchers have found it's not just a case of raging hormones.  Teens may actually not be able to help engaging in questionable behavior. And their reactions may be, in large part, due to dramatic changes in their rapidly developing brains.

 "One year ago these hands were filled with so much anger and rage.  Today they hold hope, happiness and Love."  
"Thank you for giving him an environment of love!  With you ... we have both come so far. We will forever be eternally grateful!"   -Marcia