Why understanding the Teenage Mind Is So Hard and What You Can Do about It

Kavita Panyam | 08-Jan-2017

When you understand why teens behave as they do, it becomes easier to co-exist without judging them.

Why understanding the Teenage Mind Is So Hard and What You Can Do about It

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Ask any parent whose child is still a tween (Read 12-year-olds) and you are sure to find them anxious and worried about the time when their child would turn thirteen. Yes, that’s right, the child would turn into a teen, and teens are perceived to be messy and troublesome. Before assuming things and writing them off, it would be wiser for parents to try and study the mechanism behind their teen’s actions and behaviour. Research has proved that it becomes easy to live with a teen when you know the reasons behind their behaviour.

Almost in every household across the world, teens have been blamed for ruining the peace in their family with their tantrums and other behaviour patterns. Let us try to understand why teens behave as they do.

According to a recent major study published by Berlin’s Max Planck Institute, teenagers go through similar reconnection processes between the ages of 13-17 as they did when they were toddlers. Here are some pointers for having a better relationship with your teen.

1. Do not ask if something is wrong with them:
While this might seem to be a general question, your teen might not think so. It seems like an irritated outburst rather than a question seeking an answer. It also sends out a message to your teen that something might be wrong with him/her.It would help to know that the frontal lobes in the brains of teens, which control impulses, reasoning and planning develop fully in the end during adulthood. When this process is going on, decision making happens via the amygdala, an important part of their brain which reacts instantaneously and emotionally to perceived threats.

This is not to say that the teens do not care for the opinions of their parents, this is just a defence mechanism that they use. Teens are very sensitive to the reactions and comments of their parents and nasty, sarcastic remarks or jibes can wound them for life.Teens should be made to understand about how the mind grows at this time so that it is less stressful for them.

2. Never yell or shout at them:
Out of desperation and frustration, parents find themselves yelling at their teens for the slightest of reasons. Parents assume that a raised tone is likely to gain their teen’s attention but this only makes matters worse for the teen shuts himself/herself from the parents. Psychological issues like depression seem to show up from age 14 upwards which may manifest into a long-term mental illness if not dealt with at an early age. Your home should bring peace and joy to your family and not appear like a war zone to them.

3. Do not offer to advise at the drop of a hat:
Parents tend to press the panic button as soon their kids turn into teens. They tend to offer unsolicited advice at all times regardless of whether it is required or not. When teens come home, all they want is warmth and comfort but they get bombarded with questions and advice mostly about their habits and studies.

4. Don’t give them too much space: 
As soon as kids turn into teens it is assumed that they would be difficult to deal with and would prefer to stay aloof. While this may hold true in most cases it would be wrong to allow them to remain aloof. Parents must try and they take into their confidence and make time for them without passing judgments or giving suggestions. This would make your teen trust you enough to approach you in case he/she has any problems. While this may not be easy and the teen may act uninterested or bored, he/she is certainly listening to you and wants to accept your offer. When you begin to spend quality time with your teen, your home becomes a happier place to live in.

Why understanding the Teenage Mind Is So Hard and What You Can Do about It

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5. Do not compare your upbringing with your child’s, blaming it on the current generation:
Parents who were raised strictly and attended a strict school are strict with their kids and resent disobedient behaviour. Comparing one’s upbringing and the older generation and their values with the current generation will not get you anywhere. Just because the parents never got a chance to breathe easy and were always ruled by their parents, they cannot expect their teens to adopt a similar environment at home. The adolescent brain develops patience quite late which is why they are impulsive. Teenagers look for immediate gratifications of their needs and do not think much about their future as their nerve connections are not fully developed to make proper decisions. Parents must not take this at face value and let them off. They must gain the teen's confidence and create an amicable environment for a smooth sailing relationship.

Why understanding the Teenage Mind Is So Hard and What You Can Do about It

There are a few concerns that parents of teens have. Let us look at some of them.

1. Clothes were strewn about the room, wet towels on the bed, books all over the place, half eaten plates on and under the bed, why can’t teens learn to be tidy?
Being organised requires planning and teens are not good in it because their cognitive skills take the time to develop. Parts of the brain connect with each other through synapses, which are insulated like electric wires. The myelin sheath takes the time to form. The frontal and prefrontal cortices connect in the end and these are responsible for controlling empathy, insight and risk-taking behaviours. Due to this, even smart adolescents are likely to take impulsive decisions. Cleaning up a messy room is last on their priority list as they have other important and interesting things to do.

2. Why do teens get angry easily with parents?
Teenagers are going through a stage where things do not appear clear to them. A lot of work is going on in their frontal lobe to which they do not have full access, which causes mood swings and anger. Adults tend to respond in a similar fashion without thinking about the reasons of the teen's outburst. When they try and understand that their teen is trying to figure out the changes happening in his/her mind and body they would be more compassionate and loving. This supportive behaviour will not alienate the teen from his/her parents. The key is to deal with them with patience, even if they push you away; you have to bring them around lovingly. Too much stress can lead to anxiety disorder in teens which can become a lifelong condition.

3. Why doesn’t my teen sleep and wake up early?
During adolescence, sleep patterns change. Between puberty to the end of teenage, adolescents are programmed to sleep and wake up around a couple of hours later than adults. When you try to wake them up before 8 am they are irritable as they are sleep deprived. Sleeping helps strengthen the synapses which are impaired in a sleep deprived brain. This is the reason why teens are grumpy and snap at people when they are woken up early in the mornings.

4. Why doesn’t my teen take his/her studies seriously?
For a teenager playing games on mobile or being on social networking sites appears more interesting than studying. But in cases where the teen does not study at all, there could be an underlying psychological problem which needs immediate attention. Teens are quick in grasping and memorising things but their academic performance levels undergo a change during this time. Some of them shine while some others may not do so fine. They need to be monitored albeit in an amicable environment.

5. The thought of my teen taking to alcohol drugs and other vicious things worries me constantly:
Teenagers can grasp things quickly which sometimes causes addictions to substances in some cases. This is definitely not good and if you find any addiction of this sort, you must take help immediately. Studies have shown that heavy drinking can cause brain damage in teens and only intoxication in adults.

Why understanding the Teenage Mind Is So Hard and What You Can Do about It

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6. My teen is addicted to smartphones at all times, why is it so?
As the teenage brain is still developing, it seeks stimulation. As their frontal lobes are not accessible to them yet, their judgment may not be right and satiation levels are not known. They do not know the potential damage this addiction can have on their academics and overall health.

7. My teen does not wear jackets and coats even during winters?
This has more to do with the way their peers dress. The desire to look similar and gain their acceptance outweighs rational decisions.

8. How can I make my child get by his/her teenage with minimal stress?
Teens begin to worry about their looks and other attributes when they reach adolescence. Any ridicule regarding their physical attributes can hurt them immensely pushing them into their shell. This is a time when their mind and bodies are developing making them look awkward, which may lead to self-esteem problems if they don’t receive parental love, care and support from home. This is also the time when they become aware of the opposite sex and may develop feelings of closeness with them which may distract them from studies. Fear of failure in any of these areas may make them anxious and angry. Parents must not burden their teens with unnecessary demands on their time and attention. Set aside a time for them wherein both the parties can discuss and share information taking care not to overdo the pep talk sessions. Ultimately teens like anyone else want love care and attention, albeit in small doses.

Teenage is not to be feared as the hype created around it can make parents anxious and nervous much before its onset. So parents, relax, take a deep breath and do your best and trust your child for what he/she is. After all, teenage is temporary but how you treat them at this time can make a permanent memory in their minds and hearts.

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About the Author
Kavita Panyam
Kavita Panyam is a counselling Psychologist by profession and a freelance writer by passion, based out of Secunderabad. Her work has been published in leading print magazines and e-zines across India and abroad. She has won several writing competitions and reputed blogger contests. She can be contacted at kavita.panyam@gmail.com Visit her blog at http://kavitapanyam.com.