Erratic, Temperamental, Guarded, Ambiguous, Aggravating, Exasperating…

By: Valparaiso Community Schools Last Updated: February 23, 2011

valpo-community-schoolsWritten by Gina Wagenblast, Parent Coordinator

Wow, what a title! Have I caught your attention? Have those words struck a chord? If they have caught your attention...read on. If they have struck a chord, then chances are, like me, YOU ARE a parent of a TEENAGER! You've lived through 1 AM feedings, the terrible twos, play dates, waving good-bye as the school bus drives away the first day of school, little league, the first sleep over, and much more. So why does the word "teenager" make you cringe and cause you so much anxiety?

Perhaps, like me, you were shocked at the changes that emerged (almost instantly) the moment your bundle of joy turned thirteen. You might have experienced a wide range of emotions as you embarked on the journey of the teen years, but a prevailing thought in your mind might be the baffling behaviors of your teenager. Many parents do not understand why their teenagers behave in an impulsive, irrational, or, at times, dangerous ways. It seems like they don't think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions. But the truth is that adolescents do differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. The teen years are a period of intense growth, not only physically, but also morally and intellectually. It's a time of confusion and upheaval for many families.

Most importantly, it is vital to recognize the biological explanation for this time. Studies have shown that for years it was thought that brain development was set at a fairly early age and by the time the teen years arrived the brain was thought to be largely finished. However, now it appears the brain continues to change into the early 20's with the frontal lobes, responsible for reasoning and problem solving, developing last. Based on the stage of the teenage brain, teens are more likely to: act on impulse, misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions, get into accidents of all kinds, get involved in fights, and engage in dangerous or risky behavior. Teens are less likely to: think before they act, pause to consider the potential consequences of their actions, and modify their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors. This does not mean that teenagers cannot make good decisions or tell the difference between right and wrong. It also doesn't mean that they shouldn't be held responsible for their actions. It's our job as parents to recognize the important concept that the teen brain is still developing and not yet fully mature. It is also our responsibility as parent's to address behavior problems, get your teen to slow down, and help them think through what they are doing. If all else fails, just remember one thing: Few things are more satisfying than seeing your children deal with teenagers of their own.