What Makes Teens Tick? By Deanna Harbaugh
Emerging Science • New insights gained due to brain imaging techniques • e.g., CT, MRI
What was learned? Adolescence is a period of profound brain maturation. We thought brain development was complete by adolescence. We now know maturation is not complete until about age 25! Source: Giedd, 2004
Brain Development When pruning is complete, the brain is faster and more efficient. But, during the pruning process, the brain is not functioning fully. Maturation occurs from the back of the brain to the front. (prefrontal cortex) Source: Giedd, 2004
What does this all mean? • Preference for physical activity • Less than optimal planning and judgment • More risky, impulsive behaviors • Minimal consideration of negative consequences
Area of the brain associated with higher levels of thinking: decision making, planning, organizing, coordinating May explain why teens get into so much trouble Their brain hasn’t fully matured to help them make the best decisions. What is associated with the prefrontal cortex?
Part of the brain that controls the emotional center Studies have shown that teens rely on it more than adults when processing emotional information. Adults rely primarily on the prefrontal cortex. This may explain why adolescents often react more impulsively than adults and why they misinterpret emotional cues. Teen Brain: Amygdala
The Teen Brain “The parts of the brain responsible for things like sensation seeking are getting turned on in big ways around the time of puberty. But the parts for exercising judgment are still maturing throughout the course of adolescence. So you’ve got this time gap between when things impel kids toward taking risks early in adolescence and when things that allow people to think before they act come online. It’s like turning on the engine of a car without a skilled driver at the wheel.” Laurence Steinberg, Psychology Professor, Temple University (From Wallis and Park, 2004)
Youtube video • Teenage Brain Development
Why do teenagers act the way they do? • Research suggests that compared with adults, teens value rewards more than consequences • Cars and parties, first cigarettes and first dates, school demands and free time, teens encounter risks large and small every day, and their choices can be puzzling at times.
Why do teenagers act the way they do? • Psychologist Laurence Steinberg says think of it as an equation—where consequences aren’t given the weight they should be. And when teens are around friends, that throws off the equation even more. • Teens rely more on their feelings and impulse vs. logic and planning.
Rewards Vs. Risks and the Thrill Seekers • Teenagers also are thrill seekers. • We all like new and exciting things, but we never value them more highly than we do during adolescence. • Impulsivity generally drops throughout life, starting at about age 10, and peaking at age 15. • Even though sensation seeking can lead to dangerous behaviors, it can also generate positive ones: the urge to meet more people, to create a larger circle of friends, makes us healthier, happier, safer and more successful. • This upside explains why an openness to the new remains a highlight in adolescent development.
Steinberg also points out that even 14-17 year olds, the biggest risk-takers, evaluate risk, sometimes overestimating the risk. So why do they take more chances? Because they weigh risk versus reward differently than adults, relying more heavily on the reward! Teens respond even more to social rewards. e.g. gaining the approval of their peers Rewards Vs. Risks
Peer influence • Teens prefer the company of those their own age more than any other age group. On average teens spend 21 hours a week with peers. • Teens enter a world created by parents, but live most of their lives in a world run and remade by their peers. • Those who build relationships, have a strong social circle, are well-liked and respected by their peers, according to research, are more successful.
Peer influence • Myth: Peer groups recruit and then convert good kids into bad ones. • Did your peers recruit you and persuade you? You sought out peers similar to yourself and your interests. (Obviously there are exceptions—so you must dig for the deeper reasons.) • Your REACTION to situations involving your child’s decisions to engage in behavior influences your child most. • Keeping your cool and reacting minimally by speaking with your child will help her. Being over punitive, and overprotective will make her friends much more appealing to listen to.
You and Your Child • Problem: “For a year now, she’s done the exact opposite of what I ask. She won’t talk to me. She rolls her eyes at me, and I’m increasingly sure she’s hoping a blood test will prove she’s adopted.” • Answer: By the time your child has reached adolescence, she has learned and incorporated your morals, values, and ethics. • They are there and will reappear with time.
You and Your Child • Now, she is looking for other sources and opinions (her peers). • This is how she becomes her own person. • If your house of values is in order and your kid violates your morals, what do you do? • See example
EXAMPLE • Ex: Matt, an honor student, who rarely gets in trouble, gets caught being “high” in school. Cops were called, and so were the parents. • How to handle: Dad rushed to school, saw his son crying. Matt was terrified. When he saw his dad, he jumped up. Dad hugged him and told him they were going to get through this and he loved him no matter what • What Matt learned from his father’s response convinced him that this man who discourages drug use must know what he is talking about. • Its really important to maintain your loving, respect-based relationship with your child even through the tough times.
Truth is… • You hold more power than you can imagine with your teenager. • Peer groups are really just windows into your child’s soul. • Don’t panic over one big mistake.
What is normal behavior • Being antisocial (with parents) and the community • Your child is trying to be independent • Becoming at times, disrespectful or “in your face” • Your child is testing you, seeing how far he can push. • Your reaction determines if those behaviors will be repeated. • Overreact and yell back—teen says I need to push harder. • React calmly and quietly, saying something like “Is this how you are going to act?”
Teens that are very oppositional Verbally defiant, uncooperative, and nasty to any person of authority, including parent, teacher, principal, cops (called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, if it lasts more than 6 months.) Teens that are physically violent and aggressive to any person of authority They bully, steal, cheat, lie, whatever they choose with no regard for the rights of others (called Conduct Disorder, if it lasts for a long period of time, and is consistent.) A child that can’t focus, is over reactive, impulsive (called ADHD if it lasts more than 6 months, and is this way at both home and school) All of these “acting out” behaviors need medical and/or therapeutic attention What is not normal behavior?
What is rage? Purple faces, popping neck veins, clenched fists, hurtful, screaming words that leave emotional wounds It can also be shoves, slaps, and punches exchanged What is going on? Your teen is going through brain maturation, aggressive hormonal surges, oppositional behavior impulses, and a powerful new body. All of which encourages acting out vs. talking out their anger Your child’s rage
Surviving your child’s rage • After the rage takes place, your child is horrifically embarrassed to the point where he does not want to talk about what happened, what he said or if he meant it. • Your reaction to your child’s rage is the power that you hold over him. • If you react with rage, he will get crazier. • If you react with strength, showing self-control, you give hope to your child that he can become better than he is acting now.
Surviving your child’s rage • Model, don’t mandate • Don’t say “how could you…?” Instead, talk about your role in the rage event, not hers. • Talk about what you learned • Focus on any mistakes you made, or fault with yourself in not understanding how wired up she was. • Talk about how you felt • Discuss how hurtful the words were and how heart-wrenching that whole episode was. • Why do this? • To teach her by modeling how we learn from our mistakes! • She will see how you react to situations and learn by seeing. You will gain more respect.
Encourage Appropriate CommunicationThe most effective way to deal with anger and rebellious behavior is to have teenagers appropriately communicate their feelings of disapproval and resentment. Listen If the teenager is complaining about excessive restrictions, punishments, or other things that she does not like, listen. Try to understand her feelings. If the complaints are realistic, see if something can be worked out and resolved, or if a compromise can be achieved. What’s a parent to do?
What’s a parent to do? • Avoid Excessive Negative AttentionIt's a mistake to pay more attention to what the child is doing wrong—his failures, mistakes, misbehaviors, than to what he is doing right—his successes, achievements, and good behaviors. • Try Not to React to Passive-Aggressive BehaviorIgnoring this behavior is often an effective way to reduce it. • Ex: You ask your child to set the table. While your child is setting table, she mumbles “They act like I’m a slave. I want to go live at grandma’s where I am appreciated.” • Ignore it, and her anger will go away. Say something, and her anger balloon will be filled up more and this could cause a rage episode.
What’s a parent to do? • Look for Ways to CompromiseTry to treat them the way you would one of your friends or another adult. Rather than get into a battle to see who is going to win, it may be better to create a situation where a compromise is reached. • Provide Appropriate ModelsChildren learn a great deal from modeling their parents' behavior. The way we handle our conflicts and problems is apt to be imitated by our children. If I handle my anger by hollering, throwing things, or hitting, there is a good possibility that my children will handle their conflicts in a similar fashion.
Closing point • We can control young children, but with the adolescent we must exert authority. I am not talking about an authority by force or by dictatorship. I am talking about an authority that involves setting rules and being consistent in administering consequences. If parents can exert this type of authority, the probability that positive behaviors and attitudes can be developed will increase. (From Wallis and Park, 2004)