Recently I listened to a fascinating interview with a neurologist about the teenaged brain. It was confirmed by this neurologist, who is also a mother of teenagers, that the teenaged brain is not fully developed until mid to late twenties. This has a lot of implications for us parents of children under the age of twenty-five. The discussion touched on why some teens seem clueless to the consequences of their actions. The part of the brain that is responsible for executive functions (critical thinking, decision making, impulses etc.) is still not fully developed during the teen years and into their early twenties.
What does this mean for us parents of teenagers? We will definitely need to parent from where they are at. We certainly can’t be swayed by their physical stature into thinking they know better, we simply must take a coaching approach to help move them forward into adulthood as safely as possible-while maintaining our own sanity. The coaching approach starts with and keeps the end in mind; which is to develop our children to contribute positively to their communities when they leave the nest. Here are a few coaching approaches for having a conversation on a variety of topics:
- Drugs (alcohol, marijuana, tobacco etc.) The teenaged brain according to the research is more proned to be changed negatively by these stimulants. We know we must keep them away from these substances, but how? The experts suggest rather than the usual precautionary warnings of “don’t do drugs” instead share with teens what you know based on these studies. Share the information from an objective, nonjudgmental place. A study is likely to be better received and hopefully translate into wanted behaviour. This approach works simply because the study is objective. It wasn’t conducted by us the parents, nor did we commission this study. Plus, a study when done well can be replicated by others therefore making the findings more credible and reliable. This takes us parents out of the picture and instead allow our young adults to digest the information without it being shadowed by our own subjective feelings and thoughts.
- Coach vs. tell. If our young adults are made to feel a part of the solution by us including them in the discussions (in a meaningful and authentic way) we will see desired changes eventually. This approach takes time but the benefits are worth it. Change occurs when you can see what needs changing and made to be aware of the impact this has on you– how it makes you feel- this is when change occurs and a coaching approach allows for this. This is a powerful approach especially for those teens who are not quick to talk or share information with us parents.My husband and I recently ran into a couple whose son played hockey with one of our sons for many years. Naturally, we started catching up with each other, talking about our sons etc. The dad shared with us how his son had gone against his advice ( no one really likes being given advice even when they ask for it.) and bought this car that within weeks of purchase, ended up with some significant problems that have it sitting in the garage for a year to date. The dad was thrilled about the turn of events, not because he wanted to prove to his son he was right about the car, not all. He was thrilled because his son asked him to help him fix the car. Why was this exciting for the dad, given according to him he knew nothing about fixing cars? He said, ” if my 18 year old son who barely talks to me, wants to spend hours with me fixing this car, you bet I am going to be there with him!” He went on to share how the son now talks freely with him as they have been researching and looking for ways to fix the car.They have been spending hours over the past year working on this car together. For the dad, he hopes the car never gets fixed,because of the valuable time and coaching opportunities he has had with his son. The final piece of invaluable coaching strategy he shared with us was how he has learned to remain silent and allow his son the space and time to talk. Too many of us don’t know how to use these golden moments with our young adults. We feel once they raise a topic it is our cue to take over and give as much advice and information as possible. Not the wisest way to use this time. Use the power of golden silence interspersed with moments of acknowledgement to let them know you are listening and hearing them. Instead of you blabbing away,use powerful questions to keep them talking.
- Because the teenaged brain learns things more quickly and easily than the older brain (e.g. us their parents) be very strategic about the themes of the coaching sessions you will be repeating. Themes could be around personal responsibility such as making healthy lifestyle choices, developing wanted habits, honouring study time, developing a balance between confidence and humility, personal accountability the areas will depend on you and your young person and what you see as areas for growth.
- Brace yourself to have the same conversations many times. The teenaged brain forgets as quickly as it is able to learn. Repetition done strategically will plant the right seeds and help nurture them to grow into wanted behaviours. Be patient.
The teenaged years can be as intensely rewarding as they are challenging. Let’s keep our eyes on the end goal which is to develop our children to become healthy contributing citizens to their communities.