How do you parent Hardboiled Teens?

Teens Bonfire of Emotions photo by Marcelo Gerpe

Neuroscientists confirmed that teens do have brains, but they’re wired differently from adults. Dr. Beatriz Luna, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh pioneered neuroimaging studies focused on the adolescent period because this is the time when individuals show the greatest vulnerability to psychopathology and to mortality due to risk-taking behavior.

It appears than when parents ponder their teens behavior and wonder, “OMG, what were you thinking?”  . . . seems they weren’t. This so-called perfect storm of hormones, puberty and executive function of the brain’s CEO collide and the crash co-mingles hormonal, biological and physical changes that erupt in a Bonfire of Emotions.

Beware Parents – you’ll all be there

Mark Hobbins, founder and president of FamilyIQ, has made a 25 year career of helping families, that began as the co-founder of a treatment and intervention company during which time he saw a sad dilemma play out in the lives of tens of thousands of families who had to place their child in a treatment program.

Hobbins witnessed first hand their deep agony, remorse and sadness not to mention the huge financial toll often as high as $100,000 when families put their child in treatment. Hobbins came to believe that much of this suffering and emotional distress could have been adverted if the parent was properly armed with a set of effective skills and tools and created FamilyIQ to shift his focus away from treatment to prevention.

“Do not be fearful of your influence.” advises Hobbins, “Make a deep connection with your kids, before their teens and don’t be afraid to be different and set clear boundaries. Parents need to be on their “A Game” to protect and nurture their children through dignity, style and class and explain this perfect storm before it happens”.

There has never been a more challenging time to raise children, but we have more information today with more skills and applications to empower parents. There is no such thing as perfect parenting, and there is no short-cut to parenting, but effective parenting skills can create strong and enduring relationships that lay the foundation for this new and different time.

Why Smart Teens do Dumb Things

National Geogrpahic writer David Dobbs writes in an October 2011 article, Beautiful Brains, about his 17 year old son’s arrest for driving “a little too fast.”

Turns out this product of my genes and loving care, the boy-man I had swaddled, coddled, cooed at, and then pushed and pulled to the brink of manhood, had been flying down the highway at 113 miles an hour.

Dodd’s story goes on to explain how a National Institute of Health (NIH) project that studied over one hundred developing teen’s brains as they grew up during the 1990s through neuroimaging (brain scans)—showed that our brains undergo a massive reorganization between our 12th and 25th years.

While the brain doesn’t physically grow much larger, as it is already 90% of it’s full size by the time we are six, it does however, undergo a massive remodeling, network re-assembly and wiring upgrade during this adolescent period. As in all construction projects, things don’t completely mesh when the foundation is being laid, the system is a bit awkward while the huge proliferation of brain cells take time to fire-up and make all their connections and the brain’s executive function “isn’t firing on all fours” as they say.

Teens Brain’s CEO

The pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s CEO, or executive function is the last to develop. The prefrontal cortex helps us with our reasoning; to think about thinking. This helps to explain with smart teens do dumb things – the CEO is not on the job yet.

Brain development starts at the back of the brain and moves forward. This imaging work done since the 1990′s Dodd’s article explains, “shows that these physical changes move in a slow wave from the brain’s rear to its front, from areas close to the brain stem that look after older and more behavioral basic functions, such as vision, movement, and fundamental processing, to the evolutionarily newer and more complicated thinking areas up front. The corpus callosum, which connects the brain’s left and right hemispheres and carries traffic essential to many advanced brain functions, steadily thickens. Stronger links also develop between the hippocampus, a sort of memory directory, and frontal areas that set goals and weigh different agendas; as a result, we get better at integrating memory and experience into our decisions. At the same time, the frontal areas develop greater speed and richer connections, allowing us to generate and weigh far more variables and agendas than before.”

Executive Function under construction – what are some possible consequences for teens?

Mark Hobbins, cautions that without a deep parental connection and strong influence before your child hits their  teens – here’s some possible consequences that can unfold:

  1. Teens have an inordinate need for acceptance: texting internet; need lots of “likes” feed by a hyperstated need based on technology
  2. Teens are hypersensitive to feelings – it becomes a crisis when someone didn’t say hi
  3. Teens desire for intimacy – this is not about intimacy, but rather acceptance
  4. Teens desire for thrills – this is not sexual, but focuses on extreme behaviours like piercing, tattoos—this is all caused by the “blasting, re-wiring and re-modelling” going on inside
  5. Teens desire for getting attention changes their behaviour – in their language and they way they dress
  6. Teens have an inability to cope with stress – and can fall into dangerous behavior. According to Hobbins, 50,000 to 60,000 kids a year fall into the danger zone
  7.  Teens and their “foolish in the moment” can have negative long-term consequences, for example, how long will a “sexting text” remain digitally?

There’s no parenting manual

We train teachers, secretaries and athletes; we train doctors, lawyers, plumbers but parenting is the only skill not taught. We all have a predictable pattern of behavior – it’s in our DNA, and that’s where our parenting skills have previously resided; today’s kids require more from us.

Here, Google two great FamilyIQ articles:
Teenage Brain, A Work in Progress
Communicating with Teenagers, Teens and Adolescents