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Finally, I Understand My Teens! 3 Surprising Facts From Inside Your Teen’s Brain

Lazy, Dopey & Dramatic?

You know the teen stereotype.

Always sleeping, only waking to make questionable life decisions and erupt into emotion-fuelled tantrums about how we “just don’t get it”.

As much as we Gen Xers enjoying teasing our teens (well, I do anyways) about their sloth-ness, cringy fashion choices and Days of our Lives moments, the truth is the teen stereotype is not really fair.

We don’t complain to our friends that our toddlers walk like drunkards, eat like pigs and can’t do math for shit.

Generation X parenting

While these traits are totally true of toddlers, we don’t describe them this way because we’d be holding them to too high a standard for their age.

I think when it comes to teens we forget this.

80% Adults

Teens do all kinds of seemingly adult things like working, driving, drinking and having elbowy sex in inappropriate locations. So we unconsciously hold them to adult standards.

But they’re not adults, so we’re surprised when they fail to reach adult standards.

They laze around too much, have frequent emotional outbursts, questionable personal hygiene and are terrible at assessing risk. They’re completely self-obsessed, frighteningly immature at times and allergic to any form of housework.

But, and here’s the crunch, so were we at that age.

All teens are like that because their brains are not fully developed in important areas. It seems  the problem here is not our teens, but rather that we forget they’re teens.

With this in mind, I scoured the parts of the internet that are not yet entirely over-ran by wack-jobs, Russians troll houses and Instagram models, to bring you three surprising insights on how teen brains work.

Lazy

I asked my teenage son one day what he wanted to do during the school holidays. He said he wanted to sleep in until lunchtime every day.

“Why”, I asked, “you’ll sleep half the holidays away!”.

He said, “Sleep is my holiday!”

Teens need sleep. Between 8-10 hours every night.  They’re growing at an astounding rate and need much more rest than fully grown adults.

Psychology Today points out that teens’ body clocks are geared to sleep later in the evening and to wake later in the morning. Unluckily for them, modern society has decided school starts early. This scheduling conflict is made worse by teens’ hectic lifestyle, often filled with after-school study, sports, hobbies, work and social life.

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The result? Many teens are only getting around 7 hours of sleep. Which can lead to poor concentration, memory, decision-making and mood. It even results in a tendency to have more driving accidents on average.

So there’s a line to walk between letting them stay up in the evening until they can feel sleepy, but not so late that they don’t get enough sleep before it’s time to get up for school.

Dopey

Teens aren’t dopey at all. For a reminder of this point, try helping them with their math homework! Brain meltingly tough, huh?

The ‘dopey’ stereotype comes from teens’ poor ability to understand consequences

Teens make decisions using the emotional part of the brain (amygdala) rather than the reasoning part (prefrontal cortex) that adults use.

So teens have limited ability to rationally think through scenarios, judge consequences and make sound decisions. This is why your teen can sometimes be found throwing up in a toilet or sporting a misspelt tattoo or all busted up after riding a shopping trolley off a jetty.

Generation-x-parenting-teens-dopey

The good news is that the condition will cure itself by the time they reach their mid-20s (though the tattoo might be there for life…).  

In the meantime, Raising Children recommends staying connected to your teens, helping them think through decisions, finding them creative outlets, and being a positive influence and a good role model.

And hanging on – it’s going to get rocky at times.

Dramatic

You’ve all experienced it. One minute you’re chatting to your teen, the next they’re hysterically shrieking at you for ‘blaming them for everything’.

Then comes the classic teen storm-off punctuated by the ever-fashionable door-slam. If you’re real lucky, you’ll then be serenaded by the soothing tones of Amity Affliction for the next several hours.

But Why ALL THE DRAMA!!!

A Harvard and University of Washington study reckons it’s found the answer. It all comes down to how well we can identify our emotions. If we’re good at it, we do better at coping and we’re less dramatic and more shit-together.

The study shows smaller kids are pretty good at identifying their emotions because they only experience one at a time. They’re happy, so they laugh. They’re angry, so they scream.

Teens, like adults, experience multiple emotions at once. But adults are better at pulling apart and understanding a shit storm of emotions. So they weather them better.

Teens don’t yet have these coping skills. So a bit of anxiety over difficult homework combined with a bit of guilt for playing Xbox rather than studying combined with a bit of embarrassment at being caught by mum can result in explosive anger or frustration or angst.

Let the drama begin.

End result being that no homework is done, the now terrified parents dash for the panic room and Amity Affliction cranks out another three-hour set behind the teen’s freshly slammed door.    

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Dealing With Drama

There’s plenty of advice on the net about how to deal with emotional teens. Here’s three tricks that stand out:

  1. Be the Calm One: Being calm while your teen rages at you is not easy (I know, I’ve tried), but it works better than yelling back at them (I’ve tried this too – not recommended). Joining in the drama only induces more drama.
  2. Boxing Clever: More often than not, it’s better to think through your response and pick your timing, rather than just react to a problem. We’ve had success with this tip. Our teen son is a grump in the morning. So we don’t confront him with anything before noon. We leave it until the afternoon. Our teen daughter hates housework, so we know nagging her will result in a teensplosion. Instead, we give her a chore and a generous deadline, and then explain the punishment for not doing the job in time. No nagging, and we make sure we follow through with the punishment. It’s not perfect, but there’s generally less drama.
  3. Too Quick To Fix: Ever tried to help your teen and ended up getting yelled at? Me too. Lots. Then a friend advised me to stop helping. Sometimes teens just want to vent. They don’t need us to tell them what to do. They just want to talk through a shitty situation. While it might be painful listening (probably from biting our tongues), we can take solace in the fact our teens came to us to talk about their problems.

What next?

Want more parenting advice, painfully gleaned from making every possible parenting mistake. Then try this post on Gen X Parenting: How Much Therapy will Your Kids Need?

Or, if you need to have your faith in teens restored, try this uplifting post on how a bunch of teens faced down a school tragedy.

And?

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