The Teen Mind

The Teen Mind, Integrated Behavioral Health Psychological Services, Kalamazoo, MI

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The teenager or adolescent, sometimes beginning before the teen years, can seem like a person you don’t recognize. He may seem like an alien in your child’s body and mind: irritable, rude, ungrateful, unpleasant and the eye rolling, oh my. Somehow your intelligence level has dropped to zero, zilch, nada.  Your teen doesn’t seem to think you were ever 16 years old.  Some days the teenager will want you to rub his back and crawl into your lap on the sofa and other days, not acknowledge your existence. 

This is the Teen Mind.  It is growing and changing and struggling between dependence and independence, a bit like the toddler but different.  This is the reason for the extreme moods and behaviors.  This is what the teenager is suppose to be doing at this stage of his and her life.  They prefer friends over family at times and think of their friends as more of a family than parents and siblings. She seems to hate you and may even say that.  This makes you feel angry and hurt. Your teen might be trying risky and not very smart behaviors which leads you to think, “where did I go wrong?   

It isn’t pleasant for parents but you have not done anything wrong. Letting him go to his first party or dance, allowing a sleep over with a new friend whose parents you don’t know, or letting him opt out of soccer.  None of these are the reasons for this behavior.  It isn’t your fault or his dad’s fault.  This is about them not you. Let me say this again, this is about them, not you. This is predictable.  Some teens start early like 11 or 12 years and others later like 17 or 18 years but all go through this as you did when you were a teen.  The male & female teen is undergoing hormone changes that lead to sexual maturity which interact with neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) directly affecting behaviors.  Such behaviors include aggression, risk-taking and mood swings.  

Okay it’s biology, how do you handle this? First, don’t take it personally.  It isn’t about you.  Did I mention that already?  She is pushing limits and acting out because well, it’s biology, and that is her job right now.  Second, do not overreact and ground her for the rest of her life.  Extreme and harsh punishment pushes the teenager to react in extreme ways like running away or climbing out on the roof.  If a teenager has nothing, she has nothing left to lose and will act out in extreme ways.  Third, restate the rules and the boundaries calmly and firmly, enforce consequences that fit the behavior.  There is no situation in which hitting or humiliation is appropriate or will help in any way. Of course, if there is drug or alcohol use, stealing, smoking, find consequences that fit the behaviors and seek help.  Do not take away healthy, social activities like sports and extracurriculars because these activities are protective of prosocial behaviors.  This is, the evidence shows that teens who are identify with organizations are less likely to be involved in substance use, illegal activities, and do better in school on average (check out the YouTube video listed below). 

Lastly, if you are unable to remain calm and appropriate, you need to seek help for yourself to survive your teen.  It will get better. When she is 25, her brain will be fully developed.  You will be able to be close again.  Promise.

Survival resources:  

Faber, A. & Mazlish, A. (2005). How to talk so teens will listen and listen so teens will talk. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. (older but still relevant)

Kazdin, A. et al., (2013). The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Newton, S. (2007).  Help! My teenager is an alien: The everyday situation guide for parents. London: Penguin Books, Ltd 

Sheryl Lozowski-Sullivan, MPH, PhD.

Printed in the Good News paper, November 2020

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