Friday Faves: Next Time Your Teen Does Something “Stupid”… Remember This

This Friday Fave is an excerpt from Book #1 and deals with gaining a better understanding of why your teen acts the way she does.

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“Troublesome traits like idiocy and haste don’t really characterized adolescence. They’re just what we notice most because they annoy us or put our children in danger.” (National Geographic, October 2011, Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs)

In a November 28, 2010, article in the Star Tribune’s Parade section entitled “What’s Really Going on Inside Your Teen’s Head,” the author, Judith Newman reveals “When my friend’s son—a straight-A student and all-around sweetheart—recently ended up in the hospital getting his stomach pumped because he went out drinking with friends for the first time and had now clue how much was too much, that is when I realized: There is just no predicting. Even for the most responsible kids, there is always that combustible combination of youth, opportunity and one bad night.” Newman goes on to explain, “Truth is, the teenage brain is like a Ferrari: It’s sleek, shiny, sexy, fast, and it corners really well. But it also has really crappy brakes.”

Researchers and scholars have been studying and writing about the adolescent and teen years for centuries. Aristotle characterized adolescents as lacking in sexual self-restraint, fickle in their desires, passionate and impulsive, fonder of honor and of victory than of money, and prone to excess and exaggeration (AC Petersen, BA Hamburg – Behavior Therapy, 1986 – Elsevier). More recently scientists and researchers have been analyzing the teenage brain in an attempt to find a scientific basis for teens’ frequent unpredictability, moodiness, carelessness, and an almost frantic desire to take risks.

Currently, there are some conflicting theories about the teenage brain. One theory states that a young adult’s brain is not fully developed until the age 25. However, Dobbs looks at recent research that sheds a slightly different view of the teenage brain.  Instead of looking at the adolescent brain as an immature of a work in progress, Dobbs discusses a theory that closely resembles the principle of natural selection. The “adaptive-adolescent story,” as Dobbs calls it, “casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” B.J. Casey, neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College concurs, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”

Research reveals that the when a child is six years old, her brain is already at 90 percent of its full size by and that most of the subsequent growth is the thickening of her head skull. However, between the ages of 12 and 25, ”the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade,” according to Dobbs. During this time, the main difference between and adult and teen brain is that teens value rewards more than consequences and are thus more apt to make riskier decisions.

In a study that compared brain scans of 10-year-olds, teens and adults, while the participants played a sort of video game with their eyes, that involved stopping yourself from looking at a flickering light or “response inhibition.” It turns out that 10-year-olds fail at this almost half the time but teens, by the age of 15 could score as well as adults if they are motivated, resisting temptation 70 to 80 percent of the time. The most interesting part of this study, however, was in looking at the brain scans, the teens brains were virtually the same size as the adults but “teens tended to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused—areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically.”  So, as it turns out, teens do understand risk, but value risk versus reward differently than adults. “In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.”

So the next time your teen does something really “stupid,” remind yourself that he is flexing his adaptive muscles. You can certainly set rules and limits on what behaviors are acceptable, appropriate and safe but know that there is more going on his brain than we may think. He will continue to push his boundaries, and according to this research, this is exactly what he should be doing.

Even though the above-mentioned principals make sense on paper, the reality of living through the adolescent and teen years with your children can be terrifying and maddening at times.

Here are a few pieces of tried and true advice that the moms I surveyed offered about managing the adolescent/teen years:

“We did (and still do) our fair share of “biting our tongue.” There are so many times I want to tell them what they should do, or offer suggestions, but I think the times that we have sat back and let them make mistakes on their own have been good and have helped prepare them for the real world.  I’m glad they made those mistakes while they were home with us and we could help support them.” (Mother of three children, ages 24, 22,18, married 26 years)

“My key strategy is TRUST! Trust your teenager until they prove other wise. They will respect you a lot more! I have seen parents who hover and get really involved. I have trusted my teenagers and when they get off track we re-direct, but I think they value my trust and genuinely want to hear what I have to say. It’s the ‘I’m on your side’ kind of attitude.” (Mother of four children, ages 18, 16, 14, 12, married 19 years)

“I tried to allow them as much privacy as possible while also encouraging them to share as much of their lives as they were comfortable sharing. That was the only strategy I had. Fortunately, it worked. Of course, there were many difficult moments, or maybe I should say months, but generally I felt they knew what they were doing and I supported them as best I could. When the anger level rose to red, we walked away from each other, but never for too long.” (Mother of two adult children, ages 42 and 40, grandmother of four, divorced)

Friday Faves! Remember When…

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 4.24.16 PMThis week’s Friday Faves does borrow from my one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen AGAIN, but also includes some of my own commentary from Book #1.

All mothers have or will have their “remember when” stories. Anna Quindlen writes:

“Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did-Hall-of-Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, “What did you get wrong?” (She insisted I included that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald’s drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I included that.)”

I, too, have an infinite number of remember when stories, and create more and more every day. I remember my oldest son’s first day of a new preschool and I was in the hospital, in labor with my third child. I remember pleading with my husband, “Please go! You have to be there to take him on his first day, not the babysitter!” He left, and returned an hour later to find me in tears, with just enough time to throw on some scrubs and hold my hand as I was being wheeled into the OR for an emergency C-section because my unborn son was fighting to breathe as the umbilical cord was acting as a noose around his neck.

I remember the tantrums and the melt-downs (both theirs and mine), the potty training, the power struggles, and the feeling of being completely exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally…and then just as I was ready to turn in my motherhood badge,  one of them would do something really, really cute or funny, and I would remember why I love being a mother (most of the time).

I remember being so excited to take my oldest daughter on a surprise trip to NYC for her 10th birthday, and it wasn’t until I printed out the boarding passes the night before that I realized that my youngest son would celebrate his Golden Birthday (4 years old on the 4th) with his grandparents while his brother, sister, mom and dad were celebrating his older sister’s birthday in New York (their birthdays are a day apart).

Or when my son told me that he really did not want to have a family picture taken as a Hanukah gift for my parents and when I told him to go put on his “picture outfit” he came out of his room holding a black sharpie that he had used to color all over his arms, neck and face. (In retrospect, I should have gone ahead and had our pictures taken.)

Or how I got a call from the principal of my son’s school and she told me that the bus driver had reported to her that my 10-year-old son had used some bad language on the bus. She told me that when she called him into his office and asked him what he said that upset the bus driver, he paused, looked at her and said, “I said fuc*.” I don’t know what embarrassed me more, the fact that my son dropped the f-bomb, or that the straight-laced, school principal actually said the f-word. She proceeded to tell me that she appreciated his honesty, and that he wasn’t in trouble because he told her the truth and promised he wouldn’t use bad language again.

I remember when we thought we lost our 6-year-old daughter in a busy mall in Israel, only to find out, after enlisting Israeli security and experiencing several full-blown panic attacks by parents and grandparents alike, that her big brother, without mentioning it to anyone, had taken her to the Nike store that he just had to see at the far end of the mall.

I remember when my fourth child was born and being so terrified that I was not capable of caring for four children at such different ages and stages.

I  still don’t know that I am.

Please feel free to share your “remember when” stories below! I love to hear from you, and it makes me feel less self conscious about sharing my many parenting blunders!

Friday Faves! Lessons From One of My Favorite Writers

4 kidsI am obsessed with Anna Quindlen. I love how she thinks and I love how she writes. I have many favorite quotes from her but this Friday I would like to share this particular one that tops my list and one that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind:

Anna Quindlen reveals her wisdom of hindsight in her essay “On Being a Mom:”

“…the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less. Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That’s what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.”

Friday Faves!

sign by Debbie Wolk

sign by Debbie Wolk

On Dealing With Adolescents/Teens:

“Let me see, the silent treatment works wonders, door slamming, disappearing into the cave, escape into alcoholic stupors, endless hours watching mind-numbing TV, extended shopping splurges.  I wonder how my children are coping.  All joking aside, we have lots of conversations, and it helps that my partner is a psychologist and adept at navigating this mind field much better than I am.  I make all of my buttons available for pushing at any time.  Both of my daughters know exactly where they are.  In fact we are thinking of making a coat with the leftovers.” (Mother of two children, ages 11 and 15)

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