I have a twelve-year-old son. Sometimes it’s easy to talk with him, but sometimes, it’s just not. Here’s an article I wrote about communicating with pre-teens.
Attitude. Moodiness. An emerging desire for autonomy. A growing connection to friends that appears to coincide with a decreasing connection to parents. Any of that sound familiar? If you have a son who’s a tween—a 9- to 12-year-old—then chances are at least some of that rings a bell. And most likely, one of the challenges you’re facing at the moment is how to talk to your no-longer-a-child but not-yet-a-teenager son. Here are some suggestions.
Yesterday I spent a fun hour with the delightful Richard Fidler on ABC Radio in Australia.
“How was your day, sweetheart?” We all know the answer we’re going to get when we ask our child this question: “Fine” (or, if we’re lucky, “Good”).
Likewise, if we are trying to teach our child empathy, and we ask, “How do you think that made your sister feel?” we will most likely get an obligatory, half-hearted reply: “Bad.”
One reason we get these monosyllabic responses is probably that our kids aren’t emotionally invested in this particular conversation. Even if they were, though there’s another factor that often keeps them from going into the complexity of a particular emotion: they haven’t yet learned to think about their feelings in a sophisticated way that recognizes the varied and rich emotional life within them.
As a result, they don’t use a full spectrum of emotions, and instead paint their emotional pictures primarily in black and white. So we typically don’t hear, “I felt really proud of myself when I hit the winning shot during PE, but I was disappointed with how I did in Science, and I’m irate about what Sarah did at lunch.” And we don’t hear, “I think that made my sister feel belittled, and that I don’t care about her.” Instead, we hear “Fine” and “Bad.”
Ideally, we want our kids to recognize that there’s a colorful rainbow of rich emotions within them, and to pay attention to these different possibilities. Without this awareness of what’s going on in their right brains, they’ll be trapped in black and white, like the old TV reruns. When they have a full emotional palette, they are able to experience the vivid Technicolor that a deep and vibrant emotional life allows.
Making a child aware of the emotional rainbow that exists within them is one of the best ways to help connect the left and right hemispheres of their brain. When they come to understand their own mind and the minds of others, they can then move beyond a black/white assumption that feelings are good or bad, happy or sad. Instead, they can begin to understand the broad spectrum of emotions they experience, and learn to name and express them. Once developed, these skills will last them a lifetime.
When we promote this type of horizontal integration in our kids, Continue Reading »
Parenting a teenager is a mixed bag of rewards and challenges. One of the most challenging—and important—parts of parenting an adolescent is figuring out how to respond and cope when your teenager rebels. Here are some suggestions.
Put teen rebellion in perspective.
Mark Twain is said to have advised that when a child turns 13, his parents should put him in a barrel, close the lid, and feed him through a hole in the side. Then, when he turns 16, plug up the hole.
I offer this quote not to advocate incarceration or starvation as a healthy response to teen rebellion, but to help you see that you’re not alone. In fact, cross-cultural research shows that there are two universals when it comes to teens: spending less time with their parents (and more time with peers), and doing things differently from their parents (teen rebellion!).
From a big-picture, evolutionary perspective, these two trends are extremely important for society. For one thing, spending more time with peers allows teenagers to Continue Reading »
Why can’t she think before she acts?
Why does he get so emotional so easily? It seems like he misinterprets everything I say and do.
How much freedom do I give her to decide how she spends her time?
How do I give him the skills he needs for meaningful relationships?
Do questions like these ever run through your mind? If so, you might be interested in hearing about some cutting-edge science on the adolescent brain that helps shed some light on these questions. Let me give you two “teen brain facts,” and then we’ll talk about how to apply that knowledge, so you can make good parenting decisions that will strengthen your relationship with your teenager, and help them become the best person they can be.
Teen Brain Fact #1: The adolescent brain is changing very rapidly.
Scientists have shown over the last couple of decades that the actual, physical makeup of the human brain changes throughout a human’s lifetime. And guess when the brain changes the most, aside from just after birth. That’s right: during adolescence.
To put it simply, a “blossoming” occurs during pre-adolescence (around age 11-14), when the brain is creating all kinds of new connections. But then, during the teenage years, a “use it or lose it” process takes over, and brain connections that aren’t being used are “pruned,” similar to the way a tree is pruned. By cutting back weak connections, the whole brain becomes stronger. What determines what gets cut and what stays? Experiences determine which brain connections survive and thrive, and which ones whither and eventually disappear. In fact, teenagers can lose neural connections at the rate of 30,000 per second.
Yes, you read that correctly. Your teen is losing 30,000 brain connections per second. You were right all along–they are actually losing their mind. But unlike everything in Texas, bigger isn’t necessarily better, or else the best brain functioning would occur at age 11 or 12. The brain is actually improved by taking away and pruning down unused connections, so that the more important and valuable ones can thrive. It’s about creating a leaner, meaner brain that’s faster and more efficient.
Teen Brain Fact #2: An important part of the brain is “off-line” during adolescence.
As if losing 30,000 brain cells per second weren’t enough, there’s another problem. Continue Reading »