HERE are some tips for encouraging good behaviour and strengthening positive brain connections:
1. Educate your adolescent about his developing brain.
Understanding the neuroscience behind this important period of growth might help teenagers process their feelings, regulate their emotions and manage their behaviour for risk.
If teenagers receive timely insights on their enormous capacity to influence the changes due to brain plasticity, they can hardwire their creative endeavours. Entrusting them to take personal responsibility for shaping their brains becomes an exercise in empowerment.
2. Provide boundaries and opportunities for negotiating those boundaries.
Young people need clear structures, guidance and limit-setting (although they will never admit to it).
Setting good boundaries is one of the best ways to reduce conflict, improve and preserve good communication channels, and build trust in your relationship with your teenager.
Boundaries are the means by which parents calibrate the rate of change and help teens find a reasonable and balanced approach to growing up.
Allow teens to take on more responsibility a little bit at a time. Negotiate boundaries when setting them. Let your teen make their case and allow them to hear your reasoning.
When your teen makes a reasonable point, acknowledge it by making the relevant concessions. The lack of negotiation increases the frequency and intensity of adolescent-parent power struggles and the likelihood of extreme, “all or nothing” outcomes (e.g., running away and physical altercations, outright defiance). Ultimately, it diminishes the opportunities for gradually and safely shifting power and responsibility from parent to teen.
Make a short list of non-negotiable rules that respect family rituals and ensure safety. The most effective strategy to direct teens is by using the “just the facts” approach in a tone of respectful authority.
You are not asking, pleading, or trying to please in order to get them to respect non-negotiable boundaries. You are simply stating the expectation in a calm and direct manner.
The non-negotiable rules are fewer and take the form of things that could be dangerous or illegal (e.g., drinking and driving; the dangers of unprotected sex, excessive computer usage and experimentation with drugs).
3. Talk through decisions each step of the way with your teen.
Ask about possible courses of action your child might choose, and talk them through potential consequences. This flows smoothly when parents have already set the foundations for respectful, open, non-judgmental channels of communication. Encourage your teen to weigh up the positive consequences or rewards against the negative ones.
In the face of resistance, understand the need they are trying to meet through their behaviour. The behaviour might be dysfunctional but the need rarely is.
Here are some common needs and the way your youngster might meet them.
• The need to take flight and escape from the world for a while (they might try to meet this need by spending excessive time online playing games or engaging in social media, or hiding in their room and avoiding homework and chores).
• The need for approval (this can lead to being seduced by peers who meet their need for belonging, makes them feel important, and helps establish an identity or independence from the family).
• The need to feel independent from you, their parent (this usually manifests as disconnecting and distancing behaviour that is often volatile eg. arguing, hostility, defiance).
Reject the behaviour but validate their need — because under even the most perplexing and frustrating behaviour lies a need that your adolescent is yearning to meet. You could convey: “I get that the world expects a lot of you right now and it’s probably really tempting to want to run away and escape it. I really get that. But spending hours in your room playing online games isn’t the way to do it. Let’s talk about ways you can get what you need, that will work better for you.”
4. Help your child find new creative and expressive outlets for his feelings.
Remember your teenager is using the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain to process information. He might be grappling with angsty emotional surges that need channeling into creative expression.
Spontaneous and emotional creativity have been known to emerge from the increased activity in the amygdala in your brain during this phase of growth. This is the rare kind of creative moment that can be quite powerful — something great artists and musicians describe.
Guide your teen to tap fearlessly into his emotions and use passion and creativity when working through a big challenge.
Stimulating the amygdala with regular practice can help you enter a psychological state of flow. Being in the flow is often described as having a single-minded focus and joy that comes from losing oneself in productive activity.
As adolescents begin to move away from families of origin as their primary source of support and security, into the social milieu of peers defined by similar motivations and immature skill sets, the role of the helping care-giver and parent is a bridge over troubled waters. We are their testing ground for entrée into the world of independence and autonomy.
Authentically extending ourselves to youth is the greatest gift we can give.
Main Image: Ampyang / Shutterstock.com
Shyla Sreedharan is the founder and senior counselor at Therapy Rocks.