Adolescence is a time of huge change. Teens are needing to individuate, to progress, to maintain connection, to find balance, to learn to cope with tumult, sadness, rejection and disappointments (Grogan, 2015). They are also trying to make sometimes daunting discussions about their future: their academic and career choices. They are doing all this while their brains are in a chaotic period of development (NIHM, 2011). Their is heightened fear and anxiety in teens and this is due to the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain) developing at a much faster rate that the prefrontal cortex (the reason and logic part of the brain) (Freidman, 2014). In order to be able to make a good, sound decisions, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex need to be working together, something that does not always happen in adolescence. Yet, you say, “But my son/daughter is capable of making good decisions.” Yes, they are capable and do make good decisions at times, but this is not consistent. Somedays the amygdala and the cortex are in sync and many days they are not. This inconsistence is due to the fact that the bran is still developing and will continue to do so until mid to late twenties – 25 for women, 28 for men.
Therefore, when parents see this inconsistent and sometimes erratic behaviour, they become worried and begin to think the worst. Their impulse is to reign the teen in and become more intrusive. This is a destructive cycle and will only push the teen further away. What is a parent to do?
This is not an easy time for parents and this is a real juggling act; they can’t withdraw nor can they become intrusive. To make matters, ever more confusing for parents, is that somedays these teens are independent and autonomous, not needing much from their parents and other days they are acting like young children again and needing them again. So parents never know which role they are to play. The best way to imagine this period with your teens is think of your teen being on an elastic band, somedays that elastic is pulled very tightly, almost to the point of breaking and other days it is slack. This is the exact same process that 2 year-old sgoes through. They are individuating, learning who they are separate from their parents, testing their world and then returning to the safe haven of the parents for reassurance that the parent is still there. Parents need to be able to continue being that safe haven.
As humans, one of our basic needs to to connect and this never changes. We need to continue to work on our relationship with our teens, a relationship that we started building right from birth. This is a relationship built on mutual respect, understanding, trust, open communication and empathy. Try to remember, no matter how hard your teen pushes away, s/he still needs to know that you will always be there.