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The Wild West of Adolescent Parenting

In the wild west of adolescent parenting, many people face this new frontier fraught with fears and anxieties. The parents’ mature brain has a negative bias towards the environment around it. This strategy scans for danger. And whether dangers are real or imagined, we naturally work to preserve ourselves and our young.

Experts like Daniel Siegl, MD in his book Brainstorm, reveal secrets of developing brains. He cites research that proves the adolescent brain has a positive bias, allowing risk taking to develop. Risks help teens develop important skills like how to explore the larger world and connect deeply with others. Siegel argues that “out of the box” thinking and behaviors are often labeled as disobedient, threatening, or impulsive. But these are skills teens need to creatively solve complex problems and form meaningful relationships. Siegel also argue that navigating this stage requires curiosity from parents and willingness to move from being “the boss” and into being a “consultant.”

Remodeling of the Brain and the Family System

How then, as parents, can we see the time of adolescence as a time of growth without a lens of fear? To begin, let yourself recognize the significance of the change to your family during this season of parenting. It might also help to explore any feelings of loss. It is painful to watch the children that once wanted bedtime stories now demonstrate unsettling moods and a preference for friends and electronic devices. At the core of it all is God’s design unfolding. Adolescence is a time of new growth as the brain “remodels” itself. This remodeling includes pruning away excess brain connections and solidifying myelination. Myelination is how the brain increases coordinated processing for better judgment and discernment.

The Road Maps We Are Equipped With: Examining our Family of Origin

As parents step back and consider everything a teen is going through, reflect back on your own relationships with your parents. How might the way you respond to your teen mirror or contrast your own childhood? How might the way you try to connect or withdraw from your teen stem from experiences in your own family? Do you look back and experience fear that your teen will repeat your mistakes? The road maps we are equipped with from our families growing up may not translate to what we hope to create. While many adults struggle to recall family experiences, looking back offers us a treasure trove of information. This information can tell us more about how we are interacting with our own teens. This insight is also an opportunity to break old patterns.

Yes, They Are Good Inside

Dr. Becky Kennedy’s book, Good Inside, offers a final thought to encourage parents through this time of difficult parenting: approach your children with the reminder that they are good inside. For many decades, parenting experts recommended we avoid coddling and encouraged independence as early as possible. But research has shown that our children need us to be a safe launch pad when the tumultuous brain changes of adolescence are upon them. Do they need safe structure and expectations? Yes. Do they need your consistency around family rules? Yes. But the paramount importance of approaching their shortcomings and missteps as just “missed steps” allows us to stay connected to their goodness rather than approach with shame.

The emotional safety we provide during these tumultuous years honors God’s greatest commandment to love others as ourselves (including our teens!) and to see their inherent goodness. If you are currently wading through this season of parenting a teen or feeling the pangs of regret as you look back, be kind to yourself (you are good inside!). See your shortcomings as an opportunity to practice new ways of connecting with your children. At The Counseling Center at BCC we walk alongside parents, families, and teens to support them through navigating adolescent life transitions.