“Adolescence is the golden age for innovation,” says Dr. Daniel Siegal, a psychiatrist and a Clinical Professor at UCLA.
Siegal has released a new book: Brainstorm – The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. The adolescent brain is a construction zone, in the process of remodeling, he says. Creativity, innovation, the capacity for abstract thinking, and the need to experiment are traits that drive this period. Unfortunately, as adults, we sometimes see the adolescent drive towards experimentation only as a negative, a sign that the teen is being “crazy” or immature,” says Siegal.
Value Unique Qualities
No two teens are alike. The values, culture, beliefs, and the environment they grow up in all play a vital role in their wellness and health.
Adolescence can be a challenging time. Families can assist in building and supporting a teen’s confidence, help build their identity, and be available during their trying times.
In India, summer meant playing outside for hours with occasional breaks for food or snacks. We never had many toys, including digital games or social media. Today’s generation of teens don’t have any time for free play. Their days are packed with structured activities, even in summer, to build up a “portfolio” for the so-called top schools.
The Stressors of Childhood
When my daughters were in high school, they would share how their peers were planning to take many AP courses, online classes, and internships over the summer. Schedules were packed. Many parents want their teens to go to their chosen top schools only. They have an unrelenting focus on academics at the expense of everything else, including mental health. The physical manifestation of this stress on teens is a growing epidemic: anxiety disorders, migraines, panic attacks, and even auto-immune conditions.
Parents Can Help
Create a stress-free zone: Parents and teens can develop a “zone out” time together. It could be watching their favorite videos/TV, or cooking and baking together without judgment or life lessons.
Efforts vs. grades: We can counsel them without an obsessive focus on scores. It can be a life lesson that will help them focus on what they need to do and not stress about outcomes beyond their control. Constantly stretching expectations leads to relentless pressure to meet them. It is toxic for your teen’s health.
Sharing your past: Share your college experiences more as an understanding and awareness for your teen. Do not communicate that only your generation’s methods are correct. It would make any teen feel that they never measure up. This can damage the child’s long-term self-esteem.
One-on-One: Celebrate your teen’s accomplishments, share their disappointments, and support their hobbies. This helps your teen know you’re interested in them. You don’t have to make a big deal of this. Sometimes it’s just a matter of showing up to watch your child play a sport or music. Reading together, or arts and crafts activities help build bonds.
Treats: Treats worked in elementary school, and they still do, such as a Starbucks drink or a Jamba Juice. Some parents feel that appreciating their teen’s effort or journey would de-focus them and stop putting in their efforts. However, research has shown that positive encouragement is vital for teens to succeed in any environment. It is not a bribe but an acknowledgment of their effort. An encouraging comment along with the reward will help make the message clear that you appreciate their efforts.
The Value of Empathy
Be Empathetic: Actively listen when you are conversing with your teen. Don’t interrupt with our own opinions or judgments. Be curious and open-minded about their point of view. And have patience as they solve their problems. This could be the best thing you offer your teen.
For example, when a teen comes home heartbroken as they did not get their desired result in their quiz, a parent could respond, “I saw how much you worked on that; I am so sorry to hear that.” This kind of empathy is powerful.
Joy And Paychecks
Only STEM mindset: There are some misconceptions that only a few majors guarantee a job. Other than STEM majors, there are other majors in Public Health, Global Health, Economics, and Nursing, which lead to great jobs and careers. Parents should encourage their children to create a career path that brings them joy as well as a paycheck.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes there will be more jobs in non-STEM fields over the next decade. Health care, public health, construction, real estate and other fields are bounding.
Chores/Jobs: As parents, we would like to rescue and complete our kids’ activities and chores. However, it is an excellent time for teens to develop and mature and develop independent living skills. Managing simple tasks like laundry, cooking, or running errands for the house once they start driving, teaches them accountability, responsibility and time management.
Limit Setting/Boundaries: By setting up rules, boundaries, and standards of behavior, you give a teen a sense of stability and predictability. Regular family meetings and explaining the benefits and consequences of following rules and boundaries would help. It also helps kids internalize the concept of delayed gratification. Of course, there will be push-backs, yet this practice is integral in a time of chaos.
Relationships with our teens provide a template for relating with people when they step outside our homes. Developmental relationships are connections that help young become their best selves.