Teenage development and emotional resilience

If you remember or have seen the Harry Enfield ‘Kevin’ sketch (available on youtube.com) where his character Kevin, turns from a polite tween into a monosyllabic typical teenager at the strike of midnight on his thirteenth birthday, you’ll have an idea of what being a teenager entails.

The teenage brain
The teenage brain goes through huge changes during puberty. The brain rewires during this stage to increase efficiency. The frontal cortex (used for important cognitive processes and higher functioning) keeps growing and developing until we are around 23 years old. 

‘Pruning’ allows the elimination of the weakest synapses (junctions between nerve cells) developed during childhood so that higher function ability can be developed. Myelination (fatty insulation) is the process where the remaining neurons are able to talk to each other with coordination and speed. During this time of change, chaos and normal functioning will be affected. Perhaps the ‘typical’ teenage behaviour of changes in attention, mood, emotions, thought processes and social interactions. Major psychiatric disorders may become apparent during this change. Added to this are: transitions to senior school (with different school work and making new friends) and the changes in hormones being released into the bloodstream. So, all in all, a time of great change developmentally and physically. 

So, how can we help our teens turn into well-rounded adults?

Emotional resilience
Teenagers need to learn to be able to cope with life’s stressful situations and be able to manage their feelings rationally. Building up self-esteem and confidence are essential in giving our teenagers life skills to deal with any issues they come across. 

Talk to your teen and make time for them. They may not want to talk when you do, so take their lead and talk when they want to. Listen to what is going on with their lives. Our teenagers think they know everything and do not want to hear advice from parents. Stick with it. You may overhear them telling their friends exactly what you have said to them a few days before. 

Technology is a huge part of growing up today. Be aware of social media and how it affects teenagers. Social media can be a good and not so good medium. Teach your teenagers to deal with any issues that may arise. Schools have a wealth of information for parents, so make use of this resource.

Model respectful relationships and let teenagers know that we can’t always get on together, but we have the choice to work out our differences. Be open about sexual relationships (when appropriate) and teach them that it is normal and healthy to engage in a sexual relationship when they are mentally and physically ready. 

Boundaries and responsibility
Teenagers need boundaries and some boundaries may need to be reassessed or compromised. We need to be able to ‘cut them some slack’ and encourage them to meet us half-way in decisions. Teenagers need to understand that we trust and want them to grow and develop and they also need to load/unload the dishwasher when asked! 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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