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Five to Thrive Teenagers

Building Blocks for Healthy Brains

Everyone wants the best for their teenager; neuroscience shows us that you can do five simple things, every day, to nourish their growing brain:

Your Teenager's Brain

Adolescence is the period between childhood and adulthood

This stage of life is marked by increased learning abilities, the importance of social groups and friends, and the want and need for more independence. The changes in an adolescent brain and the associated increase in risk-taking activities can be difficult for some adults to understand.

Recent discoveries in neuroscience have shown that our brains change rapidly during our teenage years and continue to develop until our mid-twenties. Every teenager has different life experiences, and there are lots of factors that influence how someone feels and behaves.

All the emotional support that you give your teenager will help them to make strong connections in the neocortex (the ‘upstairs brain’). These connections help them to learn about:

  • Managing their emotions & behaviour (self-regulation)
  • Dealing with challenges (resilience)
  • The way others see things (empathy)

Understanding some typical teenager behaviours

'I feel so tired'

There are many reasons why a teenager feels tired. From lack of sleep, too much screen time, worrying about friends, exams or they may be being bullied. A teenager’s brain prunes (cuts back) which means reshaping brain connections to allow for more growth. The brain cuts back any unnecessary connections or unused connections. This happens most at night time and is one of the reasons your teenager needs more sleep.

'I don’t know which subjects to take'

Your Teenager is expected to make lots of decisions about their life, studies and future careers. These can be difficult choices to make when your child’s brain is ‘pruning’. Research also shows the decision-making part of the brain is far from being fully developed. Did you know the part of the brain most affected by pruning is the pre-frontal cortex? This area of the brain is responsible for decision making, planning and reflecting on any consequences of actions taken.

It is important to know that the brain goes on changing and developing all your life. Even though your teenager may face some difficult challenges the good news is that your teenager's brain will develop the resilience to cope with bad experiences when you help them through the challenges within a loving and respectful relationship.

Your teenager is developing greater independence and learning ‘right from wrong’ but sometimes they show strong feelings and emotions and they will act without thinking. This is because they are still being influenced by the lower parts of the brain (the 'downstairs brain'). This might occur when you say they have to be home by a certain time, or when you disagree with choices they are making for themselves.

Every time you respond in a calm and loving way, your teenager is learning from you - it takes time, patience and connection.

Have you ever heard of the phrase 'connection before correction'? You can do this when your teenager is distressed by seeing things from their point of view. First, tell them calmly that you can see that they are frustrated/angry/sad and you know how difficult that is; this helps you to connect. Explain clearly why they can’t have or do something and finally support them with problem-solving so that they may handle things differently next time. This will help your teenager to think for themselves and to be able to cope.

When your teenager understands how their brain and body works and what it is telling them, it becomes easier for them to cope with feelings & emotions.

Top tips for supporting your child:

  • Respond with compassion & connection
  • Engage in a way that supports problem-solving
  • Relax with your child to calm the body and mind
  • Play and be active with them
  • Talk about feelings, emotions, actions & mind/body connections

Share this video with your child. Dan Siegel describes the adolescent brain and how it reshapes during the teenage years.

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