SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
TEENAGERS – they must be the most complex creatures on earth. Even more difficult than a hormonal pregnant woman. And every parent I have met asks the same question at some stage - where did my lovely /sweet/funny baby go to and who is this stranger in my house?
Just for the record, I write from my own experience as a mum of two teens (one finished but still acts like a teen and the other going through it), as an ex- secondary school teacher and as a life coach. (And having been a teenager myself; though a long time ago now. Lol). Hence, everything I have learned has been through my own research and experience – books and internet and talking to and coaching teens and parents. So if you don’t agree or like what I say – go online and google the topic. There is a plethoria of mind boggling information there for anyone to choose from.
Being mindful of the limitations of what I can write in one article, I may not be able to cover every aspect of teenagerdom. However, hopefully this will give you a basis to start your own investigative journey for the good of your teen and your family.
Teens, you can’t live with them and apparently you can’t shoot them either. (It’s illegal). So we learn to walk around them and always approach them slowly and cautiously. And it can be exhausting.
Incidentally, those parents who have lovely polite perfect teens can stop reading here and just go make a coffee and sit and feel smug. You are one of the rare lucky ones. Now go away.
WHERE DID MY SWEET LOVING CHILD GO TO?
For the moment he/she is gone, I’m afraid. There is no point in harking back to that rosy time when your child looked up at you with adoring eyes and believed everything you said. Mention Santa and the tooth fairy now and all you probably get is derision and eye rolling.
The good news is they do come back, but not for many years yet.
TO SLEEP PERCHANCE TO DREAM
So what causes the almost overnight change?
It starts with the ever increasing need for more sleep. Remember when you would groan when you heard that little voice at 5am every
morning that pulled you out of bed. Weekend lie-ins were something you vaguely remember from your single days. Now you have to drag them out of bed or they would sleep all day.
The body’s internal clocks undergo a huge shift during puberty. Your teen’s sleep cycle shifts as they start to produce less melatonin in the evening, than an adult would. Melatonin is a hormone that controls your sleep patterns. In adults melatonin levels are up in the evening and low in the morning. In teens melatonin is high late in the evening and still high in the morning. This biological change explains why your teen is more alert and sociable later in the day onwards, yet can barely string a sentence together first thing in the morning, when the melatonin is still high in their body. It’s also known as delayed sleep syndrome. This puts teens at odds with early morning schedules and school etc. Schools are now well aware of the almost impossible task of getting teens to focus in the early morning classes however to this day no school that I am aware of has taken the leap to shift secondary education to a later or afternoon schedule. It will take one hell of a brave and maverick school to make that adjustment. Which is a pity.
Research shows that as little as 15% of teens get enough sleep – this affects their school performance, behaviour and moods dramatically. As school starts so early here in the ME we have even more of a struggle.
It is really important to get to know your teens sleep habits and to try and curb them to at least loosely fit the mold. Late nights and early mornings means most teens are working on a sleep deficit for five days a week. We think we are being kind by letting them sleep in as long as they want on weekends but that just maintains a completely disruptive pattern wherein the body cannot commit to any kind of regulation. The best is to allow your teen a couple of extra hours sleep at weekends and maintain a steady bedtime regulation so that by the time school comes around again they are not completely out of sync. During the long holiday period aim to reinstate the correct sleep schedule a least a week before school starts. This is easier if your teen is about to step into puberty as you can start as you mean to go on. It’s something to be aware of if you have a mid teen. In which case explain to them how their sleep pattern has changed and why it’s necessary to maintain boundaries of acceptable sleep times. If you suddenly bring in a rule of bedtime by 9pm during the week you may very well encounter strong resistance. Recent research shows that even a relatively low light focused on the pupils reduces the levels of melatonin. So the use of screen time should be avoided at least one hour before bedtime.
MOODS – HOW SHARPER THAN A SERPENT’S TOOTH IT IS TO HAVE A THANKLESS CHILD.
Shakespeare’s King Lear had his share of thankless children. Whatever he did for them it was never enough. However bad our children are hopefully they aren’t plotting to kill us.
Yet sometimes teens seem to treat their parents as if they are their worst enemy. Scornful responses, sarcasm, grunts, constant challenging are the order of the day.
Teen brains are a thing unto themselves. On entering puberty not only do they have the shifting biological clock; in addition, part of their brain pretty much stops working in order to deal with the huge changes going on and the hormones racing around their body.
Teens cannot help being moody and sulky, because they are still developing social skills and don’t always have the full mental hardware to see the world from someone else’s point of view. They are also at this stage, unable to fully comprehend consequences.
This does not mean parents should accept bad behaviour from their teens by any means. On the contrary, it is more important now than ever that they learn about responsibility, morality and respect. This will set them up for the future and the outside world.
So what is going on inside their heads that causes all this disruption.
There are lots of hormonal and chemical changes afoot. The brain grows and morphs through childhood/puberty and adulthood in different ways and not all parts grow and develop at the same time or rate. In adolescence some areas of the brain mature and build connections quicker and others disconnect. Simply put – the limbic system, which controls emotions and long term memory develops quickly. The prefrontal cortex (PFC), situated behind the forehead does not. In fact it pretty much stops working. The PFC controls decision making and complex mental activities. So in a normal adult the limbic system may advise to fight or flee in a situation and the PFC would assess any decision and keep unwise urges in check.
In adolescents, the limbic system is working alone without checks from the PFC.
Testosterone isn’t just a male hormone, it’s present in both genders, although more in boys, and drives brain changes. During puberty it rises.
What is interesting about testosterone is the more the adolescent has, the more control they have over their emotions. One study on 14 year olds asked to perform series of simple tasks showed teens with high levels of testosterone were more able to tap into their PFC to rein in emotions and regulate their deep brain limbic system. Teens with low levels of testosterone tended to rely on their limbic systems more and responded emotionally and immaturely: more like that of younger children.
That research involved a simple task of responding to emoji-like characters. Imagine what it must be like for a teenager having to cope with bullying, parents divorcing, impending exams etc. It’s a complete minefield of emotions for them.
Incidentally, high quality sleep and regular exercise help boost testosterone levels. Another good reason to regulate sleep times and get them exercising.
Enough with the science! I hear you yell.
But do you see where all this leads to with your teen?
Adolescent + emotions in overdrive, (limbic systems working alone) with little or no ability to make logical or reasoned assessment of a stressful situation, (PFC redundant) add in the overwhelming desire to fight/ argue it out or run to their room and sulk/ cry like the world is ending, plus lack of sleep = your teen.
And that body full of pent up emotions pouring out of every orifice is also unable to understand consequences and won’t until well into their 20s. (Apparently it’s 24 for boys). Hence the ‘ Oh my god I can’t believe he/she has done this again after what happened the last time’ constant cry from bewildered parents.
WHAT IS A PARENT SUPPOSED TO DO?
Just as with any area of parenting there is no hand book, no definitive guide to rearing your particular child. There are only guidelines and it is a matter of trial and error or knowing what you think would work. However be prepared to step out of the familiar zone you have been accustomed to and try new things. Constant communication during the teen years is vital. Your teen may exhibit all the signs of pushing you away, wanting independence, more freedom, more
rights. This doesn’t mean he/she is ready for it. Also it’s worth pointing out, the pushing away thing works only one way – from their side only. Really and truly that is the unwritten golden rule. They are going to leave home. They want more freedom from you. However the reverse does not work. You have to be there for them at all times, be ready to listen and if you are lucky they might even ask you for advice. Why? Because you are the mature adult and after reading this you now know why your teen does what he/she does. If you pull away from them, in their eyes that’s a betrayal. It’s tantamount to abandonment. They can’t articulate that. They probably don’t even consciously think it. Just consider the impact on any child you know after a divorce or when one parent leaves the family home. That’s when a parent literally leaves but I’m also referring to any emotional departure from your teen. Remember they are walking talking bags of emotions, they can smell emotional withdrawal like a vampire smells garlic, with the same response ensuing.
Keep reminding yourself that you are still the most important influence in your teen’s life. The way you behave and deal with things will have a life long impact on them.
Become familiar with the things that are important to them. You don’t have to like what they like but know enough to talk about it.
Talk to them about impulsive reactions to things and how they could have done it differently to have a better outcome. This helps them to develop the neural pathways from the limbic system (emotions) to the PFC (reason). Avoid sarcasm ( they can always do it better anyway) and criticism at all times.
Remind them they are resourceful and competent but still developing human beings and it’s ok to make mistakes as long as they learn from them.
Remind them you are always there for them and will be forever and ever. Even when they grow up and have their own kids.
If they do come to you with a problem ask them do they want you to respond or just listen. This is important as they don’t always want us to fix problems, sometimes they just want to have a rant or speak their mind.
If verbal communication is difficult try writing notes and slipping it under their bedroom door, or text them your thoughts. This gives both of you time to think about what you want to say. Be careful what you write as once it’s received it could be used against you. So always write when calm and re-read before sending. And remember, how
people interpret meaning in texts/ emails depends on the mood they are in when they read it.
Writing notes worked really well for me and my son. He was the classic grumpy, unapproachable, often ungrateful teen. There were times when I would look at my son and struggle to find a positive thought. Then I would feel guilty for the rest of the day. I was aware I loved my son, however I did not love his behaviour. I had to consciously separate the two in order to muddle through those dark years. Until one day he came down the stairs with a strange look on his face. I suddenly realized he was smiling at me and it nearly floored me when he said ‘Morning Mum’.
That was when we got our boy back. But remolded and reformed. And bigger.
Your teen today is tomorrows adult and the next generation that will form the society of the future. Imagine meeting your teen in 10/20 years from now. What sort of person would you like them to be? Irresponsible and immature? Unforgiving and self righteous?
Responsible and mature. Kind and loving. Contributing positively to society?
That future adult is there for you to shape now. He/she is literally in your hands. It’s up to you.
ICF Certified Life Coach.
I’m also a mum of two beautiful people, partner to an amazing man, cat rescuer, baker, quilter, photographer, reader, ex-teacher, aspiring writer, lover of good food and I’m told I make great coffee.
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