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ADOLESCENTS; WHY THEY ACT THE WAY THEY DO

ADOLESCENTS; WHY THEY ACT THE WAY THEY DO

During our AWE – THE EVENT with adolescents, we gave them a video to watch [I encourage you to take out time to also watch the video 😊] by Absolutely Flawless an amazing YouTube Channel that is home to the best big wave surfing compilations in the world. You can imagine the thrill our teens felt. At the end of this particular video, we then asked how many of them would love to go on a similar excursion even if they do not get to participate in those extreme sports. As you can imagine, all hands went up with many yelling out their desire to participate rather than being just spectators. My team and I obviously had a really good laugh. We then went on to ask if they believed that their parents would sign a consent form releasing them to go on such an excursion. Many screamed “yes!” in unison with only a handful doubting their parents’ willingness to release them on such a tour. So, here I am asking you as parents, “if you have gone through the video above, will you truly release your adolescent to partake in such dangerous activities?” I know I most definitely will not. And all the teachers present at each of those sessions voiced my reservations, something the students found difficult to relate to until we began taking them on a tour of their physiology.

As parents of adolescents, I am definite that you try to help your son or daughter make good decisions. You provide guidance. You give them facts. You explain the pros and cons. You talk to other parents to glean wisdom. You think about how you felt when you were their age and the consequences you suffered when you made poor decisions. You think you have finally set your adolescent up for success with all of this deliberateness. But then you find out that your adolescent has taken none of your advice and has done exactly what they wanted to do all along! Moms and dads, while this is frustrating and upsetting, there is a physiological explanation as to why they behave this way. The explanation in one sentence would be that a significant part of your adolescents’ brain, the prefrontal cortex, is undeveloped.

Interestingly, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25! This is why, even after you explain the dangers and consequences, your adolescent might still go on a moral tumble making very poor choices. His prefrontal cortex isn’t helping him, and so he all too often makes impulsive, “Yaaaaay, this sounds like fun,” decisions.

What is the Prefrontal Cortex?

The prefrontal cortex is typically referred to as the “CEO of the brain” – It is the seat of logical reasoning. Another way to think about it is like the brakes on a car. The thing with adolescents is that they get the fuel (the impulses), but they have a faulty brake system (an undeveloped prefrontal cortex). You know how disastrous this is when you’re above a 120km/hr speed!

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for:

  1. Being Proactive:

The developed prefrontal cortex as seen in the adult brain would reason, “This week is quite busy for me; I better not schedule anything else.” but the undeveloped adolescent prefrontal cortex makes decisions without taking other factors into cognizance as seen in this scenario;

Your adolescent asks you if he can go to two parties this week and a Thursday night out ‘with the crew’. He has two tests on Friday, a literature review is due, and a big architecture project is underway. Obviously, he is not proactive and planning ahead.

 

  1. Emotional Intelligence:

The developed prefrontal cortex as seen in the adult brain would reason, “I know you had a rough day at work and your daughter is trying to get you to play a card game with her. You feel like yelling at her, but don’t do that, control yourself, she just wants to play.” but the undeveloped adolescent brain processes things this way;

You’re making dinner, and your daughter walks past. She had a tough day at school. You ask her if she wants a salad. She yells back, “Stop stressing me, MOM!” and slams the door. She is not managing her emotions or delaying her responses.

 

  1. Accurately Interpreting Moods and Body Language

Here is how a developed prefrontal cortex works in this situation. You’re to meet up with a friend at a restaurant after work. As soon as you sight her, you can tell she is exhausted and discouraged before she even opens her mouth to say anything. Let’s take a look at the disposition of the undeveloped prefrontal cortex:

You’ve had a long day. You walk in the door and tell your son that you are exhausted and need help with dishwashing. Because he is 14, he does not accurately read or understand the emotions of others; so he says, “Mom, I always help you. Why are you so mad?” when you are not mad at all—you just want help with the dishes.

 

  1. Self-Awareness

The developed prefrontal cortex helps in self-awareness. You come home from work and snap at your daughter. Twenty minutes later, you apologize because you realized that you were tired and took out your frustration on her. Here is an example of the behavioural pattern from an undeveloped prefrontal cortex;

You are trying to have a discussion with your son. You calmly ask about his weekend plans. He gets all worked up and responds, “I don’t know, Mom!” You ask one more question, and he blows up. You ask, “Why are you so upset?” He yells, “I’m not upset; you’re the one who’s upset!” He is not aware of how he comes across.

 

  1. Moral Inner Compass

This is something that needs to be deliberately cultivated in the adolescent as his prefrontal cortex matures. The developed prefrontal cortex responds in this manner; You get pulled over for speeding, and the police officer asks you if it’s an emergency. You hesitate for a second and then say no because truly it was not an emergency. Here’s an alternate example for the undeveloped prefrontal cortex of the adolescent;

Your daughter wants to go to the party because a guy she likes is there. You ask her if the parents are going to be home. She lies and says yes. She does not feel bad that she lied. She only feels bad if she gets caught.

Even though your adolescents think that they can make grown-up decisions on their own, they can’t. This is because there are some major gaps developmentally. Your adolescents need you to help them think through all of their actions and consequences. This does not in any way mean that you overhaul their decision-making process. That will be very counterproductive. You manage this by ensuring that they talk through every decision with you but rather than give them shortcut answers, ask them questions that will force them to think on their own about the consequences (good or bad) of whatever decision they choose to make.

 

Summary:

Don’t let the grown-up body fool you. Your adolescent is still in a transitory phase of life. They are a work in progress and their brains are still developing. They need your guidance and protection throughout these critical years. Even though they’d never own up to needing such.

 

For more details on this article, you should take our course here. You can audit it for free!

 

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USING THE S.T.O.P. PRINCIPLE TO DEAL WITH UPSETTING SITUATIONS

USING THE S.T.O.P. PRINCIPLE TO DEAL WITH UPSETTING SITUATIONS

It had been a pretty hectic week for Mrs K, Helen’s mom. She ran two shifts and still had to pick up groceries before heading home. While in transit, she began to think about her other problems. The rent was almost due and her payment had been delayed due to an issue with her bank account. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong literally. Her daughter, Helen recently began to act up. She had been very defiant of late and they almost always ended the day with heavy confrontations where hurtful words were exchanged. She sighed as she put her key in the knob. Then, she got a call just as she was stepping into the house. It was from Helen’s class teacher. Helen had not been turning in assignments and the few she did turn in, her performance was woeful. She had a pending project due in two weeks, yet no draft had been submitted. This was totally unlike Helen so, her teacher decided to give her mom a call to clarify things. Of course, she thanked her daughter’s teacher for the information and ended the call. As she rushed to Helen’s room to give her a piece of her mind, she decided to practice the S.T.O.P. principle as she had learnt from one of our training sessions. 

Life is full of twists and turns. Some days, it’s all exciting and other days it’s gloomy. What do you do when life decided to hand you the latter? Where everything that can go wrong is going wrong? How do you respond to such situations? The answer is simple, utilize the S.T.O.P. Principle. The S.T.O.P. principle is the acronym for

  • Slow down
  • be Thankful
  • Observe your emotions
  • Plan next steps

This is an important principle to adopt if you ever want to become an emotionally intelligent parent who is not ruled by emotions. When something happens that jolts you out of your comfort zone, the biological response is usually to react not respond. We define reacting as responding through emotions rather than logically thinking through situations (respond). When there is a trigger (or sensor), signals get to the amygdala first before the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is the seat of emotions and it is responsible for every emotional reaction you give. When you transfer aggression to someone else, it is because you did not give your prefrontal cortex enough time to receive the signal before responding, hence, your reaction. 

Helen’s mom held back and decided to slow (calm) down, which is the first step in STOP. She refused to let her amygdala control her so not immediately reacting gave her time to gather her thoughts. Now, this time interval will vary for different people depending on the severity of the situation and (most importantly) how well they’ve trained themselves to respond in a logical manner above emotional responses. When you engage the first S in the STOP principle, you could meditate, or count from one to ten in your mind or take a stroll (away from the object of stress) or listen to music. Just do something relaxing. I try to watch a movie if my situation permits. 

After ensuring that you do not respond on impulse, the next step is to be thankful. Gratitude is a powerful calming mechanism It helps in the release of all your happy hormones. When you step into an aura of gratitude, your situation pales in comparison to the mountainous problem that was once before you. Gratitude infuses your heart with love. When you express gratitude, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin (they are the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for your emotions), and they make you feel calm. They enhance your mood immediately, making you feel happy from the inside out!

When you are done practising the S and T, the next step is to observe your emotions. Are you calm enough to make a rational decision? If your answer is no, simply repeat the first two steps. But if your answer is yes, then it’s time to plan your next move. So, what did Helen’s mom do? She simply went back to her room to vent off her anger. When she was done, cool, calm and collected, she went back to engage Helen. They had such an intimate conversation and she found out that Helen had been depressed lately which was why she skipped assignments, had emotional meltdowns, among other things. If her mom had continued with the exchange of hurtful words during their ‘usual’ times of heated arguments, Helen would have become a suicidal victim thinking (wrongly) that no one loved her. This is the simple yet profound way the S.T.O.P. principle can make you not just an emotionally intelligent parent but an emotionally intelligent human.

 

 

If this article helped you in any way, do write to us at info@tsageandtbog.com and don’t forget to leave a comment

 

 

 
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