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Good Guidance With Silke Hetherington & Jenny Morris

  ​Good Guidance
with Silke Hetherington & Jenny Morris
 What Our Kids Need From Us
(adapted from an article my Sue Shellenberger)
The teenage years can be mystifying for parents. Sensible children turn scatter-brained or start having wild mood swings. Formerly level-headed adolescents ride in cars with dangerous drivers or take other foolish risks.
A flood of new research offers explanations for some of these mysteries. Brain imaging adds another kind of data that can help test hypotheses and corroborate teens’ own accounts of their behaviour and emotions. Once seen as a time for parents to step back, adolescence is increasingly viewed as an opportunity to stay tuned in and emotionally connected. The research makes it possible to identify four important phases in the development of intellectual, social and emotional skills that most teens will experience at certain ages. Here is a guide to the latest findings:
Ages 11 to 12
As puberty takes centre stage, tweens can actually slip backward in some basic skills. Spatial learning and certain kinds of reasoning may decline at this stage, studies show. Parts of the brain responsible for prospective memory, or remembering what you are supposed to do in the future, are still maturing. This may be why a teen may seem clueless if asked to give the teacher a note before school.
Coaching tweens in organizational skills can help. Parents can help build memory cues into daily routines, such as placing a school bag by the front door, or helping set reminders on a mobile or using apps aimed at managing tasks.
Parents can help foster sound decision-making, thinking through pros and cons and considering other viewpoints. Children who know by age 10 or 11 how to make sound decisions tend to exhibit less anxiety and sadness, get in fewer fights and have fewer problems with friends at ages 12 and 13.
By remaining warm and supportive, parents may be able to influence the way their teen’s brain develops at this stage.
Ages 13 to 14
Parents should brace themselves for what is often a wildly emotional passage. Young teens become sensitive to peers’ opinions and react strongly to them. Yet the social skills they need to figure out what their peers really think won’t be fully mature for years, making this a confusing and potentially miserable time.
At about this time, teens’ response to stress goes haywire, sparking more door-slamming and tears. The impact of social stress is peaking around this time.
Parts of the brain most vulnerable to stress are still maturing, so coping strategies teens use at this stage can become ingrained in the brain’s circuitry as lifelong patterns. Psychologists advise teaching and modelling self-soothing skills, such as meditation, exercise or listening to music.
Coach teens on friendship skills, including how to read their peers’ expressions and body language. Encourage them to choose friends based on shared interests, not popularity, and to dump friends who are unkind. Teach them how to repair friendships after a fight by apologizing, making amends or compromising.
Family support is a stress buffer. Teens whose families provide companionship, problem-solving and emotional support are less likely to become depressed after exposure to severe stress.
Ages 15 to 16
Teens’ appetite for risk-taking peaks at this age. The brain’s reward receptors are blossoming, amplifying adolescents’ response to dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This makes thrill-seeking more desirable than it will ever be again.
Normal fears of danger are temporarily suppressed during adolescence, a shift scientists believe is rooted in an evolutionary need to leave home and explore new habitats.
The ability to make and keep good friends is especially useful at this stage. Teens with friends they trust and count on for support are less likely to engage in risky behaviour. Parents can still make a difference: Encourage healthy friendships; show warmth and support.
The closeness to parents included having parents’ respect and help talking through problems, and an absence of arguing or yelling.
Ages 17 to 18
Benefits of the teenage brain’s ability to change and develop are evident at this stage. Some teens show increases in IQ. Older teens can put the brakes on emotions and risk-taking; their problem-solving and strategy-planning skills are developing. They might need help deciphering ambiguous people and situations.
In older teens, the parts of the prefrontal cortex responsible for judgment and decision-making typically are developed enough to serve as a brake on runaway emotions and risk-taking. Executive-function skills, such as solving problems and planning strategies, continue to develop at least through age 20.
Social skills and related brain regions are still maturing, At this stage, teens are better at noticing how others feel and showing empathy. They still lack the ability to decipher people’s motives and attitudes in complex social situations, though, such as figuring out why a friend might suddenly change the subject during a conversation at a party.
So, despite feeling like these years are a mystery, we need to remain connected with our kids Guide them through each stage using the information we are learning all the time about the brain and how its development affects growing our kids into happy, healthy adults.