I have written before about the teenage brain and the changes that are going on in those strangely wired little heads. I watched this week as my ‘almost teenager’ son walked outside with ghetto blaster on his shoulder, bouncing a basketball ready to shoot some hoops and wondered how all that happened so quickly. Yes I know they don’t call them ghetto blasters anymore but it was pretty loud and the music certainly sounded like something out of the ghettos!
When hearing of others talk of grumpy teens, sleeping all morning, offering grunts instead of syllables, I would look lovingly at my baby and toddlers who would run to me when I walked in the door and shower me with kisses and I would rejoice in the fact that there is no way my kids could turn out like that! They are active and social and happy. It must be something their parents did wrong.
As I creep closer to that age and with all manner of experience talking and counselling youth, I have come to recognise that there is a period of time where they may well sink into ‘teenagerness’ and be all too cool for school…. and more than likely mum. It doesn’t happen to all kids, but the behaviours of some does seem to be based more on science than on any parenting practises.
I recently spoke to a guy who is extremely successful after a few turbulent years in his twenties and he talked to me about what it is like for a boy growing up in those teenage years. He described to me the feeling of needing a cave. Of wanting to hibernate every now and then and just be by himself. He wasnt in any danger mentally or emotionally. His mum was a wonderful mum and the person he now attributes his every success. But there were times he said, “when I just wanted her to stop asking me all the time how I was, and let me live in my cave for a bit. I never hibernated for whole winters, so it was never a depression or anything. It was just a need to hang out on my own or with my friends without having to report to her every feeling and thought.”
He said I should let parents allow their kids that time in the cave if they need it.
I know having 5 boys the chances of losing at least a few to this cave is probably inevitable. But what I have learnt, and that I am hoping will help me out, is that the work we are putting in now, the boundaries, the communication, the role modelling, the love , and the security provided will let them know that we will always be there. I don’t need to go in to their rooms as soon as they get home from school and ask a million questions about their day. I do need to listen when they have something to say. I do need to ask questions, but I need to take their cues about the right times to do so. Sometimes I can ask my boys something and I get nothing. Other times I can’t shut them up. I need to ride with that. I can still insist on making them join us for family dinners and events, but I will realise they need some space too. I will also try not get hurt by their desire to spend more time with friends than with us.
The teenager’s brain and body is going through all manner of social and emotional changes as well as physical and cognitive ones too. The brain that is all emotion and irrationality, risk-taking and spontanaity is about the most developed part. The part that is rational, in tune with consequences and all controlled behaviour is about the last thing to catch up. The teenage brain however is ripe for parents to play a role in its opportunity to develop and evolve, but in a way that doesn’t involve ‘taking over’. It needs some independence, some responsibility and an element of risk-taking. As parents we can let them know that we are always there, keep up with our boundaries, connect with them on a level that suits their needs, but still allow them the freedom to seek opportunity, experience and independence.
Of course some families get through these years unscathed, but just in case that isn’t me….I am happy to give myself the heads up….and cut myself some slack when it’s not all roses!
What do you remember about your teenage years? Or if you have teenagers, have their been any differences between how they coped with this time of their lives?