Adolescents, Cavemen and the Teenage Brain

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?

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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Bec | Mumma Tells

    This is such a great post, Martine. I often found myself discussing this very dilemma with parents in my teaching days. I’m with you – I wholeheartedly believe that building the foundations for a relationship starts early. Encouraging communication, but not demanding it is so important with temperamental teens.
    P.s. – It was lovely to meet you on Saturday. Brief, but lovely nonetheless!

    1. Martine

      Thanks Bec, yes it is a fine line we must walk between wanting to keep communication open and not smothering! Great to meet you too 🙂

  2. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me

    My parents didn’t have to put up with us three girls as teenagers as we were at boarding school, hence they thought we were great – little did they know. I have all of this ahead of me, lucky I can learn from you how to make some smart choices!

    1. Martine

      Well maybe your parents had the right idea! Sometimes ignorance is bliss!

  3. Kate

    First time here from ibot and I’ll be back, thanks for a great post! I was a middle school teacher and currently parent of 2 boys under 2 so I’m not fighting these battles right now but remember my own vividly…yuck. I don’t wish another me on any parent!

    1. Martine

      Thanks for visiting Kate…Im sure you weren’t that bad

  4. iSophie

    Argh! Lost internet and it ate my comment. Having 4 boys I can certainly relate to this. It is a big worry for me, I am scared they will be really difficult as teenagers. I hope these bonding and nuturing foundations will really help! #teamIBOT

    1. Martine

      I am sure they will certainly help 🙂

  5. Mark @

    I’ve been a boy so can speak with experience. I have 2 sons so can speak with exasperation. The greatest ting about the Man Cave is the entrance and exit points are though the same door.

    All boys / men enter the man cave at some point. Some only briefly. Others get lost, bump into furniture and break things but eventually we all find our way out.

    Every now and again we might need to revisit and that’s OK. Mostly we know when it’s time to leave but just to be on the safe side wrap a rope around our waist just in case we need a little tug every now and again

    1. Martine

      Thanks Mark, love this comment and glad to have it backed up with experience and exasperation!

  6. EssentiallyJess

    We’re only a few years away, and I’m preparing myself now, working on building relationship with a fervour I haven’t done before. I want to make sure that those communication doors are well and truly open by the time we get there!
    As a teenager, I was pretty great, though very independent. I only got crazy once I hit 18 and the possibilities of life enchanted me. I’m not scared of the teenage years with my kids. I’m leaning more towards cautious optimism. Depending on what day of the week it is though 😉

    1. Martine

      Cautious optimism sounds like a good plan Jess 🙂

  7. Hello there, my teen boys are 16 and 14 and they need their caves. They’re lucky to have a room each and I tend to let them get on with it a lot of the time. The trick for we parents of teenagers is to make sure we are fully available when they DO want to communicate. I still have the twins who are 7 and love me madly and want to be with me… I look at my wee Rusty Rocket and honestly think; “Well, it’ll never happen to you… you’ll always be my sweet little darling.’

    Who will I cuddle when those twins do become teens!??

    By the way, Mr14 and I have a great time watching Gruen and Change Your Brain and we’ve started the first series of Breaking Bad… we don’t talk much, but we share the experience and that’s really good.

    1. Martine

      That is so true Seana about being around when they do want to communicate. And I think just sitting and watching something together is still a great way of connecting. Sometimes I watch stuff I’m really not very interested in just to sit with one of my boys.

  8. Wendy Parks

    My teenage step son has started needing some cave time, and it’s great to read that this is normal!
    This is such a great, reassuring, helpful post.
    Thanks for the insights.

  9. Emma Fahy Davis

    Boys are a foreign species for me, I have five girls, but the thought of having five hormonal teenage girls terrifies me so much that I think *I* might want to retreat to a cave!

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