Part VIII of the series on Nature’s Parenting Process by Joseph Gauld

Concept # 4: Take Hold as we Let Go – part 2 

Group Of Teenage Friends Having Fun In Snowy Landscape

In middle school, young teenagers begin to seek the approval of their peers. This is the first step toward their independence. We parents must realize this is an integral part of our children’s development. This is their challenge. 

At the same time, because of recent discoveries in adolescent brain research, we must take a deeper look at the responsibilities we need to take hold of in order to guide them through this critical growth period.

Researchers are now recognizing that the adolescent brain experiences “tumultuous change.” The research shows the adolescent brain is as different from the young adult brain as it is from the child and infant brain. It is now known that adolescents are not just going through a different hormonal stage, but a different thought stage as well. The risk-taking part of the adolescent brain develops first – before their decision-making frontal cortex. We need to realize adolescents are going to be impulsive and often make poor decisions, and thus we need to have more patience during this difficult period of development.

That their frontal cortex, which involves judgment, self-control, and emotional regulation, is still under construction tells us our adolescents do not yet think, feel, and act like we do. So we need to spend much more time listening to them than talking, particularly to their feelings, not just their words. Remember, talking is not their strong point. We need to learn how to draw their feelings as well as their words out of them.

Researchers  tell us between ages 11 to 19, our children’s brains are creating “ruts” that may last a lifetime. Their brains are experiencing a “use it or lose it” phase. If they are actively involved in academics, sports, or music, those are the ruts being created. If they are a TV couch potato or constantly playing video games or passively hanging out on the street, those are the ruts being created.

So it our job as parents to make sure our children are rigorously and productively challenged during this critical adolescent period. We are our child’s primary teacher and we teach primarily by example, taking hold of challenges in our own life and working through them the best we can.

Our children’s primary task once they enter the teen years is to begin to develop an identity independent from us. They naturally seek to identify with their peers – in appearance, likes, dislikes, what’s cool, un-cool, etc. Since their peers are also seeking an identity, without supervision from parents, we are essentially seeing the blind leading the blind.

But our supervision is difficult because their interest in their peers will usually come first. We should not take this personally; it is a natural part of their growth. However, we must ensure – gently but firmly – that family remains the number 1 priority for them during this period. How do we do it?  We coach them, not try to control them.

We recognize our teenager does not think like us; we learn to listen and communicate more thoughtfully. We become more patient with impulsivity and more tolerant of mistakes. We are more aware of the possibility of addictions. We are taking a larger view of the entire adolescent challenge.

All of this will reinforce our teenager’s trust in our guidance during adolescence – the practice field of life – which is often dominated by peer pressure. However, the next stage of human growth is motivated by the desire to stand out. So our teenagers face a difficult struggle between seeking acceptance from others vs seeking to satisfy their deeper motivations to achieve.

It is tragic to realize how many adults today still remain stuck on pleasing others and fitting in. If we are to truly realize our unique potential in life, we must honor our own spirit and inner self.

This is why our teenager’s trust in our guidance is so important during this critical adolescent stage. Our confidence in their deeper selves as they face challenges will help them look inward not outward for fulfillment. 

Next week: Parent By Example – part 1