NEW thinking on the adolescent brain – this might help you help her learn independence

Developing independence and responsibility is part of growing up. You know this. But it can be hard to remember when independence means disagreeing with you, giving you “attitude,” pushing the boundaries you set.  It can be scary when you see a young person taking risks.  But this is normal, and it will pass.

Key thought: Lack of experience with novel–new–adult behavior poses a much greater risk to adolescents than structural deficits in brain maturation.

Practical take-home: Helping teens explore new things helps them mature–and shows that you care.

Jump to:

Teen Brain
Deep Dive links to research
Ideas Explore without risks
 

Meet the Teenage Brain

Experiences of the early years are not destiny.

Teen years are just as important as early childhood when it comes to brain development. In other words, it’s not too late to impact a young person in your care.

Research proves that between the ages of 14-25, a person’s brain goes through major growth and development. Teens are learning planning, decision-making, judgment and coping skills. Sometimes this means trying new things…and sometimes failing.

How does this apply to you?

Do all you can to give your grandchild access to opportunities to grow, learn and prepare for adulthood.

The brain keeps changing.

Your grandchild may have experienced trauma. The good news: the teen years offer a window to counteract the wounds of earlier trauma. If the brain is exposed to developmentally healthy experiences, it can actually “re-wire” itself. The brain learns. Newer, healthier pathways are knit together by neurons. This repair can help any young person get on a path to a better future.

How does this apply to you?

Healthy relationships are critical. Nuturing open, reliable and loving relationships with grandchildren can support their resilient brains. If your grandchildren do not have supportive birth families, do what you can to mirror the experiences of young people in supportive, intact families.

Experts put it this way:

“Experience matters more than we ever thought during adolescence, especially experiences within relationships. The more and varied relationships a young person can maintain within family, peers, school, work, or in their community, the better positioned they will be to achieve a healthy and balanced adulthood.”

How does this apply to you?

Your grandchild may be disconnected from her birth family. It is important to keep relationships with extended family and friends alive for her so that she is not cut off from everything and everyone she knew before the separation.

Yes. It’s how they learn.

Chemical changes in the adolescent brain increase the teens’ risk-taking behaviors.Sounds dangerous, right?  You can’t squelch those chemicals. Instead, keep in mind, they serve a purpose. Healthy risk-taking is a tool teens use to explore and acquire experience. Trying new things is a necessary and positive step in becoming a healthy, well-adjusted adult. In other words, what looks like lack of control is actually exploration.

Learning from risk-taking happens best when the teens’ environment is stable and predictable.

How does this apply to you?

“Rather than trying to stop risk-taking altogether, parents and guardians should provide a safe and supportive environment where young people are free to experience challenges, make hard decisions, and learn from their mistakes.”

Your grandchildrens’ lives may be dictated by forces outside their control compared to peers in intact families. They may have fewer opportunities for decision-making. Try not to become over-protective. Give your grandchildren the same level of guided decision-making power other teens have.

Adapted from What’s Going on in There @ The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2014

Eyes on the Big Picture Goal

Confident teenagers with the ability to avoid people and situations that aren’t right for them, and to find those that are.

DEEP DIVE

An expert says* . . .

“The reason teens are doing all of this exploring and novelty seeking is to build experience so that they can do a better job in making the difficult and risky decisions in later life — decisions like ‘Should I take this job?’ or ‘Should I marry this person?’” 

“There’s no doubt that this period of development is a challenge for (grand) parents, but that’s doesn’t mean that the adolescent brain is somehow deficient or lacking in control.”

–Daniel Romer, Ph.D., research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania

Activities to Try

Teens need to take risks in order to learn consequences.

You want to keep them safe.

What kind of activities have you found that allow for safe risk-taking?

Skateboarding? Cooking? Team sports?

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