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Understanding Teens: Tips to Navigate The Complicated Teen Years

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Parenting can be complicated at times. Kids are ever changing and just when you think you have a handle on a stage they get older and they move into a new stage. Even more, parents are trying to keep a good relationship through all the changes and stages. Raising young humans is life changing. I often say to parents, “Kids and teens learn as much from us as we learn from them.” After over a decade of specializing in teen counseling, I continue to see that teens have a lot to offer the world. They tend to seek creative exploration, social engagement, and new experiences which many adults could benefit from having a little more of in their life. Teens can change the world for the better but they need guidance along the way. The tension often comes when parents and caregivers offer this guidance in ways that feel limiting and restrictive to teens. Check out my therapist’s tips to navigate the teen years.

Know the teen brain.

The teen brain is remodeling to prepare for adulthood. It is normal for teens to take risks, seek new experiences, and want to be with their friends more than their parents. Similar to when a home is being remodeled different rooms are in transition at different times to get to the end result, different parts of the teen brain are in transition too. This means sometimes you get a child response and other times you get an adult response. Of course, this is confusing for parents as this often means your help is needed in some areas while the teen is ready to confidently step into other areas. This is normal and not a rejection of you as a person or a reflection of your teen’s love for you, but it does mean it is helpful to find effective ways to communicate about these quickly changing needs.

Encourage exploration.

Teens naturally want and need to explore the world around them. They need to venture away from what is familiar to become a successful adult; so there is a purpose to this desire to explore. Support and guide this normal part of adolescence. Provide new experiences and opportunities for your teen to explore and challenge themself. They will likely seek these opportunities regardless of your support but when you encourage exploration you are more likely to continue to have influence on ways to safely explore.

Listen with curiosity.

Teens are adults in the making and often have many developing thoughts and opinions. Get curious about the person they are becoming; ask about their thoughts on world issues, talk through their decisions, and ask about their friendships. The more caregivers listen with curiosity the more teens tend to let them into their personal world. The parent role shifts from making decisions for younger children to helping the teen learn and develop good decision-making skills through guidance. Guidance could be asking questions to help expand the teen’s thoughts or putting a limit on a decision that could be a safety risk. This helps teens to develop decision-making skills for launching into adulthood and soon making their own decisions.

Teen brains are remodeling to move from childhood into adulthood. While these changes can be confusing for parents at times, the more parents lean into the natural changes in this stage the more likely they will be to keep a good connection with their teen to offer guidance. Teens want to explore the world but that doesn’t mean they do this alone or disconnected from their parents or other adults who can help and offer guidance along the way.

Reference: Brainstorm: the power and purpose of the teenage brain by Dr. Dan Siegel

Written By: Jennifer Wilmoth, LMFT

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