In this StarBlog, Lisa Fathers from Alliance Learning describes the changes in the teenage brain. A better understanding of the teenage brain, she says, would hugely help teenagers, and those around them.
Teenagers are sometimes sleepy, indecisive, angry, or all three, but understanding there are neurological factors affecting these traits might help everyone support teenagers in the right way as they progress on their journey to adulthood.
Most areas of the brain are maturing and developing during these years as well as puberty and of course huge societal changes for teenagers too. It is the perfect storm!
It takes time – this process is likely to start around puberty, but takes many years to complete. The brain continues to change and develop until the mid-twenties. This brain restructuring is called ‘synaptic pruning’. In really simple terms the brain gets rid of connections (synapses) it no longer needs.
During this teenage time there is a whole lot of activity going on with the social brain too, this often makes teenagers a little anxious and self-esteem issues are sometimes evident but this can often manifest itself in a faking of confidence so it can often be hard for parents and teachers to know what is going on beneath the surface. With huge hormonal imbalances it’s no wonder we see mood swings!
Teenagers in lockdown
Routines are gone or definitely different so we are seeing lot more teenagers staying in bed longer and staying up later, especially the longer that lock down continues for. Teenagers do need some kind of routine though even if it is a slightly different one.
Less anxiety/more anxiety Believe it or not some teenagers may actually feel happier not at school, no stress inducing tests or social interactions. However some teenagers are highly anxious about their schooling or not seeing friends or they may live in a house which has a lot of family stress or not much space.
More screen time is not good for anyone. Teenagers and adults are spending hours and hours in front of a screen during lock down. This isn’t good for brains or for our backs/necks and postures. As well as school work teenagers might be gaming or facetiming and spending less time in the real world.
Social isolation – despite social media and technology our teenagers are not with their friends properly. This isn’t good. Teenagers love their peer groups and it is an important part of the social brain developing. Teenagers can feel lonely during this time especially when many teenagers believe that ‘nobody understands them and they haven’t got as much private space in the house with everyone in.
Talk to your teenager and listen. Listen more than you talk, ask lots of curious questions. Use the stress container to frame the conversation if you need to as referenced in the StarLine Interview. Validate your teenager’s responses, there are no ‘right emotions’. This will help your teenager regulate their own emotions better.
Encourage your teenager to develop a ‘toolkit’ of coping strategies. They might be mindfulness, reading, singing, playing but one of them has to be exercise. Exercise is the magic cure for a bad mood, anger, tiredness, sadness, it really does make everyone feel better. The more exercise and movement the more oxygen will be getting to the brain.
Be careful what you talk about as parents. Teenagers will hear half a conversation and make worries and turn them into bigger ones. Encourage your teenager to ‘park’ their worries somewhere until later in the day then address them together.
Parents are so important. Nothing matters more to teenagers and children than having a secure adult who loves them. Your teenager may pretend to care less but the truth is they need you now more than ever. Love is therapeutic. Whatever you are doing or not doing as a lockdown parent of a teenager, you will be doing your best and your best is good enough. Nobody is perfect.
Lisa Fathers BA Hons/NPQH is Director of Teaching School & Partnerships at The Alliance for Learning and part of the BFET Executive Team.