Normal Teenage Rebellion, or Danger Signs?

| February 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

She turns 12 and a switch flips. What happened to your sweet little girl? You used to bake cookies together, and now she can’t seem to stand to be in the same room with you.

Sound familiar?

I don’t think that having a teenager is easy for anyone. There’s the general worry about how they spend their time, and who they spend their time with… and then there are the crazy mood swings and conflicts in the house.

You worry that they’re not growing up enough, and then you worry that they’re growing up too fast.

Most of us think that we left the adolescent roller-coaster ride behind with our 18th birthday, but then we have a teenage child and we’re right back on the thrill ride again.

I think one of the most common worries that I’ve heard (and had) while talking with other parents of teens is whether or not these changes are normal?

What sorts of things are simply part of being a teen, and which things are warning signs of dangerous behaviors or severe mental distress?

So I’m going to share some research. I’m by no means an expert, but this might be helpful when you’re learning how to navigate the choppy waters of communication with your moody teen.

What’s In Her Head?

Overgeneralizing the raging hormones can be a mistake that will make your teen shut off even faster, but it really is important to acknowledge that a teen brain is different from an adult one, and different from a child’s. In fact, barring infancy, the brain makes more changes during adolescence than at any other time in life.

Decision-making skills and reasoning develop to the level of an adult in adolescents. And yet, impulse and emotion control are still lacking, as teens rely more on the limbic system (or emotional brain) than the prefrontal cortex (or rational center).

In fact, the frontal lobe, which controls executive decision-making, planning, and impulse control, doesn’t fully develop until 25!

Because teens make judgements based on the limbic system’s information most of the time, they’re more likely to misinterpret the expressions and intentions of others.

One study found that teens interpreted a face that, to an adult, was obviously scared, as shocked and angry. When you realize that your teen is more likely to interpret your reactions as negative or aggressive, it makes certain interactions make a lot more sense, right?

Peer Pressure

During the teens years, a major paradigm shift takes place. While, to a child, the primary source of socialization, of identity, and opinion, is in the home (and specifically, from the parents), teens rely on friends in a way that we do at no other time in life.

This can be alarming for parents, who are hearing their children echo strangers and value their friends’ opinions over their parents’. The development of abstract thinking allows teens to see themselves from others’ points of view for the first time in their lives, and this becomes a hugely dominant determiner for behavior.

Teens use their groups of friends to practice new behaviors, opinions, and skills, like negotiating, and group planning. Teenage brains’ reward centers are easily triggered by peer approval and influence, an effect that wears off as we grow.

While the shift into teens caring more about what their friends think of them than what their parents do can be scary to parents, it’s important to remember that long-term behavior and opinions are more influenced by the home than any other source.

For example, home environment is still the largest factor that determines a teen’s involvement in illegal substances.

It’s also important to remember that peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing.

Teens who are connected with their peers are more likely to avoid dangerous relationships, addictions, and develop social and professional skills that they’ll need later in life.

Life Plans

Because teens are just starting to use abstract reasoning to understand the world beyond themselves, and their place in it, the future can quickly become overwhelmingly scary.

Making choices and deciding what you want to become can be confusing. And since their brains are still developing, a teen’s plans and ambitions can change from one day to the next.

Part of this is just a matter of getting used to the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood, but some of it is brain development that can be confusing to deal with.

So, if you’re wondering where your sweet girl went… she’ll be back. Just like the body develops at uneven rates, which can make teens awkward, confused, and anxious, the brain develops at uneven rates, with one side developing fully before the other has even started, which makes an always-shifting balance.

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