Category Archives: Parenting Help

Understanding Your Teen’s Behavior

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If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today's adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake. HARRY CAMPBELL

If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake. HARRY CAMPBELL

Adolescence can be a tough phase – for the parents and the kids. The transition between childhood and adulthood can go smoothly or can be pretty bumpy, for so many different reasons.  It’s not true that all parents of teens will have a rough time, but even the best relationships have one thing in common – a still-developing brain.

Part of the frustration that comes with erratic teenage behavior comes from the simple fact that the piece of their brain that gives them good judgement or keeps their impulses in check hasn’t developed completely.

I’ve collected a few articles here in hopes to help parents who are struggling with how to help the teens in their lives. Maybe they’re running into some obstacles.

These links to articles, lists and interviews will help you not only understand some of the underlying reasons for some of the choices your teen is making, but also could give you some insight that could lead to more compassion when parenting your teen.
Really. They’re not just trying to piss you off.

Let’s Learn About The Teen Brain:

Deciphering the Teen Brain and Behavior

by Scott Hewitt

Until you’re well into your 20s — and especially in your early- to midteen years, somewhere between 12 and 15 — that brain of yours remains a bustling construction, demolition and reconstruction site. Cells and connecting synapses are being grown, used and strengthened — or not used, pruned and replaced. Totally occupied by vast volumes of incoming information and sensation, and practicing up on bodily functions and feelings, the young brain’s necessary skill at mature decision-making and top-down control develops much later — last, in fact. Meanwhile a region called the amygdala — the seat of fear, emotional reactions and fight-or-flight instincts — is fully functioning from day one.

Brainstorm: The Power and the Purpose of the Teenage Brain

Listen to an interview with Daniel Siegel on the Diane Rehm Show. Transcript is available at this link too.

[Adolescence] is a vital time for adolescents to chart the course for the adults they will ultimately become. One brain researcher points out that it is during our teen years that we learn how to navigate the world outside the safety of home, how to connect deeply with others and how to safely take risks. He says that by understanding how the brain functions, teens can improve their own lives and those of their parents. Diane and her guests discuss the power and purpose of the teenage brain.

What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind

by Alison Gopnik
Research points to the enormous flexibility of the brain. Instead of trying to give our children more school experiences, we should be giving them more real life opportunities in the world. Apprenticeships, internships, as well as Take-Your-Child-To-Work-Today could happen more frequently. Exposure like this can actually change how a brain functions.

What happens when children reach puberty earlier and adulthood later? The answer is: a good deal of teenage weirdness. Fortunately, developmental psychologists and neuroscientists are starting to explain the foundations of that weirdness.

10 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Teen’s Brain

by Robin Nixon
Robin offers quick snippets about the brain during adolescence with such as:

  • the pruning and neuronal connections
  • emotions and the limbic system
  • decision making
  • embracing risk
  • peer relationships
  • the importance of sleep
  • good parent relationships

What Happy Teenagers Do Differently

by Marilyn Price-Mitchell

Research  is suggesting risk-taking in the teenage years contributes to self-growth, learning, and long-term happiness. 

The Teenage Brain: Spock versus Captain Kirk

by Corey Turner from All Things Considered

The prefrontal cortex is our voice of reason. Steinberg calls it the brain’s CEO. Casey likens it to Mr. Spock from Star Trek, coldly calculating a life’s worth of cost-benefit analyses.
Casey’s analogy doesn’t stop there. To her, Captain Kirk is the limbic system — the emotional center of the brain that’s always on the lookout for threats and rewards. When it spots either, it sends a message to the prefrontal cortex. Because the limbic system can’t make sense of these things on its own. It needs the prefrontal cortex.
Here’s the problem. For kids in adolescence, the prefrontal cortex is still developing, and it can’t keep up with the limbic system as it goes into reward-seeking warp speed.

Remember poring over books about baby development when you were a new parent? It’s important to spend the time understanding more about what physiologically is happening with your teenager. Read the articles above – don’t just bookmark them! Remind yourself that it’s not always about power struggles. Look a little deeper at why that’s an issue for you. While you’ll always be their parent and they’ll always need you to some degree, you only have a few more years where you are their main source of support.

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If ever they needed you to be on their side, it’s while your teens navigate their way through adolescence! ~UM2M

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“I’m Not Your Friend, I’m Your Mother!”

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Sue and Michael PattersonWhen people are uncomfortable, they tend to rely on axioms and phrases that may or may not have any validity at all. Raising teenagers can sometimes put parents in this position. But if we really look at the advice people have shared through generations, we might discover that much of it isn’t even applicable. For instance, we’ve all heard, “I’m not your friend! I’m your mother!” But what does that really mean? Is it impossible to be both? Do we really want both?

Instead of getting caught up in some globalized phrase about parents not being friends, let’s examine both to see if we could implement the characteristics or if there’s a conflict.

Friends trust each other, share information about what they’re doing, who they’re with, what they’re trying – why would a parent not want that? If you have your child’s trust, you will be in so much better position to guide or offer advice from your experience. As parents, you will be able to react to situations with less anxiety, if you have spent time developing that relationship. Building trust takes time, and how we parented them when they were younger will have a direct effect on the relationship we have with them as teenagers.

Katie & Me at Venice Beach

When parents find themselves pulling The Mom Card, often what they are saying is that they want blind obedience. They want their teen to value what they have to say, and follow their instructions. But remember when they were three and they were making their bed on their own (or fixing a sandwich later, or building a fort), we recognized the importance of not jumping in “fix” what they had done. We realized that that was how they learned, their confidence would grow, and they would get better with time. The same applies with teens. Getting more confidant with their ability to make decisions in their world, comes from getting to make those decisions.

Operating from an authoritarian position creates obstacles in the relationship. When teens know they can bring their problems and concerns to you and not fear your judgement or punishment for choosing something different, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say. And, as parents, you’ll get another glimpse into their world and how they’re handling it.

Alyssa & me in Austin

We can’t expect our teens to tell us everything. That’s part of their development. Nor can we, as parents, share our own problems with them – that’s something we need to do with our own peers and friends. So, while I wouldn’t call it a two-way street, I would suggest that becoming friends with your teenager is a good thing.

And, think about how you define being their mom. What characteristics are important to you? And maybe it’s time to share that with your teens. Is it something they see or want from you? Opening up this communication will be so helpful for both parents and teens to understand each other.

Take a look at some of those parental tips that get passed down through the generations and see if they really apply. Don’t buy into them, just because it’s an easy phrase to use to basically dismiss looking at a situation more closely. There is no need for either/or, us against them, friend vs. mom.

Scarcity and Abundance

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Scarcity and Abundance

This seems a little blurry. And I’m not sure I agree with every one of these 100%. But it’s worth taking the time to examine yourself if you see these any of these traits popping up.

Do you have several in the Abundance category but still a few in the Scarcity mindset?

That’s great! Then you can see what you need to focus on to change. I’m happy to help you move toward a happier life, if you’re interested.
Find out more about how I can help.

In the meantime, take a look at the list of characteristics listed out here.

 

scarcity and abundance

Abundance Mindset:

  • Compliment
  • Have a sense of gratitude
  • Give other people credit for victories
  • Accept responsibilities for their failures
  • Read every day
  • Keep a journal
  • Talk about ideas
  • Want others to succeed
  • Share info and data
  • Keep a “To Be” list
  • Set goals and develop plans
  • Exude joy
  • Embrace change
  • Continuously learn
  • Operate from a transformational perspective
  • Keep a “To Do” Project List

Scarcity Mindset

  • Criticize
  • Have a sense of entitlement
  • Take all the credit for the victories
  • Watch TV all day
  • Fear change
  • Fly by the seat of their pants
  • Talk about people
  • Hoard information and data
  • Exude anger
  • Hold a grudge
  • Blame others for their failures
  • Lie about keeping a journal
  • Thnk they know it all
  • Operate from a transactional perspective
  • Don’t know what they want to be
  • Secretly hope others fail
  • Never set goals

Reinventing the “What If Game”

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Reinventing the “What If Game”

When I was little, especially late at night, I could get myself into a tailspin. I’d worry about all kinds of things.  And, because I was a chatty little kid (surprise, surprise!), I’d go to my mom.

“What if things don’t work out?”

“What if they don’t like me?”

“What if there’s a car wreck?”

“What if.. what if… what IF??”

After a couple of these questions, my mom would shush me and say, “You’re playing the What If Game.”  What that meant at our house was that you’re borrowing trouble, worrying about things that may or may not happen. I spent a lot of time on that. Sometimes, it helped me figure out scenarios and what to do if something bad DID happen. But mainly, it just wasted my time.  I heard a saying once,

Worrying is like a Rocking Chair… lots of action, but going nowhere.

In my case, telling me I was playing the What If? Game was meant to help me. But it was also meant to get my mom a little peace and quiet.  Unfortunately, it ended up minimizing what I was thinking about. It made me be even more critical of myself, thinking,

“Why am I so negative?”

“Why do I bother people with my crazy thoughts?”

“What’s MY problem??”

I don’t think that was ever my mom’s intention, to make me feel worse. But I didn’t really have the power to shut it off, just because she slapped a label on it and implied I should knock it off. I just didn’t have the tools.

In parenting, we do that sometimes, consciously or not. We either step in to solve the problem, or we dismiss our kids’ concerns as not important.  Solving the problem for them prevents them from figuring it out, and then ultimately trusting themselves that they CAN figure out problems. It keeps them dependent on others for solutions – always waiting to be rescued by someone smarter, stronger, more resourceful. See the problem with this route?

And if we gloss over their worries, they’ll learn to take them somewhere else. They certainly will learn that they can’t share them with you! And you’re supposed to be the one helping them figure out the tough lessons in Life. If you take this option, you miss a huge opportunity to not only help your child, but also to reinforce your relationship with them.

So let’s rewrite the rules for

The What If? Game

Because, now I have tools.  I know these things:

  • Your mind can only think about one thing at a time.
    This is just a simple fact. We often think we’re multitasking, but it’s never really simultaneously. It’s a constant shifting. So, try to control your mind to the point of, “OK, I need to think about this instead right now.”
  • Attaching yourself to a particular outcome is where the suffering starts.
    We don’t know everything and we really can’t see around the proverbial corner. How many times can you look back and see that something really seemingly catastrophic turned out to either make you stronger for something else or yourself, allowed you to relate to someone in a different way, or opened you up to some unforeseen opportunity. So thinking, “I don’t get it – right now. But maybe I will down the road,” might be a helpful approach.
  • Is the bad thing happening now? Ok, then. Breathe.
    This is all about living in The Present moment. I’m not saying to live in La-di-da Land, look at what’s happening now. Is it where you want to be TODAY? Is it what needs to be happening NOW? If you can look at the situation more calmly, you’ll be able to assess the situation more accurately than if you’re full of anxiety. You’ll have time to panic when/if it does show up.
  • Visualizing GOOD things happening can be just as powerful as visualizing the worst case scenario – so do that!
    Getting in the habit of doing visualizations can start at any age. When you’re putting your child to sleep, help them to visualize some peaceful happy setting. Remind them that they can go back there in their mind at any time.  We spend so much time panicking about that imaginary horrible scenario – what would happen if we spent that much time visualizing great stuff? So how about taking it even to another level?  What if your visualization was about conquering that fear you’re worrying about? What if you think about succeeding in that situation that is distracting you from the Present?  Run a few of those scenarios in your head and see how that feels.
  • Which story you decide to tell yourself is TOTALLY up to you!
    Neither are based in facts, so why not be kinder to yourself? Physically, this will help you as well. A body that is constantly anxious and tense will act a completely different way from one that is content or even happy. So choosing a happier story is kinder to your physical body as well as your mind.
  • Have a handy list of your strengths or of things you have accomplished.
    This may seem odd at first, because we’re taught that focusing on our good points is conceited, egotistical – definitely not a good thing.  But when you think about it, how could being ACCURATE about yourself be a bad thing? Sure, you may not want to regale everyone at Park Day with all your wonderful accomplishments, but tell yourself the truth. Make a list of the things you feel good about accomplishing, things you are genuinely thankful for… this list will boost your self-esteem and help you when you’re at a low point.
  • Generosity trumps Stinginess. 
    It’s as if you are looking through two different lens: one of Scarcity and one of Abundance.  And it all boils down to your personal perception. If you feel full of whatever you’re wanting, you are much more at peace than if you are worried there simply isn’t enough to go around. When we’re afraid we’re not getting our fair share, we resent those who we think are getting more than us. It’s not a pretty picture – but it is incredibly common.  Unfortunately, this has a huge impact on our day-to-day attitude, on so many levels. It keeps us unhappy and negative. But using the other lens, think of yourself as having so much that you can share and be generous with others.  Society often throws us into unnecessary competition.    But think about when you helped someone else – with no gain for yourself. You felt happy and positive about the world. Why not try to do that more often? Help someone else. It doesn’t do anything to diminish your own light. Take a break from your own melodrama for a while and find someone less fortunate than you. Help them…and you will end up helping yourself.

That’s probably a pretty good start at my list. Incorporating these kinds of ideas into your child’s world – or even more firmly in your own world – will really help us all reinvent that dang What If? Game.

Are You Listening to Me?

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Are You Listening to Me?

Unschoolers spend lots of time together – and for the most part, it’s an exciting fun adventure! Yet sometimes, even the best unschooling mom can get tired or distracted.

Consider these scenarios…

When I was little, I was one of those children who talked a lot and LOUDLY. I can remember my cousin actually turning to my dad saying, “Does she have a volume button?” Obviously, I did not. Nor did I forget the comment. I tell you this because I want you to know that I get it. My mom, who had an exhausting job, would have to come home to this high energy kid who wanted to talk and talk and talk.  I can remember sitting on the floor while she read the paper or a book and just nodded along at me. I’d ask her, “Are you listening?” “Mhm,” would be her reply. Nothing more. I knew she was not listening.

When my kids were little, I was trying to juggle a variety of things at once. My kids were around all the time, obviously. They were ESPECIALLY around if I was on the phone with someone. Which was often. The internet was just taking off and I was thrilled about talking with other moms from around the country.  My kids would ask me questions and bring something to show me. They’d ask me, “Are you listening?” “Mhm,” would be my reply. Nothing more. I wasn’t listening to them.

Skip forward another decade and shoe is on the other foot. My teens are sitting with me in the car. I’m asking them something about their day. They’re texting on their phone. From the moment they walked out the door, then there was a brief moment of “calling shotgun” for the front seat, then back to non-stop texting.  I’d ask, “Are you listening to me?” “Mhm,” would be their reply. Nothing more. They weren’t listening.

I give all three of these scenarios because I think you’ll be able to relate to at least one of them. No one was doing anything malicious in any of these situations.  People were just caught up in the moment.  Everyone has probably been the victim and the ignorer at some point in their lives. Probably at multiple points in their lives.

But I think as parents who want to do better – as PEOPLE who want to do better – we need to adjust ourselves.  Life flies by quickly. Now that I’m in my 50s, I’m well aware of that fact.  The people who are in our lives are there because we value them.  They deserve our attention. Real attention. That attention we give indicates to them how much we love them, how we appreciate them, how they MATTER in our lives.

It’s a habit of laziness really, a lack of thoughtfulness.  It’s not being fully conscious about the every day life decisions we are making. I really want to be present for the people that are in my everyday life. And I want them to be present with me.

If your child wants to talk with you, appreciate them. Give them your full attention. They are mentally noting how you interact with them.  It’s telling them their worth and your interest in them. And think of how that translates for later in their life…if a mother is not interested in them, who would be? These are big messages we are conveying and so often, we don’t even realize it’s happening.

Make an agreement that there will be actual conversation with the person in front of you – your child, your partner, your friend. Put down the texting, stop reading your email, don’t glance at your Facebook newsfeed. Let people know that they DO matter to you. Look them in the eyes and really listen to them.

you-matter