Category Archives: Teens

Understanding Your Teen’s Behavior

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

Learning from the Teens


949a0e31b23eb12c56435be8d1fc7140Sometimes it helps to hear from those a little further down the path.  When unschooled teens and young adults were surveyed in Homeschooled Teens (over 60% of the survey respondents were unschoolers!), they shared candidly about what their lives were like during their teenage years. Instead of seeing their family’s educational choice as putting them at any disadvantage, they found the opposite to be true.

Their list of advantages because of unschooling fell into six categories:

  • They have a happier approach to learning.
  • They’ve been exposed to real world opportunities.
  • They have the freedom to make choices.
  • They’ve been able to avoid unnecessary stress.
  • Their socialization opportunities are better.
  • They have better influences.

Approach to Learning

Parents of unschoolers have the opportunity to protect their teen’s natural love of learning. We notice that very young children are like sponges when it comes to new experiences. Their curiosity propels them into learning new skills and ideas. One reason we don’t see this attitude toward learning continue as they get older, might be because society gets in the way. Schools decide what and when they’re going to learn. If parents continue this path at home, the teen’s internal motivation to explore and discover is often stifled.  Forcing the school’s plan for learning on children, year after year, teaches them that their choices must be shelved so that the system’s choices for them remains the priority.

Unschooling families have the opportunity to change all of that. They can remove the obstacles that interfere with that drive to learn. They can tailor their teen’s education to his or her interests, strengths and weaknesses – a truly personalized learning situation. By doing so, they can maintain that enthusiasm for learning that was so obvious in their younger years.

Real World Opportunities

Homeschoolers have an enormous advantage when it comes to living in the real world. They aren’t confined to 180 days of classroom attendance, or limited to only reading about fascinating places or events. Unschoolers move freely in the world, exploring their communities and interacting with a wide variety of people.
Misconceptions about unschoolers being sheltered and lacking exposure to “real life” are unfounded. Unschooled teens make friends in neighborhoods, clubs, and community activities, but they’re also working, going to community colleges, interacting with a wide variety of people, and traveling the globe.

Freedom to Make Choices

When families send their teens to school, I don’t think they consider how much freedom they’re asking their child to give up. Most parents went to school themselves, so they give little thought to sending their children along a similar path.  Studies show that giving children and teens more freedom allows them time and opportunity to gain practice, improve confidence, become more self-reliant.  Unschoolers have the freedom to follow their passions, dipping their toes into new activities, pursuing interests on a deeper level than would have been available at school.  Sitting in a classroom, all day every day, with each hour pre-planned for them, robs them of  opportunities to gain these skills.
Sometimes families fear giving teens freedom because they worry that chaos will result. But when parents are well-connected with their teen, they are in a much better position to know how much freedom that teen can handle.

Avoiding Unnecessary Stress

The news is full of heartbreaking stories of teenagers struggling with stress. Bullying is rampant –  statistics show that 75-80 percent of middle and high school-aged kids have experienced some form of bullying!  The pressure to drink, smoke, do drugs, diet, have sex, dress a certain way, and conform, bombards children in schools at younger and younger ages. Whether teens are worried about fitting in or competing with their peers, clearly a problem exists. Unschooled teens report that any stressful situations they’ve experienced have been minimized if not completely avoided.  It’s not that unschoolers live a stress-free life – no one is so lucky to have that! But so many stressful situations only exist when a person attends school.

Better Socialization

Unfortunately, “social reasons” are often touted as a reason a parent avoids homeschooling their teen. Just because you are in close proximity to hundreds of other teens on a daily basis doesn’t mean you are going to get much experience with good socialization. Those of us who went to middle schools and high schools need only to pause for a moment to remember situations that didn’t go well at all.  When children are basically trapped eight hours per day, five days per week, that environment can easily become a breeding ground for some very negative social behaviors. Bullying, avoidance, creating artificial “pecking orders” become common schooled kid behaviors.  It’s not surprising since these children and teens have to find some way to adapt to this situation most cannot escape.

Unfortunately, “social reasons” are often touted as a reason a parent avoids homeschooling their teen. Just because you are in close proximity to hundreds of other teens on a daily basis doesn’t mean you are going to get much experience with good socialization. Those of us who went to middle schools and high schools need only to pause for a moment to remember situations that didn’t go well at all.  When children are basically trapped eight hours per day, five days per week, that environment can easily become a breeding ground for some very negative social behaviors. Bullying, avoidance, creating artificial “pecking orders” become common schooled kid behaviors.  It’s not surprising since these children and teens have to find some way to adapt to this situation most cannot escape.

When I was in school, we were always told, “You’re not here to socialize!” And yet, that’s often a big obstacle for parents deciding about unschooling through the teen years. Realistically though, in high schools, the teens have to get from one classroom to another in approximately three minutes – not a lot of time for any socialization there!

Parents of unschoolers find situations for their adolescents to socialize with others in much more positive ways.  Sometimes it’s through support group functions, conferences, or simply finding other teens sharing similar interests.

Unschoolers are not limited to only interacting with their own age group. They can learn from and even befriend people who are younger or older – all based on similar interests. This kind of interaction with other members of society is a lot more similar to how adults interact with each other once they’re out of school!  Keeping everyone grouped together with their own age group solely because they were born the same year is much more artificial and does nothing to help adolescents merge into “the real world.”

Another socialization advantage is that parents of unschooled teens are often more involved with what’s happening in their teens’ life. They’re not so out of the loop that they can’t offer support and guidance for how to gracefully learn to get along with others in society.  By the time an exhausted teen gets home from a day of drama in high school, they seldom want to share it with the people who might actually be able to help them. Unschooling changes this dynamic on many levels.

Better Influences

Relationships can be strengthened in an unschooling home. And when relationships are good, parents are in a better position to offer guidance along the way. They’re not seen as an enemy or out of touch. Parents have a chance to be much more involved in their teens’ lives, noticing more quickly when their teen is having a rough time.  The relationship that the parent takes the time to build with their teen will set them up to be in a lot better position to offer problem-solving or simply have some influence when their teen faces some of the tougher choices that await them as they grow up.
Recently published in the TexUns News, a monthly publication by Texas Unschoolers.

6 Steps to Parenting Teens and Young Adults

6 Steps to Parenting Teens and Young Adults

The internet is full of tips for parenting younger children. Either they expect that you’ve figured it all out by the time they’re teens, or you’ve just put up the white flag of surrender. Unschooling families tend to prioritize the relationships between parents and children, so hopefully this transition to adulthood can go more smoothly. How you deal with teens and young adults and the situations they present will make all the difference in how your relationship is going to be. Even if your child is younger, these tips will help you as your children approach adolescence and beyond.

1. Let go of the story you have in your head for how everything will be.

Some of us learned this early on with parenting teens and younger, but we may need a refresher course. As a parent, you may have created scenarios in your head of how it will be when they get jobs, find a mate, move into a place of their own. Maybe because these stories often warm our hearts, we get locked into them. We think that if we nudge a little bit, we might get it to work out the way we envision. There’s a price to pay for all that nudging though. You may just be pushing them away from you, instead of toward what you had hoped.
AND, you might not even have the best story in your head – they are, frankly, creating one for themselves. Sit back and watch it unfold.

2. Get out of the way, even if you can read the handwriting on the wall.

Mistakes happen. But usually, they present the biggest learning opportunities. I know it can be scary, because some of these mistakes can be life-altering. Try to remember back when you were in your own 20’s. If you’re like me, you made a TON of mistakes. But it helped shape me into a really interesting multi-dimensional adult. We can’t get in the way and undermine our young adult’s opportunity to make the same progress. Also, who’s to say we are right and the young adult is wrong? Many times, they’ve morphed their decision into something really wonderful that I didn’t even see coming.

3. Giving Advice or Not.

Lot’s of people say that a good way to share all that wisdom you have, is to cloak it with “Would you like my advice?” And I suppose for some kids, this works. Not for mine. That simple question – depending on the situation, mood, people involved – can be seen as wonderfully helpful or full of judgement about the direction they’re heading. Still, others say that they have young adults who are fine with simply saying, “Nope!” and walking away. Even if mine did say that (because I have tried this approach), they circle back later asking, “OK. So what was it you were dying to tell me?” And suddenly, the dynamic has shifted in a bad way. My new way – or at least what I aspire to – is to say, “You know what? I think you’ve got this. You are a good decision-maker overall. And, sure, you’ll make mistakes – I did. But unless you out-and-out ASK me for advice, I’m not going to give it unsolicited.” So, my own young adults laugh and say, “Oh REALLY? THIS is what you’ve been working on? Could use a little more focus here, Mom!”  Obviously, this is the one that trips me up the most. But when I get it right, we have a lot smoother sailing.

4. Who they choose to be with is THEIR choice. Embrace it.

Years ago, a friend of mine was struggling with her mother-in-law. The M-I-L was super critical of her and adored “her baby boy.” She simply didn’t think this woman was good enough for her son. As time passed, my friend and her growing family included the mother-in-law less and less. At best, they saw the mother-in-law, and eventually grandmother only once or twice per year.  My friend shared the lesson she learned from this: “When my sons grow up, I will befriend the daughters-in-law! I will be their BEST FRIEND – even no matter how I feel. I’ll focus on what my son loves about them. Because what I know is that I never want my boys out of my life. And if I alienate the women they choose, that is exactly the path I will be putting us all on.” Very sage advice.

5. Don’t allow your own anxiety to crowd out the love.

At the risk of turning people off with too much hippy-dippy talk, I have to include this. Sometimes I get irritated with my grown kids’ decisions and I SOOO wish they would simply do it my way. I have to admit, not only do I think I’m right, but I also know that it will remove my anxiety if they will make the decision I want. Truth is, that’s not THEIR job, it’s mine. Anxiety can be felt by other people and it really pushes them away. As parents, when we show our anxiety at their decision-making, it’s undermining their confidence and conveys that we don’t have faith in them. It’s the start of the communication line shutting down. That’s not what either of you need or want at all. Instead, when you’re really wishing they would “do it my way!” take a deep breath. Or two. Or three. And look at them. Think about how much you love them. If it’s their friend/spouse/partner, think about how much your child loves them. Think about how far they’ve come and all the wonderful things that will happen to them in the future. Remember something cute and sweet from their childhood – because that little boy or girl is still in there. And he or she really does care what you think about them.

6. This is your new Mantra: “Not my path.”

You will want to repeat this over and over to get it to sink in. You had your opportunities for mistakes and successes in your young adulthood – now it’s time for theirs! And, if you’re like me, you may have even put off some of the more difficult activities that you’d like to do for yourself – because you were focused on parenting. Now is the best time of all to dive into that hobby you neglected, or that interest you were a little nervous about pursuing. Time to focus on your own path!  You’ve got a lot to do!

Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

Years ago, your child was up at 6 a.m., peeling eyelids back, ready for you to help him greet the day. But not so with your teen. Maybe you’ve been up puttering around all morning, fixing yourself some lunch when you notice your teen is still snoozing. What the heck is going on here?

It turns out, quite a few things.

We all know that when children reach puberty, their hormones change. What we sometimes don’t know or remember is that these hormones have an effect on a person’s sleep cycle. Nocturnal melatonin production decreases significantly during adolescence.  It actually shifts, making the adolescent’s body more awake in the evenings, not feeling ready for an early bedtime, and then leaves them groggy in the mornings with the melatonin still onboard. Add to that, light – artificial or natural – also inhibits the production of melatonin. Teen body clocks, their circadian rhythms, are shifting.sleeping teen

Translation: Teens’ bodies are physically geared to staying up later at night. Because they still need a good nine hours of sleep, that means they’ll need to sleep later in the mornings. Lots of data on this can be found at the National Sleep Foundation.

This certainly doesn’t correlate with a typical high school schedule. Research shows that teens in school settings are basically sleep deprived.  This sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, impaired memory, and inhibited creativity. It certainly interferes with learning! And those behaviors that people consider “typical teen difficulties?” They’re worsened if teens are in desperate need of more sleep. They may even be created by their lack of adequate rest!  It’s not about power struggles or undermining authority, as some parents fear. It’s something physical happening to their bodies.

When parents of teens opt out of school, their families are no longer forced to duplicate high school schedules. Teens can stay up late and then sleep in. This ensures that they get a full night’s sleep to be well rested and ready to explore and learn. A new study by National Jewish Health found that homeschooled teens had a big advantage because of their healthier sleep habits.

When parents ask their children to go to bed earlier so they can all get up earlier, they may be working against nature.  It’s not the end of the world to do it, but why set up a problem situation? Why turn it into a power struggle?

mother daughterAnother benefit to parents working with their teen’s natural, inner body rhythm is that some of the best teen-parent conversations happen during those late hours! My teens were often feeling more relaxed and winding down from their day around 11 p.m. Those late night conversations were real treasures, often giving insight into what was happening in their lives – what they were nervous about or looking forward to. They were open to listening to my suggestions or stories about what I’d seen in the past.

When my kids were teens at home, I let them sleep late in the mornings and go to bed at whatever hour they chose. It often looked upside down when compared to the rest of the world’s schedules. Homeschoolers (and “schoolers” – as my kids used to call them) would ask me, “How will they be able to hold down a job, follow a schedule, adhere to expectations, if I never impose any schedules on them as children?”

It’s a non-issue. It would have been like practicing the act of waiting in line. Do we really need to set up an arbitrary practice for this?Don’t we do that at grocery stores, at the post office, at the DMV, at the restaurant… multiple opportunities every day? Or maybe they’d suggest that everyone practice eating or sleeping or walking? Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?

Honestly, when they were younger, I’d think, “Well, they just won’t work a job that conflicts with their natural rhythm. Lots of people work evening and night shifts.” I kind of expected that they’d continue to follow their internal body clocks.

But that’s not what happened.

My teens found jobs they wanted and made their rhythm cooperate. They learned what “a good night’s sleep” felt like, and they wanted it! So if they had to get up early on some mornings, they’d go to bed a little earlier the night before. They’d set their alarm clock, take their showers, and head out the door. It wasn’t long before they were poking their head into my room, waking me briefly to say they were off to their 7 a.m. shift! The naysayers’ predictions just didn’t play out. My teenagers managed just fine.

One summer, my daughter Katie went to stay with her grandmother in Dallas so she could attend a month-long intensive drama program. She got herself up at 5 a.m., checked her email, fixed her own breakfast, showered, got dressed and caught the city bus to go downtown. She was 15. My daughter Alyssa attended cheerleading competitions and had to be completely ready and backstage by 7 a.m. This meant getting ready before 6 a.m.! Two of my teens worked early shifts at Barnes and Noble for several years and never had any problem with being punctual. They took early morning classes in college and had no problems making it on time.

I share all of this to reassure you about your teens and their “wacky” sleep schedules. Parents really have nothing to worry about. Take advantage of those late nights with your teens. Chat with them about life, in the kitchen over nachos – even if it’s midnight! Talk to them about what you’ve read or learned about sleep and body rhythms. No one needs to rehearse getting up early. They will do it when they need to.


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


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.

Are You Listening to Me?

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.