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Parenting Tips: How to Ensure Healthy Brain Development in your Teen - Part 2

Updated on February 24, 2013
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Encourage your child to think creatively and critically.

Ensuring Healthy Brain Development: Part 2

For part 1, please click here

This time of your teen’s development is really crucial due to the fact that right now, the environmental influences in your child’s life will “hard-wire” their brain for life. What does that mean? Well, it means that the activities and habits your child engages in now will influence how their brain matures and it will influence the way their brain operates once it is fully matured. This makes the way teenagers spend their time incredibly important.

As a parent it is really worth thinking about the amount of time your teen is involved in healthy activities, like: sports, hobbies and outdoor activities, as opposed to the more unhealthy activities like spending hours watching TV, surfing the net and leading a overly sedentary life-style. Remember the activities your child partakes in now will form the type of brain your child takes into adulthood.

Even though there may be days that you feel completely useless in your teen’s life, you actually do play a vital role in your child’s life. The relationship you build with your with your teen, and how you guide and influence them, will be extremely important in helping your child to build a healthy brain.

It is not as tough as it may sound. There are some very definite and easy steps that you can take to help your child along during this stage.

These include:

Ensuring that your child gets enough sleep.

Promoting effective and critical thinking skills

Encouraging and rewarding positive behaviour

Encourage your child to think creatively and critically.

The teen years really are exciting times. Your child’s brain development will lead them to willingly partake in higher order thinking skills. It is the most wonderful time to engage your child in debates and deeper conversations.

This active brain development will lead your teen to:

Think in a more logical manner (I know sometimes it may not seem so, but they will have the ability to think more logically now than ever before).

No longer see things as straightforward or as being purley black-and-white, anymore. They will begin to see that there are those proverbial grey areas, which they will quite happily point out to you on a regular basis, when they want to persuade you that your reasoning behind things (especially discipline things) are flawed.

Be more aware of other’s feelings and be able to interpret other’s emotional states better (hence them knowing how to push your buttons so effectively).

Be able to see problems from different viewpoints, and understand that there may be more than one viewpoint to a problem.

Really start thinking about their futures, and have a sounder perspective as to what they will need for the future (so your little girl will no longer want to be a princess or a unicorn trainer when they grow up, but a landscaper or a doctor).

Because their brains are blossoming so extraordinarily, now is the perfect opportunity for you to help your teen establish effective, healthy thinking patterns.

You can do this by:

Lay emphasis on the immediate consequences of their actions. You need to remember thatthe part of your child’s brain that is responsible for motivation and forward thinking is still under construction. So work at emphasising immediate consequences of actions and not how their actions will influence their distant future. The distant future means nothing to them. Meaning that a threat of, “Put sun block on, or you will have an old, wrinkly skin by the time you are 30.” will mean nothing to a teen girl. Try rather, “Remember sun-block, love, because that strapless dress you want to wear to Stacey’s party looks gorgeous on you and tan lines will ruin the look.”

Keep instructions simple. Make sure you speak in a way that your child understands exactly what you are saying. Stay away from big words and complicated sentences. As much as you want to believe that your hard earned cash has been wisely spent on education, sentences like: “It is beyond my comprehension as to why you didn’t inform me of the fact that there would be free flowing alcoholic beverages and intoxicated people at that party.” Will fly way over their heads, when all you need to say is, “I am upset that you didn’t you tell me thatthere was going to be alcohol at the party.” Keep your sentences short, sweet and to the point. A good way of checking to see if they have understood you is to ask them to repeat what you said in their own words. This tip is especially useful when giving your teen instructions or when discussing curfews and household rules.

Work at bringing empathy and compassion out in your teen. You can instill this skill through discussion and leading by example. It is no use telling them to be kind and caring, while you are hurling abuse at every second driver that crosses your path. If you have issues to sort out, please consider doing so, so that your issues don’t become your child’s.

It is important to talk about feelings – yours, your child’s and other peoples. When I say talk I mean talk – not lecture. You don’t want to alienate your teen by saying, “You must, you should, you have to.” Rather use the ‘psych’ approach, “How do you feel about?” “This is how it makes me feel.” “When….happened how did you feel?”. These are more appropriate ways to share and open your child up to discussing emotions. Be very careful not to make judgments on their emotions, for example, if your teen says, “I was so embarrassed when everyone laughed at me.” Don’t answer with, “Well that’s just stupid, I thought you knew better than that.” It will cut the conversation off immediately and they will never trust you again with their inner thoughts. Rather get them to explore the feeling by empathising with them, “Shame, that must have been awful. Did any of your friends help you?” or “How did you handle it?” Acknowledge their answer then ask, “Looking back in retrospect, can you think of other ways that you could have handled the situation differently?” Then offer some advice in a gentle way, “If you are ever in this type of situation again, try laughing with everyone. When people see that you can laugh at yourself they will respect you for it.” Also at thispoint you can highlight the fact that other people have different perspectives on things, and that we shouldn’t allow the way other’s see this world, impact on us.

Just a hint:

Boys do not always do the big heart to hearts well. When engaging with your son, try doing so over an activity, like washing the car or cycling. Boys will find it less intimidating if they can busy themselves with an action while they talk to you. Don’t get heavy and detailed with a boy. Keep your discussions a bit more lighthearted unless he leads it to a deeper place.

While it is important for our children to discuss feelings with both parents, sometimes it is more effective for your child to discuss problems with same sex parents (if possible). If a girl is having boyfriend trouble, it is often easier to chat to mom about it than dad.

Take your child's ideas and opinions seriously. Let your child feel that they are a valued member of the family by showing them that their opinions are valuable to you. Let them be part of discussions that will affect the whole family. For example, before our recent move from Johannesburg to Cape Town, I sat down with my daughter and asked her to tell me all the reservations she had about moving, and then I asked her to think of all the positive things that she could think of about living in Cape Town. I told her my reservations and my reasons for wanting to move. We had a long discussion about the move, and while my mind was made up that we were going to move regardless, it helped her to air all her concerns in a non-judgmental environment. It helped her to see that her opinions mattered to me and that I was willing to hear them and address them with her. It also gave me the opportunity to see where I could help her to make the transition easier.

Make your child feel valued by asking for their help. It will make them feel that they have an important role to play in your life. For example, if you get a new mobile phone, ask your teen to help you figure it out.

Teach your teen to solve their own problems. Problem solving is possibly one of the most important life-skills that you can teach your child. You can do this by:

Let them solve their own problems. When they come to you with a personal problem, don’t solve it for them immediately. Guide them to a solution, “What do you think is the best thing to do?” “If you did ... how do you think it would solve the problem?” “When I was younger this is what I would have done…do you think any of that would apply or help you?” Encourage them with every answer, praising them for coming up with solutions, and guiding them to a resolution that they feel comfortable with. Being able to solve your own problems helps to instill a sense of pride and achievement.

Ask your teen for help. In conversation bring in a problem that you had, like having to deal with a rude bank teller (please choose something light – I don’t want you scaring your children for life, by dumping all your deep dark problems onto them) ask them to suggest possible ways to handle the situation. Firstly, it will make them feel really important, and flattered that you are asking them for advice, and secondly it will instill some valuable problem solving skills into their daily lives.

Problem-solve dilemmas that are happening in your community or environment. Bring certain problems into your dinner or daily discussions; like litter in the park or barking dogs in your neighbourhood, and ask with your teen to suggest possible solutions. Be warned: in the beginning you could get the look (yes that look that tells you, you must crazy to think I care about this), but ignore it and carry on the conversation without your teen, if necessary. One day you’ll pick a topic that they’ll care enough about to participate in. Even if they don’t participate they will still learn something by being present during the discussion. Try staying away from 'dark' topics like crime, unless it has affected your family directly. While it is important for teens to know what is happening in their community for their own safety, it is also important that they are not overloaded with horror stories, as this can cause them unnecessary stress and worry.

For part 3, Reinforcing Positive Behavior, please click here


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