We’ve heard many parents bemoan “the rebellious teenage years” where moments of peace between them and their teenage children seem almost elusive. Frustration, exasperation, and tears are often experienced during this stage of the parenting journey because of a lack of understanding, and the assumption that the teen is being unreasonable or acting out for no good reason.
However, adolescence is not an easy phase for teens either. During this phase of transitioning from child to adult, their minds and bodies go through significant changes and developments which affect the way they feel, behave, and perceive things.
Understanding the developments that your teen is going through and the things which are important to them during adolescence may help you to better understand your growing child and navigate this challenging phase.
Stages of adolescence
During adolescence, a person’s brain develops significantly in three phases – the early (10-13 years old), middle (14-17 years old) and late (18 years old onwards) phases. The below diagram shows the way their minds work during the three phases.
In the early stage of adolescence, teens tend to be more self-centred, impulsive and lack consequential thinking. Most of them tend to have a more short-sighted view of things and are driven by rewards and social affirmation.
When they reach the middle stage of adolescence, they start developing romantic and sexual interests and it is common for them to have crushes on a school mate or a common friend. Their thinking process also further develops and enables them to think more critically and see the big picture. However, they may still lack the ability to respond to situations objectively as they are often swayed by emotions and “think with their hearts”. Parents need to realise that their teens are able to think logically but it is not easy for wisdom to translate to action.
When teens progress to the late stage of adolescence, they develop better impulse control, can think more critically, and start forming their identities and self-concept. They also start developing more stable relationships in this phase.
Brain development in adolescence
The changes experienced by teens in their adolescence, and their actions, can be explained by their neural or brain development.
As parents and adults, we often question the decisions that teens make. We wonder why teens are so blinded by things that seem so obvious to us and often find ourselves irritated or frustrated by their “foolish decisions”. However, parents need to understand that teens are living and making decisions with their brains “still under construction”.
The human brain develops in a back-to-front sequence with the amygdala (mid portion) developing earlier than the prefrontal cortex (frontal lobe).
The amygdala, which sees exponential growth in adolescence, is responsible for processing emotions and rewards. The prefrontal cortex, which develops later, is responsible for judgement, impulse control and planning. This area of the brain is still slowly maturing during adolescence and will continue to do so until early adulthood.
Hence, the choices that teenagers make are often ruled more by emotions than by reason or logic. Until the frontal lobe catches up, the desire for rewards and social pressures will override rational thinking.
Parenting strategies for parents of adolescents
Adolescence is a time of transition and self-discovery, and you may find that your teenager seems more distant and harder to figure out. TOUCH Parenting encourages parents to practise patience and empathy, and tap on the PEACE
strategy while parenting their teens.
Parenting a teenager isn’t easy. But with love, understanding and the right strategies, this journey can be highly meaningful and strengthen your parent-child relationship.
Have any questions on parenting or want to find out more about our evidence-based parenting programmes? Contact TOUCH Parenting at [email protected]
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TOUCH Parenting aims to strengthen parent-child relationships by providing parents with relevant parenting resources through every stage of their parenting journey. It conducts informative talks and workshops which empower parents with knowledge on preparing for and raising a new-born, navigating the digital age with their child, parent-child communication, and nurturing resilient children and youths. It is also appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development as the Parent Support Provider (PSP) for Primary and Secondary schools in Singapore.
Cullen, K. (2021). The psychology of parenting teenagers: Thriving throughout the teenage years. Icon Books.
Faber, A., Mazlish, E., & Coe, K. A. (2016). How to talk so teens will listen & listen so teens will talk. William Morrow.
Galvan, A., Hare, T., Voss, H., Glover, G., & Casey, B. (2007). Risk-taking and the adolescent brain: Who is at risk? Developmental Science, 10(2). doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2006.00579.x
Hadley, A. M., Hair, E. C., & Moore, K. A. (2008, September 10). Assessing What Kids Think of Themselves: A Guide to Adolescent Self-Concept for Out-of-School Time Program Practitioners. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/publications/assessing-what-kids-think-of-themselves-a-guide-to-adolescent-self-concept-for-ost-program-practitioners
Steinberg, L. (2007). Risk Taking in Adolescence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(2), 55-59. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00475.x