Building A Healthy Brain

ADOLESCENTS are supposed to go through the shenanigans that drive their parents crazy.

The ‘adaptive-adolescent’ perspective of the adolescent brain, can be tricky to embrace —the more so for parents dealing with adolescents at their most infuriating and flat-out scary moments.

Teens wield their adaptive brain plasticity amid small but harrowing risks. However, it is comforting to reframe worrisome aspects of teen brain development as signs of an organism that is exquisitely sensitive and highly adaptable — optimally primed to learn how to negotiate its environment and ultimately leave the safe haven of home and move into complex, unfamiliar territory.

This critical process of individuation from the family is the hardest and most important thing adolescents would ever do in their lifespan. It is in the very nature of young mammals to form attachments to elders, caregivers and parents as they provide what Daniel Siegel (2016) refers to as the four S’s – you are Seen, Safe, Soothed and Secure.

Peer Group Madness

But, as we mature, we drift away from our parents and look towards our fellow adolescents to form stable peer groups for survival. This process isn’t simply rebelling for the sake of it, but instead is an instinctual motivation, hardwired into our very DNA by millions of years of evolution.

In the wild, when a mammal leaves its parents to become independent and has not established a peer group to turn to for protection, death is inevitable. As a result of this, during our own teenage years, we feel it absolutely imperative to implant ourselves into a social group of some kind, as at the back of our minds, we feel we cannot survive without one.

In adulthood, this life-or-death instinct towards socialising, dissipates. When a teen approaches their parent stating that they need to attend a particular social gathering, they say this not to exaggerate, but because deep down, they feel they may be rejected if they don’t fit in (Siegel, 2016).

By driving them crazy, they separate from their parents, discover who they are, test their limits and learn some hard and enduring lessons in preparation for adulthood.

Professor Frances Jensen in her book, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adult (2015), offers practical suggestions for how parents can help teenagers weather the storms of adolescence, and reap the most from their incredible developing brains.

Prohibiting the pitfalls of adolescence alone is not sufficient; teenagers need to be attracted to positive alternatives. Parents would bode well to allow their teenager to take some healthy risks. New and different experiences help your teen develop an independent identity, explore grown-up behaviours, and move towards independence.

Next Instalment:
4 Tips In Handling Adolescents

You Might Also Like To Read:
The Adolescent Brain – Crazy by Design
Inside the Adolescent Brain

Jensen, F.E. & Nutt, A.E. (2015). The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. HarperCollins Publishers.
Siegel, D. (2016). Daniel Siegel: Why Teens Turn from Parents to Peers. Available at: YouTube

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Shyla Sreedharan is the founder and senior counselor at Therapy Rocks.

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