The magically marvelous mind of the teenager

The teenager

For today’s parenting tip, we focus on the mind of the teenager. I give you the drama of the 15-year-old girl: She’s lying on her bed sobbing, stating that she can’t go on and will never leave her bedroom again.

“I don’t care what you say, there is no reason to live! You just don’t understand! Leave me alone!”

So, what might have prompted this extreme and unexpected depressive state? She was just fine when she came home from school. Well, she just received a text from a friend inquiring about her apparel choice for so-and-so’s party Saturday night, a party of which, she just learned, she had “ … not EVEN been invited!”

So, how does the parent of this child abide this hysteria? Perhaps an excerpt from the article entitled ‘Beautiful Brains’ by David Dobbs, National Geographic, 2011 will shed a bit of light:

“Teens gravitate toward peers for a very powerful reason: to invest in the future rather than the past. We enter a world made by our parents. But we will live most of our lives, and prosper (or not) in a world run and remade by our peers. This supremely human characteristic makes peer relations, not a sideshow but the main show. Some brain scan studies, in fact, suggest that our brains react to peer exclusion much as they respond to a threat to physical health or food supply. On a neurological level, in other words, we perceive social rejection as a threat to existence…And at no other time before or after the teen years, will this be true.”

It’s evolutionary, dear parent, evolutionary.

So, although we may perceive such behavior as histrionic, for her, this exclusionary event has tripped her survival alarms. Emergency lights are flashing, “Abort, abort,” as neurons scramble to defuse the grenade that has so casually been tossed at her feet.

As such, we must make a point of HONORING and not dismiss feelings, no matter how bizarre they may seem at the time. We want to refrain from telling a teen that it is not a big deal, or that they are being unreasonable or irrational. It is critical for the teen to know that someone else understands the inner experience. Once validated, the move toward more productive thinking can take place.

And remember, most all feelings are preceded by thoughts, and troubled feelings are grounded in fear. So while we want to honor their feelings, we also want to help them recognize the difference between what has actually transpired, the non-invite, and what our THOUGHTS have made of it. Asking questions rather than telling can be helpful. (But be careful-not too many!) Be patient and breath deeply knowing that despite what our eyes and ears tell us, by honoring their feelings, we have indeed assisted in emotional growth and healing.

Double-feature drive-in movie set from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Caledonia-Mount Pleasant Memorial Park.

About the author

Kate MartinKate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015. 

She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today. For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.

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