Teenagers Piercings, and Texting and Sex – Oh MY! Why does my teenager make so many stupid decisions?
Have you seen the movie Hangover? There’s a delightfully hilarious scene where Allan wakes up and goes to the bathroom. He’s standing there, completely unaware that there is a tiger in the bathroom. He looks at it, turns back around and there’s a good 10 seconds before it actually registers that THERE IS A TIGER IN THE BATHROOM! This is how it is when you wake up one day in your child has hit hormone hell…it takes a little time to register – but you slowly turn around and ask yourself, “WHO is that!? And what have they done with my precious, sweet child!?”
From your perspective, as you run screaming from the bathroom, shutting the door, panting and hoping it was just a really bad dream, you realize you are in completely new territory. You are in the “hood” – Teenage-hood…welcome to an altered sense of reality…in 4D – yea…those are unidentifiable smells coming from under your child’s door.
Sometimes we are so distracted with the perspective from our “side of the door” that we forget that this might not be so easy for our teens either. If our teens could tell us what is going on…what might they say
Out of the mouths of our “babes & dudes” – this is what they might want us to know…(with a little developmental theory and brain talk thrown in!)
“Dude, what up? Chill-ax – I’ll be in by 12:00 or I’ll text you. Look, I totally get that you worry about me. But, if I’m going to learn how to navigate this thing called life, you’re gonna have to loosen the noose a little. I mean, if you had never let go of my hand when I was learning to walk, well..you know I’d still be holding your hand which is way not cool. I’ll get it – I’ll make some mistakes, just cuz well, I haven’t figured it all out, yet. But, well – that’s what this time is all about, right? Figuring it out.
This is the stage of identity – it’s where I take all that I have learned about who YOU think I am, and who the rest of the world thinks I am and decipher – who am I really? I imagine this is an on-going process, but it is the first time I am looking at it closely and questioning it based on what I have internalized about who I am. To do that, it may seem like I’m going out on a ledge…you know – piercings, hair colors, black nail polish, tattoos… It’s like play’in dress up “teen style.” I have to try some things on to see if they fit me – it’s not personal. I’m not diss’in you or your values or any of the things you have taught me. I just need to ask my own questions and get my own answers right now.
Remember my brain is still growing and changing. My prefrontal cortex which controls my ability to “think ahead” or identify potential consequences for my actions is not fully developed (it’s the control center that sends out signals like “not your best move, dude!”). Yet my limbic system is in high gear – which means my emotions rule over my “thinking self” right now. My brain is listening more to the emotional side of things.
My brain is figuring things out by myelination and synaptic pruning. These two processes are making my brain more efficient…but it’s seriously still under construction, dude. This process is not complete (might wanna sit down for this) until I am nearly done with college. But….you can move this process along by providing opportunities for me to build my skills (giving me opportunities to make good choices and live with the consequences (don’t keep bail’in me out or making all my decisions for me – not forming any healthy brain connections that way!), to learn (help me pursue my interests outside of school, also), exercise (video games are not a form of exercise…make me move it!) and creative outlets (let me paint, draw, play my drums, guitar….give me something to create).
I don’t always make good decisions, but remember in my brain a “good decision” is relative. I’ll only say this once and you didn’t hear it from me, but I like that you watch out for me and set healthy boundarires. No need to go all control freak on me…but I like that you care, you listen, you ask questions and mostly just love me – no matter what.
I know it doesn’t seem like I listen, but I do. I just need to figure out a lot of things for myself, like you did, I guess. But, mostly I watch how you live…the way you treat people, how you returned the money to the store when they gave you too much. You know, the things you do when you think no one is looking. Those are the qualities I learn the most from you.”
At this point, you are now in the passenger seat of what we call the Car of your teenager’s life, with only a mere emergency (and sometimes faulty) brake between you and a concrete wall. But, not without complete power and control, mind you – we have some resources – it is not entirely hopeless. It’s not too late to parent on purpose.