Contrary to what my 6-year-old thinks (and how she sometimes acts), we do not have a teenager living in our house just yet. Thankfully we’ve got a few years before then to brush up on our parenting prowess. But I’ve spent enough time with teens and tweens–and their parents–over the past decade (as a teacher, therapist, researcher, etc.) that I’ve learned a thing or two about adolescent development.
Much of my recent research has focused on how parents and teens communicate. Or, rather, how they don’t communicate. It’s a two-sided coin. Teens don’t feel heard; parent’s don’t think their teens are listening. Teens say they can’t talk to their parents about “certain” issues — which are, ironically, the same issues that parents say they aren’t sure how to broach with their teens.
Anyone who works with teenagers, has a teenager, or has been a teenager will attest: adolescence is one trying phase. For all parties involved.
While I could write for hours on adolescence and all it entails, I’ll try to stick to July’s topic: Kids and Boredom. So, just where do teens and tweens fit in the mix?
As you know, adolescence is a transitional period. Namely, it’s the awkward years that turn a child into an adult. Biologically-speaking, we’re talking puberty. Psychologically-speaking, however, we’re talking about redefining oneself, one’s identity, and one’s relationships. Naturally, the parent-child relationship shifts during this process.
In order for teens to adjust to their new roles and responsibilities, their brains need to be pretty flexible. This is called neural plasticity (which is just a fancy way to say that the teenage brain is in the process of being rewired). This cognitive reorganization is a good thing, as it paves the way for adult independence and stability. But during adolescence, it leaves teen minds susceptible and vulnerable. Neural plasticity makes it challenging for teens and tweens to think through choices, and it lends itself easily to adolescent boredom. Teens crave (and need) more independence, but once granted, they’re not quite sure what to do next…
This is where proactive parenting becomes so important. If teen independence isn’t monitored — and channeled into healthy outlets — adolescents are at greater risk for substance abuse, sexual activity, even suicide. A teen pondering his purpose will ultimately identify voids in his life (e.g., gaps between who he’s been and who he wants to be), and will work to bridge the two. Teens become more vulnerable to peer pressure and may experiment with new ideas, explore new activities, and hang out with new social circles.
Thought for today: It’s important that parents and professionals remember: Teen experimentation and exploration aren’t necessarily bad things. Teens, once they identify with something or someone, are pretty passionate. If you see your teen “searching” (which may come off as boredom, or even depression), encourage him to rally for something he believes in. Volunteer for an organization. Join a club. Mentor. Adolescence is a good time for youth to figure out what they believe and why. The internal grappling teens do during these transitional years often influence the adults they become.
Practicing What I Preach: A portion of my faculty appointment at North Carolina State University includes work as an Extension Specialist. This entails collaborating with North Carolina 4-H. Now being from the South, if you’re like me, your first thoughts may be of livestock shows and the State Fair. Which is a part of 4-H. But not all of it. Encourage your teen, tween, or younger child to explore 4-H and all it has to offer in addition to the extra-curriculars offered through your school, church, and community.