Aren’t they a mystery? Teens are perplexing creatures. They need affection, yet push parents away. They want help from us, yet they often believe they can do it all on their own. Understanding the adolescent mind feels like a futile task most days, but there are some common characteristics that can help us better understand why teens behave the way they do.
Let’s look at some basic brain science for teens:
- Teenager brains are not great at remembering upcoming tasks. Parents respond in disbelief when they have reminded their halfway grown-up child to do something 10 times and he/she STILL forgot. Parents may have more success by teaching their teens to use planners, reminders, and checklists to keep them on track.
- Dopamine levels are low in teenagers. However, when teens get something they want, their dopamine levels increase higher than adult levels. So their lows are lower and their highs are higher. This “feel-good” hormone difference makes teens more susceptible to addiction. Healthy, thrilling activities that naturally raise dopamine levels, like sports, exercising, and artistic performances may help steer them away from drugs and alcohol.
- Teens think you are being confrontational even when you are not. The rational part of their brains is not quite developed. This means they rely more heavily on the primitive back parts of the brain to evaluate facial expressions. Because this part of the brain is more sensitive in detecting threats and danger, it is more likely to believe hostility is present even when it isn’t. Nagging and criticism can make your teen’s brain shut down. Advice for parents: Be positive and try NOT to join in their behavior when they fly off the handle.
Now let’s check out some facts and stats:
- 64% of teens text during class; 15% of teens text more than 200 times per day; texting is often the first and last thing a teen does each day.
- 7 out of 10 girls believe they are not good enough in some way, including body size or shape, academics, social life and/or school performance.
- About 20% of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood.
- 38% of boys in middle and high school have used protein supplements, and 7% have experimented with steroids.
- Top common teen fears include: sickness, parents divorcing, not doing well in school, disasters, and peer pressure.
- In 8th, 10th and 12th grades, studies show that boys report higher self-esteem than girls.
- Girls consistently have higher GPAs than boys throughout middle and high school.
- When teens work a job for more than 20 hours per week, their school attendance and grades drop, and the likelihood of drug use increases. (Under 20 hours appears okay, and even beneficial, for developing life skills.)
- 17 is the average age that American teens lose their virginity (males and females).
- Teens who argue with their parents are less likely to cave to peer pressure.
- Young adolescents prefer bland, familiar foods. They eat more snacks and reject meals. As they get older, they prefer more foreign, adult-like foods.
- More than 75% of teens enjoy spending time with their parents, and 85-89% of teens think highly of their moms and dads.
- More than 90% of teens enjoy sitting down to dinner with their family.
Moms, dads, grandparents, stepparents, foster parents, and/or grown-ups in charge: it is definitely not easy raising a teen. But for every minute we struggle to understand why they do what they do, let’s remember it is equally hard (if not harder) to be a teen. Their struggles change on a daily basis. Their social skills are not yet mature or adult-like, which leaves them ill-equipped to handle squabbles, unexpected events, uncomfortable interactions, and sticky situations. Teens are learning how to become organized, manage money, handle romantic relationships, deal with mishaps and miscommunications, and prepare for the next stages of life. They are comparing themselves to other teens daily. And their emotions are unpredictable. All this learning and changing is going on while under scrutiny from adults everywhere.