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6 questions every parent of a teenager will ask.

Wonder why teens find it difficult to communicate with you? It’s hard to be certain, especially when teens just grunt at you when you ask them to turn the television down, or roll their eyes in disgust if you ask them to put their smartphones away at the dinner table.

But living with teenagers can be one of the most exciting periods in a parent’s life. It is exciting to see your child grow into a young person with separate views, hopes and ambitions. But it can also be a bloody rough ride.

Even the most conscientious of parents can lose sight of the good feelings they once had about themselves as parents. Teenagers can make you feel that you’ve got it all wrong, and be hurtful and undermining.

Still wondering why your teens find it difficult to communicate with you? Image via Tumblr.

According to Dr Andrew Kennedy who specialises in adolescent and young adult health, there are a couple of things parents should know to help them understand their teenage children.

For many years, scientists thought that brain development occurred during infancy, but nowadays scientists have come to learn that there is also a second growth spurt that occurs – in the adolescent years.

Parents are very much aware of this important brain development, but probably don’t understand why it happens and how.

Below are some common situations that parents face with some explanations of exactly what is happening in your teenager’s head at the time. Here goes!

1. Why don’t my kids want to hang out with me anymore?

Most children announce the onset of adolescence with a dramatic change in behaviour around their parents.

They start to show signs of wanting to be more independent.

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At the same time, kids this age are developing socially and becoming increasingly aware of how others, especially their peers, see them and are desperately trying to fit in.

For this reason, their peers often become much more important and more influential than parents, as far as making decisions go.

Want more? Try: Women without children are neither selfish nor bitter.

2. Why do my children want to engage in risky behaviour like taking drugs?

Teens need higher doses of risk to feel the same amount of rush as adults do.

This often makes teens vulnerable to engaging in impulsive and risky behaviors, such as trying drugs, getting into fights or jumping into unsafe water.

This behaviour is best explained by understanding that the last part of the brain to develop in adolescence is the ‘frontal cortex’, this is the part of the brain that helps you think before you act.

Also the limbic region is developed which is responsible for pleasure seeking, hence the indulgence in things which are immediately gratifying but potentially dangerous because of the mismatched development between the frontal cortex and limbic.

But usually by late adolescence, say 17 years old and after, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control is thought to help them reign in some of the behavior they were tempted by in middle adolescence.

3. Why is it so important for my kids to look ‘cool’?

Kids are really concerned with looking cool, but why?

As teens become better at thinking abstractly, their social anxiety increases, according to research in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published in 2004.

In a practical sense, this means your teenager begins to care more about what their peers think than what you think – particularly in the middle-adolescent period. They maintain a strong need to belong, but for a time this becomes more focused on their friends than on their parents and family.

4. Why does my teenager shut me out?

Often, teenagers need their parents as much or more than ever. However, the way they demonstrate their needs is likely to change, as will your opportunities to provide them with support and advice.

When they were young children, you may have dictated when and where advice would be delivered. Now, it will often be necessary to wait until your teenager is willing and ready to let you in.

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This may mean accommodating a teenager who has been grumpy, mean and driving you up the wall for several days, when they finally decide they’d like to know what you think during your favourite Sunday evening show.

One of the most influential ways to parent your teen, in addition to being a good listener, is to be a good role model, especially when dealing with stress and other life difficulties, as teens are actively trying to figure out their own coping strategies.

5. Why does my teenager get so emotional? 

In the early stages of adolescence, the most significant development is related to the areas of the brain that controls emotion.

A teen’s first love feels differently to the love experienced by adults because it’s the first really deep emotional connection they have experienced.

It is often best described as infatuation and is all-consuming.

A mass of endorphins and hormones are involved and because they aren't used to that experience they can be completely crushed when it breaks down.

While it’s good to display emotion, it’s also important to identify a ‘way forward’ from this situation. Parents can be useful here by offering something ‘fun to do’ like going to the movies or something similar.

Related content: “50 things I will tell my daughter”.

6. Why is my teenager more interested in their smart phone than listening to me?

The teenage brain craves stimulation.

As teenagers lack access to their frontal cortex, it is difficult for them to find the reasoning or rationale to say to themselves, “I had better stop playing with my phone because mum is speaking to me”.

Studies have shown that while teenagers are better at learning to multitask than adults, distraction from smartphones and other devices can still impair learning, so they should switch them off completely when they’re trying to study.

During National Youth Week, it is important to highlight that Adolescent and Young Adult Health is an incredibly important area, and one that has not had the recognition it deserves. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians is developing a Position Statement on how the health system can better promote youth health.
Dr Andrew Kennedy is a Specialist in Adolescent and Young Adult Health, Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
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