A recent article in National Geographic magazine (October, 2011) unveils a variety of research on the teen brain. It concludes that teenagers are aware of risks and consequences of their actions but their brains are wired between the ages of 12-25 to outweigh the benefits of reward. The article states,
“Studies show that when parents engage and guide their teens with a light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence, their kids generally do much better in life.”
Parenting teens is scary. There is so much that can happen to a young person these days. Just like the Subaru commercial, a parent has a unique way of seeing their own child. It’s hard to let them go out into the world, making their own mistakes and suffering their own consequences. Parents generally want to take their babe back into their arms and protect him from all that is dangerous out in the world. This often leads to a fight for control with your teen which is part of why this such a tumultuous time for parents and teens.
Knowing that teenagers value reward more than they will at any other point in their lives, parents can use this to their advantage. Kids of all ages need praise in their lives. As an adult, it is easy to see where a kid has made a mistake or error in judgment and point that out to your child. It takes more practice to notice all the great things your child does and let your child know that you noticed in a specific and palpable way. For example, instead of saying “good job” you could say, “you made a great decision by deciding to do your homework before going out with your friends. When you make responsible decisions, it helps me to trust you more.” Instead of “you’re so smart”, try “I like the way you worked really hard on your school project and included so many details.” Working hard is something your child can control, “smart” or other personality characteristics are not. Instead of “great game”, you could say, “that was nice teamwork when you passed the puck in the 2nd period”. A specific comment also let’s your child know that you were really watching the game. Since teens are wired to listen more to peers during the teen years, team sports, band, the debate team or other extra-curricular activities can sometimes help keep teens out of trouble. Plus, you know there is a coach or other trusted adult in their lives that can help guide them in the right direction.
Try to give your child 2-4 more praise statements than corrections and see what happens. Feel free to comment about your experiences.