Archive for November, 2009

Part Six: How Must Parents of Teenagers Change?

Friday, November 13th, 2009
Parents' Influence Is Still the Strongest

Parents' Influence Is Still the Strongest

In order for parents of teenagers to better understand their adolescent youths, old notions will have to be accepted for what they truly are: old notions.  It used to be parents—and scientists alike—thought we only have once chance to stimulate our children’s brains: during infancy, and if we miss that chance, it’s too late to hope to significantly influence their intelligence quotient.  But science and technology of today are rapidly proving such old notions simply aren’t true.

By now, I’m hoping we all have opened our minds up to the emerging truths about the human brain, particularly in regards to the Teenage Brain.  Personally, I’ve had quite a challenge changing my own dispositions toward my teenage son; maybe by the time our daughter is a teenager, I’ll be better at showing compassion and staying lovingly engaged in their lives, when they’re both teenagers.

The marvelous thing, in my opinion, about all of this stuff about brain science, is ALL of us…even adults into old age…can improve our brains and increase our intelligence and keep our brains lively and adept, instead of growing dim and sluggish.

In his book, The Myth of the First Three Years, John Bruer, debunks the long-held beliefs we only have 3 years, from our children’s infancy, to significantly influence our kids’ intelligence.   We now know, we have all their lives!  Surely, children learn languages most readily when their very little, but isn’t it great to know our teenagers, as difficult, moody, and impulsive as they can be, are also open for positive input from us, and are surprisingly receptive to our advice, counsel, and rules…if we’re compassionate of their feelings and struggles, and show them trust [tempered with loving counsel toward caution and consequences].

Dr. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health who was featured on the PBS Special Report: Inside the Teenage Brain says:

“The best thing parents can do [for their teens] is spend loving, quality time with their children…”

Ellen Galinsky, a social scientist and President and Co-Founder of the Families and Work Institute, said there are enduring lessons for parents:

“Teens are actually yearning for more time with parents…”

More from Ms. Galinsky in a moment.

In the PBS special, Inside the Teenage Brain, one insightful mother who displayed a remarkable rapport with her TYPICAL teens [there’s footage of these sisters arguing with their jerky, big brother], warned against pushing teens away.  Yet another mom pointed out how it’s crucial to “enable” kids to talk to us as parents, about anything WITHOUT fear of reprimand, ridicule, or being discounted just because they’re not adults.   She said kids are a lot more attuned to what’s going on than what parents give them credit for [I’ve been astounded, myself, by the truth of this in my own kids].

Finally, from Ellen Galinsky, who discovered a surprising—yet touching—truth about kids’ perceptiveness, and a tremendous opportunity for parents and youth to bond greatly.  It’s a bit long, but I urge you to please read it.  I’ve include a few paragraphs as snippets, but the context is changed in no way, whatsoever:

“There’s a feeling sometimes among parents that when your kids turn into teens, that you’ve done your job in a sense, that it’s the peers who have the greatest influence, and that your influence is a lot less.  That’s not what I heard from teens, particularly if they have a halfway decent relationship with their parent, which doesn’t mean that you don’t fight or disagree or they don’t make your life miserable.  It doesn’t mean that.  But if they feel like they’re respected, if they feel like they’re listened to, if they feel like they’re valued, they really want adults to help shape their views about world.  They want adults to tell them about the world and how it works…

It was a real surprise to me, and I think it’s a surprise to parents whom I talked to — how often kids worry about their parents.  We think about our worrying about our kids.  But the kids actually worry about us, and they primarily worry because we’re tired and stressed.  One out of three worries about his or her parents often or very often, and two-thirds worry some of the time. …

Ms. Galinsky was asked, ‘When you ask the kids whom do they admire, whom do they say?’

“When you ask children whom they admire, they often talk about their parents.  If they have a good relationship, they talk about their parents.”

“Another surprise was I asked kids what they were going to remember most from this period in their life, and I asked parents to guess what the kids would say.  And parents almost always guess the big event, the vacation, the wonderful family reunion, you know, the five-star kind of family thing.  And kids talked about the very small, everyday rituals and traditions that say to them “We’re a family.”  So those everyday things that we do really matter a lot.

One child talked about that when she came down the stairs to go to school, her dad said, “You go, tiger, you go get ‘em,” and that was what she was going to remember most from being a young person.  Another child talked about being in bed and the wake-up song — this was not a little kid.  But his mother always sang a wake-up song, and that’s what he was going to remember most. … That says to parents, “Have those rituals, have those traditions.  Those are important, even with teens.”

To read the entire segment of Ellen Galinsky’s comments, from where I took these, visit this link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/galinsky.html

I hope my comments and sharing these things has inspired you to seek to be more compassionate and loving not just toward your teenagers…but toward all people.

—Charles Pruett

Part Five: Teenagers Need More Sleep

Friday, November 6th, 2009
Scientists say teens should sleep later

Scientists say teens should sleep later

Many parents become baffled when their teenagers suddenly start sleeping in late on mornings they’re not required to arise, or they are more difficult to rouse from their beds than just a year or a few months prior.

What gives? Again, brain science on teenagers can help shed some light.

Teenagers need more sleep than they are currently getting, on the national average.   It turns out the “magic number” scientists have arrived at for hours of sleep the rapidly developing teenage brain need to function at optimum capacity is 9 ¼ hours.

The same part of the brain that processes the learning of new skills and concepts continues to rehearse those things while teenagers are asleep; consolidating and improving on what has been learned during waking hours [this explains why so often, after teens learn a new idea or task, the next day their grasp of the thought or execution thereof, is typically improved or enhanced].  And adequate sleep—especially REM sleep—is most critical for learning.

But that’s not all.  Sufficient sleep also has everything to do with teenagers’ feelings of well-being.  As one scientist put it:

“There are millions of adolescents who feel despondent, get poor marks, [or] are too tired to join school teams…all because they are getting too little sleep.”

In fact, when students with much more REM sleep were tested against those with even a few hours less, performance of certain tasks by the well-rested students was significantly greater, anywhere from 25% to 40% better than those who were deprived of sufficient REM sleep.  When the lower performance students were re-tested on equal tasks after having received the recommended 9 ¼ hours of sleep, where generous REM activity was enabled, those students’ performances jumped.

Bottom line: ample REM sleep is crucial for proper cognitive learning in teens—and the same even goes for adults; just not to same degree.

In the PBS program, Inside the Teenage Brain, a Minnesota school district was featured where administrators wanted to see how changing the start time for high school students would affect their performance.   The thinking of the administration was to put scientific findings regarding teen sleep cycles to the test.

Influenced by studies showing teenagers perform better, academically, when allowed more sleep—not by putting them to be earlier, but by allowing them to sleep longer, in the mornings, and starting school at 9:30 a.m. rather than an hour earlier—school district heads embarked on an experiment to test the assertions of brain and sleep scientists.

It’s interesting to note teenagers actually function better when they fall asleep at around 11:00 p.m., rather than earlier, such as 9 or 10, when it’s difficult for their processing minds to calm down to enable slumber. These findings are in harmony with the Circadian or “biological” clock.

Long story short, after the students had begun to start their school days at 9:30, there were unanimous, reports from teachers of significant improvements from the students; not just better performance on assignments and tests, but more enthusiasm and participation in discussions…better engagement…from the students as a whole.

But the biggest problem in making such adjustments for the overall well being of our adolescent youth is such changes would disrupt our entire society.   Communities revolve around schools, if you think about it. We have to adjust our work schedules and all other activities in life [practically] around our kids’ school schedules.

But where is it written school has to start at 8:00 or 8:30?  Our society has just become accustomed to these general start times, and I seriously doubt most of us would like the change/disruption to our lives—even though it would greatly benefit teenagers.

Last year, our son [now a teenager] attended a school that started at 9:20 am.   He typically slept in while I took our other child to school, and he would often not wake up until 8:45, rather than his current awake time of 6:45, as he now attends the same, “higher learning” school as his sister, and I must say his dedication and results were greater back then.   I think the extra two hours of sleep did him a world of good.  HE sure misses it!

I put quotation marks around “higher learning” because this same school doesn’t have a track or much in the way to facilitate physical activity for the students.  Before we enrolled our son in this school, I asked if there was a track the middle school kids could utilize for track or PE, and do you know what they told me?   They said, “This school places more emphasis on the academic.”

I didn’t bother to tell them scientific findings prove physical activity actually increases cognitive function, and elimination of such activities is counter productive to learning!  I’ll have to do my preaching to those who have the power to make such changes.

Next post: Part Six: How Parents Must Change.

Part Four: Teenage Mood Swings II (Common Parental Mistakes to Avoid With Teen Emotions)

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

“You Just Don’t Understand”

He really does want your guidance.

He really does want your guidance.

The quickest way to get shut out from your teenager’s trust, according to teens interviewed by psychiatrists, is to nose into that which you, as a parent, are not allowed to know.  That is where many parents, who feel they are entitled to every aspect of their teenagers’ lives have a REAL problem accepting the fact their teens are turning into grown up individuals who have a right to make decisions in regards to their own lives.  Many parents will say, “They’re not old enough to know what’s right/good for them! We have a right to know what’s going on in their lives!”

When it comes to their health and safety, that is a correct statement; a sentiment that is right and true.

But teenagers DO have a right to privatize their emotions and feelings, without being compelled to disclose what’s going on in their minds [like they’d even know that], or even their social lives.  Just see what will happen if you attempt to force or coerce your teens into telling all about the pressures and what, to you, will seem like melodrama, in their lives; you will, most assuredly, find they will clam up and you could even—unwittingly—drive them into lifestyle choices you would give your own life to keep them from making.

I’m learning to try compassion and open-mindedness first, and let my teen know he can approach me about anything, and if he does so honestly, he will never have to fear retribution, criticism, or even the dreaded lecture.  Parents might find it hard to WAIT until their TEENS are ready—and willing—to talk.

Being AVAILABLE when they’re ready to talk—and making sure they know you’re available, WITHOUT ANY FEAR OF JUDGMENT OR RETRIBUTION FOR DISCLOSED OR ADMITTED WRONG DOINGS—is perhaps the most important aspect of keeping your relationship with your teenager trusting and meaningful, according to experts.

Teens are just coming into self-realization, but aren’t anywhere NEAR as able as adults recognize their own emotions, let alone parents’—especially as manifest in facial emotions.   It’s a fact.  Teen brain experts and psychiatrists will tell you: it’s best to remain calm, open, approachable, and compassionate [and even sympathetic] to your teens, if you want to gain—and retain—their trust.

In an extensive study conducted by psychiatrists and brain scientists, teens were asked to identify emotions based on facial expressions, from photographs of adults they were shown, in a clinical study.  Time and again, when teenagers were shown photos of adults displaying varying emotions—such as fear, anxiety, perplexed—the most commonly perceived emotions were “anger” and “nervousness”, even when none of those emotions were presented in the photographs.

It’s interesting to note: teen brains use a different part of the brain than adults to process emotions, and they—the teenagers—aren’t able to accurately discern or perceive facially-displayed emotions and, as a result, so often respond inappropriately [like responding with anger, frustration, or defensiveness when asked something that—to parents—is a simple, reasonable question, such as “Why haven’t you been completing your Math assignments?”].

That inquisitive look on our faces could be perceived as accusatory or disbelief at previous explanations.  And parents who are flabbergasted by mysterious, adolescent behavior won’t find comfort in knowing teens overreact much more so than adults.

In talking with groups of teens, brain scientists along with youth counselors have been learning teens often feel they’re the ones who are misunderstood…for good reason; teenage brain science has only recently begun to reveal the mysteries of the teenage brain and how the rapid changes drive emotions and behavior.  Having a sound understanding of the significant developments within in the frontal cortex of teenagers will give us much better grasp as to what’s responsible for their inexplicable behavior, as well as what drives their moods and emotions, which will often seem completely irrational [they ARE], but FEEL acutely real to them.

Another remarkable finding in relation to the healthy development of teenagers is the correlation of physical exercise and activity and proper development of the teen cerebellum.  It used to be scientists thought the cerebellum dealt with primarily motor skills and functions.  Well, now they are finding cognitive maturity AND growth are both inexorably linked to the growth of the cerebellum.

Teenagers [even most kids] of today don’t get enough exercise or physical activity, and their minds are suffering…along with their physiques.  Schools that have done away with PE “to concentrate on the academic” [as educators at my kids’ school have told me] are actually acting in opposition to proper brain development by NOT having rigorous, physical exercise and activities as a normal part of their school curriculum…and ENORMOUS mistake!!   Brain scientists are also finding full development of the cerebellum in adolescents often extends into the twenties.

Teenagers who were interviewed by scientists who collaborated with PBS during the investigations into the making of Inside the Teenage Brain told a teacher/counselor they trusted many of the issues [with parents] that perpetually troubled them were [among others]:

• Stereotypes.
• Misconceptions/assumptions.
• Wrongful judgment(s) and accusations.
• Double standards and hypocrisy from parents.
• Lack of trust.
• Misplaced blame.

In watching this group of teens talk freely about these things, I could easily discern their honesty and sincerity and I felt a wave of guilt wash over me, as I have been guilty of every one of those offenses toward my own teen.

I have been making efforts to have more compassion toward my own teen, and allowing him more “space” and leeway to feel, think, and behave [to a degree, without allowing him free reign] like a teen.  I am trying to cut him some slack in regards to his moodiness, too.

Next post: Part FOUR: Teenagers Need More Sleep