Inside the Teenage Brain

Moody, risk-taking, depressed, rude, impulsive, distant...however we think of adolescents, neuroscience is now coming up with reasons to explain their behavior by tracing it to the brain. Read on about teenagers' transition to adulthood, experiences of bullying, marijuana use, and disorders du jour.

When Parents Blame Their Children

Does it really take a village to raise a child?

One of the most difficult things I find myself doing as a psychotherapist is holding parents accountable. Typically when you have a teen engaging in unhealthy behavior, you have a parent who makes it his or her own priority to set the teen on the right path. However, there seems to be a caveat.  

“Please help me help my kid, but don't you dare tell me I am at fault.”  

In most cases–with the exception of issues brought about by atypical neurological wiring or brain damage–the issue a troubled teen presents with mirrors issues that the parent currently struggles with. The difference between the two is that the teen does not have the kind of leverage his parents have in getting through life without addressing the issues. (This is, in my opinion, a blessing in disguise.) 

For example, children and teens with bad tempers usually have at least one parent (in their lives) who has a bad temper. The teen goes to school and displays the bad temper and gets penalized, then comes homes and displays the bad temper and gets penalized, all the while witnessing one of his parents periodically display episodes of bad tempers with no consequences. 

With this example in mind, by the time a child who witnesses such bouts of poor anger management with a parent comes of age, most of the conflict in the household will usually be between a parent and his or her teen with similar issues. 

When I have pointed out similarities between a parent's issues and their child's issues, the push back I typically receive from parents is that perhaps there is a biological reason that their son or daughter behaves in a certain detrimental manner. I typically respond that I do not believe the behavior is biologically based and give examples such as autism as a biological basis for some acting out behavior. Once I have convinced the parent that the behavior is learned, the next excuse I receive from the parent is that the behavior has most likely been learned from the community at large. This is usually accompanied by the ubiquitous African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” To this I respond with a proverb of my own:

“The village that raises the child is usually chosen by the parents.”  

In other words, your child will adopt the mannerisms, cultural beliefs, and values of any community you choose to raise him or her in. If you are not in agreement of the beliefs and values of the culture you choose to raise your child in, and you take no steps to reject or enmesh your child in other beliefs and values, your child from an early age is going to assume that you approve of the cultural beliefs and values of the community you choose to raise him or her in. After all is said and done, if you are a parent who has been put off by your child's therapist holding you accountable in any way, please keep in mind that the purpose of accountability is not to judge you, but to help you recognize your personal power and influence as a parent. 

Ugo is a psychotherapist and professional life coach.

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Inside the Teenage Brain