In the age of technology and social media never before has it been more important for parents to understand teenage brains and how they function. Teen age brains are plagued with impulsivity and reactivity; not a good combination for making smart choices about drugs and alcohol, social media, time management and sexuality. Lack of strong executive functioning skills results in teenage brains producing unrealistic thoughts. When parents join in with that unreality, they are failing their children.
Teenagers are professionals at masking their difficulties and challenges and when parents have blinders on, this can make for a dangerous combination. When a teenager reports that everything is going well, that’s almost a red flag that the opposite is true.
Teenager pressures have increased during the past two decades with technology use and the overly competitive drive for achievement and yet their brain development can not keep up with the extrenal pressures. Regardless of how much is thrown at teens, their brains will not be fully developed on average until age 25.
All teenagers today have challenges that require parental oversight. Parents who believe that their teens are well adjusted and have their lives all under control because they are not asking for help or displaying overt difficulties are in denial. Ongoing communication between parent and teen can make the difference between good and bad choices for a teen, although the topics are not always pleasant.
Here are four areas of challenge that all typical, socially involved, high achieving teens must respond to today:
1. Just say no to drugs. Drugs and alcohol are present with typical teens at routine social events as youth young as ages 14 and up. If a teen does not appear to be using drugs and alcohol, perhaps they are not, however, they will have had to make difficult choices regarding this. Parents need to have open lines of communication in order to be able to discuss drug and alcohol use. Parents can coach teens without judgment as to how they can best respond when teens are in situations where peers are engaged with drugs and alcohol. The best way to prevent drug and alcohol involvement is creating a safe climate at home, where dialogue early as age 12 occurs and teens are not keeping secrets out of fear of parental reactions. There should be no consequences for being honest regarding fears and mistakes, but there should repercussions for withholding information.
2. Just say no to privacy. Teens can’t handle privacy today because implicit in that means social media sites being private. Parents need to teach kids early on that social media privacy is a safety issue because of internet predators and strangers and the tendency for teens to use social media as a way of hurting their peers, even if their own children are not directly involved, they will be exposed. Parents need to monitor all internet and social media use into adulthood.
3. School pressures and time management. High performing teens want to do well and never has high school been more pressured and challenging. Many bright teens will perform well in school and do so despite terrible study habits. Parents need to monitor teen home work and projects well into and throughout high school. Many parents have a naïve view that once my teen reaches high school they are capable of being independent and making good, smart choices. This could not be further from the truth. An average teen today will choose paid work over studying even when they are not dependent on that extra income and technology use over sleep; another area of tremendous challenge for teens- getting the rest they need to function optimally. Parents need monitor with hands on to help teens structure their time, study habits and sleep.
4. Sexual decisions. The boundaries between friendship and sexual relationships have never been more blurry and it starts with teens who have to make decisions about “hooking up “ with a “friend” at a party because that’s what people are doing today. The problem with having sex or being sexual with a friend is that is detracts from the true meaning and significance of sexual intimacy and the emotional closeness, trust and vulnerability that is associated with sexual connection. Sexual relationships should be preserved for people that have feelings of love for one another and should be an expression of that love. Parents need to know that teens will not willingly discuss these experiences and yet they need to be talked about openly. Teens need to be coached that saying no is appropriate and healthy and reflects high self-esteem. A healthy person should be able to decide who they share their body with and not follow a group mentality especially regarding sexuality. An alleged "prude" in high school needs to hear from their parents that strong character develops from making difficult choices regardless of what others think.