If “Talk Is Cheap”

How come it’s so valuable with teenagers?

Posted Jan 16, 2015

The chattering child who talks throughout their younger years suddenly turns into the sullen teenager who says nothing and grunts in return to questions posed. This happens to all too many parents who may enjoy the sudden silence but wonder what’s not being said. Sometimes the more you probe and question, the more they clam up and refuse to answer. “How was your day” can be answered with an unintelligible comment that could mean it was tragic or wonderful – hard to decipher!

The problem with not talking is that teenagers are experiencing life and making decisions that often need parental oversight and intervention. Teenagers want to be independent and make their own decisions, but medical research shows that the brain isn’t fully developed in many areas until the 20s, so many of those decisions are not the best ones. The National Institute of Mental Health website says:

The research has turned up some surprises, among them the discovery of striking changes taking place during the teen years. These findings have altered long-held assumptions about the timing of brain maturation. In key ways, the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.

An understanding of how the brain of an adolescent is changing may help explain a puzzling contradiction of adolescence: young people at this age are close to a lifelong peak of physical health, strength, and mental capacity, and yet, for some, this can be a hazardous age. Mortality rates jump between early and late adolescence. Rates of death by injury between ages 15 to 19 are about six times that of the rate between ages 10 and 14. Crime rates are highest among young males and rates of alcohol abuse are high relative to other ages. Even though most adolescents come through this transitional age well, it’s important to understand the risk factors for behavior that can have serious consequences. Genes, childhood experience, and the environment in which a young person reaches adolescence all shape behavior. Adding to this complex picture, research is revealing how all these factors act in the context of a brain that is changing, with its own impact on behavior.

While their brains are not working as well as they eventually will, teenagers are faced with many life decisions they need to make, and parents, or reliable adults, who are available and understand what their kids are struggling with can often provide support and a voice to help make better choices.

But parents need support, too. It can be hard for many people to open the dialogue about drugs or sexual choices. Oftentimes an objective “voice” helps both the teenager to learn and assess, and the adult to find ways to open these difficult dialogues. This is where books like “One Toke: A Survival Guide for Teens” by Marc Aronoff can be so valuable. This book was written as an objective resource to help teens and parents understand the choices around smoking pot and marijuana as a drug of choice. It’s particularly timely in an age where many states are legalizing the use of marijuana and the parental response of “It’s illegal” may not be enough.

The book points out ways that parents and teens can respect one another and understand one another, and gives teens objective information to consider. For most teens, whatever their parent says isn’t relevant and isn’t worthwhile. In some cases, if a parent disagrees, the teen may find a certain activity even more compelling. This book can help parents understand what their teens are grappling with and give parents ways to broach these difficult topics.

Ultimately it is about talking – somehow. The idiom that “talk is cheap” originates because actions DO speak so much louder than words. But recognize as a parent that talking and continuing to talk, even when teens are not responding, could be the most valuable gift you can give them. Yes, it’s hard to speak to a closed door or a sulking son or daughter, but not speaking is costly. Not speaking leaves a child sometimes wondering whether a parent cares. Ultimately it is the job of the parent to help the teen get through those tough years and move on to (hopefully) a more balanced brain that will support them in their decision-making.

If you are a parent, or a teen thinking about or involved with marijuana now, a book like “One Toke” may be the catalyst you need. Don’t sit back and do nothing. Don’t just wait for the years to pass and hope that everyone comes out okay. Teens may not want it, but they need the talking. They need the interest and the influence. They need to know that someone cares and someone is looking out for them. Nature hasn’t helped them out, and their brains aren’t doing what they will eventually do to help them make better decisions. Nature put parents and adults in place to ease teens through the process.

Take the step of giving your teen the book, or having the talk they desperately need. It could be the most valuable thing you do for your son or daughter.