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What Is Going On Inside That Head of Yours?

Are you one of the many parents who have asked your teenager this question? If you didn’t ask, then you probably wondered. Maybe you are convinced your teen is crazy and out to drive you crazy too?  Well, guess what? That is probably what your teen believes. Only you, the parent, are the crazy one. 

Recently I read an article in the Grand Rapids Press Parade about this very thing.  The article reminded me why I like using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) with teens.  In DBT adapted for adolescents, Miller, Rathus, Linehan point out that it is important for parents to know the difference between normalizing problematic behaviors and pathologizing normal behaviors. 

How on earth can parents, or anyone for that matter, tell what is normal and abnormal with teens?  Let me tell you, this is not always such an easy task because a “normal” teen can appear to have every diagnosis in the book.  Why is that?  No, it is no because they “really” are out to get us.  It is because of normal developmental stages. 

The article in the Parade reminds and informs parents that the area of the brain responsible for making the good choices you know your teen is capable of (i.e., organizing, making plans and developing strategies) is not quite developed.  It may feel as if the notion of making plans and having priorities seems to have flown out the window with no hopes for return.  Don’t panic. Breathe. There is hope… but not until somewhere well into their 20’s.  By the time this area of the brain is completely developed, you will have paid a lot of money for college (which hopefully means good grades and no parties), and probably started turning prematurely gray.

What I am saying is, one, there really is a good reason for your teen making last minute arrangements to do things with friends and further believing your life completely centers around making those plans come to pass.  I am saying, two, there is a scientific reason for your normally responsible teen to seem to have forgotten everything, or so it appears.  They really do not forget everything— after all; they seem to remember the latest songs, details about friends, and anything else they want to remember.  It is simply a part of the brain development use-it-or-lose it process.  If that is not enough, I am saying, three, your smart teen can seem like a space cadet (affectionately said).  Did I mention that your teen can be 19 years old and suffer from this space cadet syndrome?  You know this when your teen calls you while you are away in Dallas to ask you what time the bank closes in Michigan. Just breathe and remind yourself, the brain is still developing. 

While you are breathing, there are still more things going on, or not going on, in your little darling’s brain.  I will try to shorten this up and just ask, has getting your teen up in the morning been an issue?  Blame it on the brain.  Have you gotten fed up with your teen misinterpreting things or overreacting, to what feels like, everything? Blame it on the brain.  In a study identified in Parade, teens use a different part of the brain to registered emotions.  It should come as no shock to find out 50% of the teens indicated the emotion of a woman in a photo different than what 100% of the adults identified as “fear.”  Not only that, the study found that, to register the emotions, adults use the part of their brain that “governs reason and forethought” while the teens used the part of the brain that “processes memory and emotions.”

So the next time you wonder what is going on in your teens head, remind yourself you are not crazy and neither is your teen.  Simply blame it on the brain!  But, in all seriousness, as I previously mentioned, it is important not to normalize problematic behaviors and pathologize normal behaviors.  It can be tricky trying to figure out what is normal and what is a serious issue.  Seek out a professional in child development/child psychology.  And please do continue to educate your teen. They do not know it all and neither do their friends.  Yes, it is also appropriate to be consistent, empathetic, teach problem solving skills, enforce rules, and provide an abundance of love and support.  And finally, you can blame it on the brain, but that is only to help you remain sane; it should not become an excuse for making mistakes without experiencing consequences or learning from them.