Let’s get something straight right from the start: Parenting teenagers is a tough business. You want to protect your kids and help them, but you don’t understand them. What goes on in their brains is beyond you.
-Dr. Ron Clavier
BACK TO SCHOOL
For many parents of teenagers, ‘back to school’ comes with new promises and new hopes: “This is the year I’ll improve my study habits. I won’t fall behind in my coursework. But if these hopes and expectations fail to be fulfilled, back to school can mean back to underachievement, disappointment and resentment. Teens may come to view themselves as failures and seek out a group of other underachievers as a means of feeling good about themselves. This is what parents have called ‘the wrong crowd’. They may stop trying, and their parents wonder if they will ever become motivated.
In Teen Brain, Teen Mind: What Parents Need to Know to Survive the Adolescent Years, renowned psychologist Dr. Ron Clavier explains the brain processes that underlie teenage underachievement. He offers parents strategies for identifying motivational problems and methods for intervention that can be used early in the school year, well before this downward cycle begins.
Why do teens act the way they do? Dr. Ron Clavier explains that neurological changes in a young person’s developing brain underlie many of the emotions and behaviours that can make teens so unpredictable and volatile. For example, teenagers often seem oblivious to the possible dangers of their behaviours.
Whether they are cutting class, using drugs, or becoming sexually active, it’s as if the adolescent is unable to see the future consequences of their actions. As a result they are unable to use that information to avoid the associated danger. In fact that’s exactly what is going on! …. The time-challenged teen is being asked to grasp a concept – a dimension really – before her brain (prefrontal cortex) has matured sufficiently.
With a healthy dose of humour, Clavier argues that a clear understanding of the teenage brain is the key to unlocking the mysteries of why teens act and think the way they do. Along the way, he offers numerous coping tips and strategies designed to ease tensions and improve communications.
DR. RON CLAVIER bases his clinical psychology practice on his background as a neuroscientist. In addition to his private practice, Dr. Clavier consults in the corporate, community, health, and education sectors. He worked for a number of years as a research consultant in Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and is Senior Consultant to the Council on Drug Abuse. Dr. Clavier’s television series, Adolescence: The Stormy Decade, has been broadcast on Vision TV and continues to be broadcast on Canadian Learning Television. Dr. Clavier lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Empowerment. Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, not having power is associated with just about every emotional and behavioural problem you can name drug abuse, depression and suicidal feelings, anger and violent lashing out at ‘dictatorial’ authorities, bullying or teasing peers, shyness, social isolation, and so on. On the other hand, empowerment leads to involvement, ownership, self-confidence, and so much more. So how you define and use power in your home will be of paramount importance in determining whether your kids develop a sensible, realistic, and responsible sense of empowerment.
A few tips for parents who want to have a family that is democratic and empowered.
1. Listen to your kids. Even if you have no good answers to what they’re asking you, make them know that they are smart for having asked. And let them know that you too are perplexed by the same questions.
2. Give your kids a sense of representation. Kids are busy with their own agendas and they usually don’t want to ‘rule the roost’. But they do want to be part of the ruling of the roost.
3. Your kids will take ownership of the rules that they helped formulate.
4. Don’t worry if there are two parents in the home and they don’t agree on the rules. Show kids that when adults don’t agree, they use the art of compromise to reach an agreement. Your teen will soon pick up what it means to negotiate for starters, it means you’re listening to him.
5. Finally, remember that there are many different levels of rules and that ethics occupy the top of the hierarchy. And although views about sex, religion, politics, and so forth are quite likely to differ across generations and cultures, ethics never change. Keep this in mind when you negotiate the details of the rules being set. Another way of saying this is ‘pick your fights’.
All too often the truth is that parents really don’t trust their kids. At some point, though, we have to trust them. We have to trust them to make their own decisions and to make their own mistakes. We have to trust them to follow through on what they said they would do.
Make them aware, by your own attitudes and actions, that all humans are of equal value and deserve equal respect and opportunity. Show them that doing the ‘right thing’ applies well beyond the boundaries of their own selves. Extend their sense of responsibility to embrace the larger society in which they live. By doing this, you give your kids what you want most to give them. Independence. It will be their greatest gift.