By Allyson Ashfield — Kawakawa teacher
Let’s face it teenagers are a bit of a mystery to parents!
Dr. Montessori called adolescents social newborns and wrote of them, “What is it? A mystery. Just as the newborn’s mind is a mystery, so is the social newborn a mystery…. A decisive, delicate period, worthy of our respect, presents itself as our responsibility.”
If teenagers knew about their teenage years prior, they might write you a message something like this:
Dear Mum and Dad
Please stick with me as I can’t think clearly right now because there is a rather substantial section of my prefrontal cortex missing. It’s a fairly important chunk, something having to do with rational thought. It won’t be fully developed until I’m about 25.
It doesn’t matter that I’m smart; it doesn’t insulate me from the normal developmental stages that we all go through. Judgement and intelligence are two completely distinct things.
And, the same thing that makes my brain wonderfully flexible, creative and sponge-like also makes me impulsive. Not necessarily reckless or negligent but just more impulsive than I will be later in life. So when you look at me like I have ten heads after I’ve done something “stupid” or failed to do something “smart,” you’re not really helping. I am more inclined to respond with my amygdala (emotionally) rather than with my prefrontal cortex. The question “What were you thinking?” has the answer – I wasn’t!
At this point in my life, I get that you love me, but my friends are my everything. Please understand that. Right now I choose my friends, but, don’t be fooled, I love you and I’m watching you. Carefully.
Here’s what you can do to help and support me:
- Model adulting. I see all the behaviours that you are modeling and I hear all of the words you say.
- Let me figure things out for myself. If you allow me to experience the consequences of my own actions I will learn from them.
- Tell me about you. I want you to tell me all the stories of the crazy things you did as a teen, and what you learned from them. Then give me the space to do the same.
- Help me with perspective. – Keep reminding me of the big picture.
- Keep me safe. Please remind me that drugs and driving don’t mix.
- Be kind. I will learn kindness from you.
- Show interest in the things I enjoy. Someday I will choose to share my interests with you and it will make me feel good if you validate those interests, by at least acting interested.
When the haze of adolescence lifts, you will find a confident, strong, competent, kind adult where a surly teenager once stood. In the meantime, buckle up for the ride!
(This is an abridged version of an article I read earlier this year written by Helene Wingens)