Transitions are high risk times. They are filled with the excitement of newness but what they open the doors to can vary. As parents, it is an important time to stay connected with your teen and gauge how things are going. The support you provide during this time can encourage young people to keep making healthy choices and help steer them away from some of the unhealthy ones.
In developing our UNSTOPPABLE messaging, there are research based understandings that we keep in mind when creating and delivering our messaging to teens. Three of these understandings could prove beneficial for you as a parent during this time.
- During adolescence, the brain development taking place creates tremendous opportunity and great risk.
- Teens understand risk. They value reward more.
- People are receptive to developing new identities and new identities grow from small beginnings. This holds true for better or for worse.
Let’s connect these three points to brain development. According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, there are four features of adolescent brain growth that have both upsides and downsides. The first is Novelty Seeking. This gives a teen the inner motivation to try new things. The downside is that it can lead to dangerous risk taking behavior. This happens most often when they are focused on the reward and act impulsively. One of the best things you can do as a parent to fill this need is support and encourage them to engage in activities that are “safe” but involve some element of risk. This could be joining speech team, participating in a sport or getting them to try new things at home or in the community.
Social Engagement is the second feature of adolescent brain growth. This leads teens to enhance peer connectedness and create new friendships. The downside is that when taken to extremes, it can isolate teens from adults. Your goal needs to be to find ways to stay connected and keep your relationship strong.
The third feature is increased Emotional Intensity. This adds more vitality to life but can also lead to moodiness, impulsivity and reactivity. Try not to over-react to their intense emotions, even when directed at you. Some parents find it best to not respond at all until they have collected themselves.
The fourth is Creative Exploration. This feature leads teens to question the status quo and come up with innovative solutions and ideas. However, it can also lead to a crisis of identity and vulnerability to peer pressure. Here, the balancing act gets very tricky. As a parent, it becomes increasingly important to allow your teen to both express some independence but also keep focused on the friends in their circle. Have open discussions about what they like about their friends, who they see as safe to spend time with and who they know has the potential to get them in trouble.
Good luck with the transitions! There is no one magic bullet to keep your teens safe but we hope these insights help.