Let me bring you back for a second…
Let’s go back in time, perhaps a few decades, to your teenage years. The years are filled with confusing emotions, fluctuating hormones, physical changes to your body, and the stress of worrying about what is next in life; these years bring many things we often cannot wait to be rid of. As parents or loved ones of those in their teenage years, many struggle with managing the ups and downs this age carries. It can be a challenging journey attempting to form and maintain a connection with your teenager. This is why our teen therapist has created a blueprint to better understand what your teenager is needing and how to meet them where they are at.
Neurobiology in Teen Years
To begin, it is important to understand what is happening inside the brain of your teenager. During the teenage years, the brain is significantly growing and changing. A process called “pruning” is one of the major things happening in a teenage brain in which grey matter, or unused connections related to thinking and processing, is eliminated. This process happens in order to help the brain operate most effectively and it starts in the back of the brain.
Because pruning begins in the back of the brain, the teenage brain often relies on the amygdala and limbic system instead of the prefrontal cortex to make decisions. Where the prefrontal cortex is responsible for impulse control and abstract thinking, the amygdala is responsible for impulses, emotions, and aggression. You can see how this might influence teenage behavior and problem-solving.
To learn more about biology and behavior in teenage years, click here.
A Houston Teen Therapist Tips on what teenagers need from You
The things that your teenager needs from you in order to develop a connected relationship are:
Beginning with validation, the definition of this word expresses that validation includes the acknowledgment and affirmation that someone else’s feelings, thoughts, and opinions are worthwhile and understandable. Especially in this stage of life where they are better learning to think abstractly, are making sense of the world around them, are seeking acceptance, and attempting to assume a certain identity, validation is vitally important.
Validation does not equal agreeing with the person, it simply is indicating that you can understand where they are coming from and are communicating that they have the right to have their own belief system. Let’s walk through what this means when interacting with a teenager or anyone else for that matter. Validation includes normalizing the experiences another person is having. What this can look like is:
“I can see how that would be really difficult to deal with”
“I have felt frustrated by a similar experience”
Normalizing communicates to the other person that their experience is something that is understandable and/or experienced by others as well. Thus, brings in the factor of common humanity, meaning we all have shared experiences that bring us together.
Many times, people, and teenagers especially, just need us to listen. Ways that you can promote validation by listening are:
- Responding with minimal encouragers such as:
- I see
- Slightly tilt your head and lean in when listening. This has been proven to signal to the other person that you are not only listening but invested in the conversation.
- Promote appropriate eye contact
- Positioning your body to be facing that person
- Reflecting back on what you hear that person is saying
- Reflecting back on the feeling you believe they are emoting
Now, moving on to patience. In order to promote patience with your teen it is important to keep account of the following factors:
- Regulating your own internal system
- Knowing your own triggers
- Trying getting curious about your child’s behavior before emotionally activated
Do you know how to regulate your own nervous system, so that when a trigger or emotionally activating situation arises, you know how to handle it? Clearly knowing how to do this is one of the best things you can do to promote a relationship with your teen and those around you. There are many different ways to regulate the body and brain including deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, grounding, visualization, and so on. For more information as to how to calm your nervous system and engage in emotional regulation, click on this link here which brings you to a comprehensive blog post pertaining to this material.
It can be very useful at the moment to choose the path of curiosity rather than immediate reaction. When your child (or otherwise) has sparked an emotional flame in you, ask yourself these questions:
- What exactly am I feeling right now?
- Why do I feel this way? Why is this triggering me in the way it is?
- Is this emotional response a result of the person in front of me or rather myself?
- Why is my teenager acting the way they are?
- How is my teenager making me feel right now?
- Oftentimes, others will make us feel the way they are actually feeling inside
- Is there perhaps a need they are attempting to get met with this behavior?
- How can I best respond that will prioritize the relationship?
What often goes far with many teenagers are these two things: Humor and Authenticity
In relation to humor, keeping things light and fun will go a long way when connecting with your child. There is already so much heaviness in their world. You might find that you also experience joy by focusing on bringing in humor and lightheartedness once in a while.
Authenticity means being genuine about who you are and being vulnerable with your child. Many times, it is easy to get stuck in the trap of wondering how they can be their true selves while trying to parent. If we want our children to be vulnerable and authentic with us and the world around them, we first have to model this.
Other teen therapist’s tips for connecting with your teenager include:
- Delighting in them
- Share an interest in what they are doing/interested in
Delight in your child by reflecting your awe, excitement, inspiration, and pride for what they are doing, how they are acting, the choices they are making, and so on. Parents often get caught in the trap of focusing on what the child is NOT doing, rather than the things they are doing. We do this ourselves as adults as well. Appropriate praise and acknowledgment will go a long way with a teenager who is most likely already struggling to view themselves from a lens of healthy self-esteem. A great rule of thumb is to focus on the progress, not the product. Ask yourself, how is my child making steps of progress towards this goal in a way that is meaningful for them, rather than focusing on if they have reached that end goal or not.
Lastly, sharing an interest in what they are doing and are interested in means taking the time to invest in what they are into currently. Is your teen into video games? Challenge yourself to spend 20 minutes with him or her where they are teaching you how to play. Ask yourself “How can I invest just a few minutes of intentional moments with my child, doing what THEY want to do, not what I want them to do”.
How BPC Can Help with Teen Therapy
Connecting with teens can be a difficult feat especially when they are going through a huge brain growth spurt and you are balancing all the other responsibilities of life. However, at Brittani Persha Counseling, we are here to help and support you. You aren’t in this alone!
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health concerns and wants to receive support, contact Brittani Persha Counseling at our main office line at 713-364-8645 to set up an appointment with one of our child and adult therapists. You can also schedule a free consultation here to learn more!
About the author
Avery Benedict, LPC-A is a therapist at Brittani Persha Counseling in Houston, TX. She received her undergraduate degree in Human Relations and Educational Psychology from the University of Texas. She continued her education and received her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Sam Houston University. Avery has worked in residential and partial hospitalization treatment settings for patients of all ages who have severe OCD, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. She has also worked with women and children who have undergone domestic violence and sexual assault. She currently specializes in working with pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults utilizing CBT, DBT, and ACT modalities. Avery’s mission is to utilize the passion and education she was blessed with to bring mental wellness to our community one client at a time. If you would like to learn more about Avery, feel free to visit the sites below or set up a phone consultation.
Check out some of the services offered at bPC
- Teen Therapy
- Adult Trauma & PTSD Therapy
- Child Therapy for ADHD
- Child Therapy for Anxiety
- Couples and Marriage Counseling