Parenting In Focus: Teen brains really are different

  • Wednesday, February 24, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

The first years of a child’s life are certainly critical because of the major brain development. This is a concept that is news to many. Knowing this fact, we have put more emphasis on all that is learned during these first critical years of a child’s life.

What hasn’t been given as much attention is the importance of the teenage brain development. When your child becomes a teenager, his brain is still developing. How we respond as parents during these years is also extremely important.

Researchers have found that this phase of brain development is critical to things like intelligence, consciousness and self-awareness. Emotional control, impulse restraint and rational decision-making are all part of the brain’s development that takes place in adolescence as the brain continues to grow and change. This is good news and bad news.

As your child does positive things such as music, school achievement, responsibility and social consciousness, these more complex skills are hard-wired into his expanding brain. It is important to recognize that it is not the time to consider his brain is complete. We still need to help him with making sure his decisions are mature and rational. We still need to help him as he seeks to gain control over his emotions.

The other good news is that there is still time in these teen age years of brain development to change for the better.

The bad news, however, is that if you have a child who is into negative emotions such as rage and alienation, that negative behavior may be hard wired and difficult to change. This behavior can straighten out in time if the adult in his life does not respond with raging, hurtful punishments, but with carefully crafted responses that will help the teen’s brain begin to function as a well-functioning adult.

It too frequently becomes easy to think of your teen as almost an adult or that you have little influence because he is growing older. Yet we know that parents are the most influential people in the lives of their children, even their teenage children. Parents are key to constantly teaching them how to interact and solve problems with others. Parents who seek to help their teen develop emotionally have a profound impact on this time in their child’s life.

You as a parent can help make positive change in your teen. First, be aware that this is a time of remarkable change for your teen. It certainly is not a time for you to pull away; it is a time to change how you react. It is a time to listen to what he is saying.

Be supportive of what you can. Keep criticism of his behavior to a minimum. Let him know when you feel he is doing a good job. It does not have to be an excellent job for you to tell him you are pleased.

Set reasonable rules and enforce them. Stay involved. Let him know you love him.

Remember, you are still a major influence in his life. He wants you there and on his side. He also needs you there.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. For more information, email to or call 360-681-2250.

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