What Are They Thinking?

Most of the parenting how-to books I read focus on the preschool and early elementary ages, but occasionally, to find out what I’ve gotten myself in for, I pick up something about older kids. Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens sounds like one I’ll definitely want to read. 

I heard about it in an NPR segment that also contained a lot of fascinating science about how tweens’ and teens’ brains are rewiring themselves. The tremendous growth in brain cells and neurotransmitters of early childhood tapers off, and in adolescents the numbers are getting smaller. Yes, their brains are shrinking – sort of. They’re also becoming much better at integrating information from multiple sources and thinking deeply about a topic. A third change is that the parts of the brain that recognize emotions mature more quickly than the parts that regulate emotions.

You can see how all of this is a recipe for trouble.

There’s a lot more about the neuroscience of it all here, including links to videos of the brain’s maturation from age 5 to age 20 that are extremely fascinating. (Right now I’m spending way too much time surfing the very cool science-related videos on YouTube, like watching teeth come in or brain regions light up … but I digress.)

Knowing about brain development helps parents react appropriately to their teens’ outbursts or the poor judgment they exhibit. For example, when parents get angry, they wind up in a battle of emotions they’re destined to lose. The key is to stay calm – it helps to decide in advance how you will handle a situation and then stick to your plan, no matter what crazy things your kids say to get you to rise to the bait.

Actually, it’s pretty good advice for dealing with 7-year-olds, too.  And it surely won’t hurt me to get in a few years’ practice before I really need it!

By Amy De La Hunt, Health Blogger for SmartParenting

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Amy De La Hunt is a journalist and editor who lives in the St. Louis metro area and works across the country as a writer, copy editor, project manager and editorial consultant on everything from fiction books to monthly magazines to blog posts. When she's not chauffeuring her teenage sons to activities, Amy is an enthusiastic amateur cook, landscaper, Latin dancer and traveler. Follow Amy on Instagram @amy_in_words

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