There’s no getting around it: The teenage brain is a mess. At the beginning of adolescence, the brain has a ton of neural connections. Then it goes through a period where it starts pruning away some of those very same connections.
To make life even more confusing, the part of the brain dealing with emotions is working overtime, and the part moderated by reason is taking a back seat. Unfortunately, that means teens probably aren’t thinking much about safety.
Can we change the teenage brain? No. Can we act in ways to keep teens safe? Yes. Here are some ideas.
1. Have your teen drive a slow, safe car.
Who cares if your teen thinks your old Volvo isn’t cool? Make that car the only option . . . or he can walk or take the bus.
2. Limit the possibilities.
When our family stayed in that remote cabin over New Year’s, logistics ensured that my girls weren’t going to that “big party.”
3. Keep all your ducks in your pond.
While there’s admittedly a downside to having your teen’s bedroom close to yours, it’s much harder for a teen to engage in suspect activity when you’re right across the hall.
4. Rehearse ready-to-use excuses for unsafe situations.
Some standbys might be, “Sorry, I’m training for (fill-in-the-blank)” when offered alcohol or drugs, or, “I’m feeling sick and need to go home” when things are getting out of control.
5. Check out the parents of your teen’s friends.
Parents often have different ideas of supervision, so it’s helpful to know if everyone is on the same page.
6. Make everything related to safety not open for discussion.
If you initiate this policy when they’re very young, it will transfer into the teen years.
7. Stick to Cinderella (and earlier) curfews.
Even if your teen drives responsibly, what about those other folks on the road after midnight?
8. Strive to be the unpopular parent.
The more your teen thinks you’re not cool, the more you’re probably keeping him safe.
9. Work together to set online guidelines.
Discuss with your teen how to reap the positive benefits of the internet without the negatives (e.g. inappropriate sites, predators, etc.).
10. Replace lectures with hands-on experiences.
Have your teen volunteer somewhere she’ll interact with people facing the consequences of drunk driving and using drugs.
11. Ensure your teen completes her lower brain development.
If the lower brain is developed, your teen won’t make poor decisions based on distorted information (for example, choosing not to wear a seatbelt because his brain is continually distracted by how that feels against his body).
While safeguards are important, we also need to give teens some freedom and independence. We just have to be smart about it.
For example, at 15, my daughter told me she didn’t know how much longer she could be the “only one” not drinking. It wasn’t so much about wanting to be drunk. Rather, she just felt she needed to do something rebellious.
So she became the first kid in her group to get her bellybutton pierced. She told everyone of our deal: She traded drinking for piercing. Did it last forever? No, but that response kept her alcohol-free for two years.
As parents, we just want to make sure our teens become adults who live long, wonderful lives. My 92-year-old father is often asked the secret to his longevity, and his response indirectly relates to teens. He says, “You need good health, good attitude, and good luck – and two out of three are not enough.”
Unfortunately, it’s that “good luck” variable that keeps us up until our teens are home, safe and sound.
Sometimes it seems like “I dunno” and “nothin’” are the only two phrases kids know. So how can we help children share more of their thoughts?
First, we gotta toss the prosecutor approach. Sure, we’re asking questions because we’re interested in their lives, but they often hear us as interrogators or as testing them to say the “right” answer.
So to get kids to open up and talk more, first tell them that most of life’s questions don’t really have one right answer. Then start asking them questions where any answer is game.
Initially, some kids may shy away from even creative, open-ended questions. If so, they can first listen to conversations where everyone is giving a different answer to the same question—and all answers are treated with respect.
Also note that responding “Great answer!” is counterproductive. Kids may interpret that to mean, “Oh, that person got it right.” In contrast, if we praise the thought process (i.e. “I’m impressed with your thinking”), then we encourage kids to share even more.
Open-ended questions can range from silly to serious. Here are some examples of a variety of critical and creative-thinking questions to get your kids talking:
What are some other open-ended questions to ask kids?
Sometimes, parent-teacher conferences don’t turn out as everyone hoped. Here’s why conferences often go south and how they can be tweaked to ensure a positive experience.
1. Report cards are often top-secret.
What’s the downside of waiting to reveal report cards at conference time? Well, a lot of kids (and parents) develop pre-conference anxiety. Parents will also be unprepared for the unexpected.
Tweaked: Ask if you and your child can see the report card prior to the conference. That way, if something unexpected appears on the report card, you have time to reflect, rather than react.
2. Conferences are often exclusive.
Not sure why the child is regularly left out of a meeting that is all about him. (Don’t think any of us would go for our boss asking us to stay home while she discusses our performance with another co-worker.)
Tweaked: Ask if your child can also attend the conference. Regardless of the answer, your child will appreciate that you wanted to include him.
3. Conferences are one-sided assessments.
Since we all benefit from feedback, why not ask everyone to reflect?
Tweaked: Challenge your child to create and mark a report card that assesses her teacher’s effectiveness. You, too, can evaluate a number of areas such as parent/teacher communications and clarity of assignments.
4. Conference discussions often forget who’s in charge.
The teacher says Billy pushes kids while standing in line. Is she hoping the parents will solve a problem that happens at school? The parents share that Billy takes forever to get dressed in the morning. Are they hoping the teacher will solve a problem that happens at home?
Tweaked: Propose that teachers and parents are each in charge (i.e. comes up with the solutions to move forward) whenever the child is on their watch.
It’s also helpful to come to the parent-teacher conference with questions. That’s because questions shift a discussion back to the brain’s cortex, thus bypassing potential defensive reactions (someone starts arguing his point) or retreat reactions (someone shuts down and is no longer processing any info).
Here are some generic questions that parents or teachers can ask whenever they sense a conference needs a little positive nudge.
After the conference, go celebrate with your child. That goes for all report cards, regardless of the grades. And what will you be celebrating? You’ll be toasting that learning is an on-going process. You’ll be celebrating that there’s more to your child than what’s noted on the report card.
To underscore that point, hand your child another report card that reflects what your child already shines in. There’s nothing phony or condescending about this. After all, a child who earns an A+ in Lego Construction may just end up being a world-renowned architect.
On a 1:10 scale, how badly do you want to end whining?
If you paused or said anything less than a ten, then the tips below probably won’t be useful to you. No whining is an all-or-nothing deal. However, if you’re game, here’s how you can end whining today.
First, we gotta chuck prior advice. How many times have you tried to ignore whining–only to have your child’s endurance outlast yours? Second, no more telling kids: “Use your words.” That’s about as effective as telling someone who’s upset to calm down.
Some parents may also need to do something overt. For example, families can bury all their (imaginary) whining in a hole in the backyard, or parents can post Whine-free Zone signs around the house. Most of all, parents need to tell kids it’s not in their best interest to clutter prime cortical real estate with a whining brain map.
With the above in place, here are three effective ways to respond to whining:
1. Make the situation worse if the child whines.
Suppose a child is told to clear the table, and she responds with: “Why do I have to do it? It’s not fair. I did it last night.”
The parent responds: “Now you can also sweep the floor. Was there anything else you’d like to add?” If the child whines yet again, the parent says, “Great. Now you can also take out the trash.”
2. Teach the child to explore options.
Suppose a child complains he’s too tired to get his homework done on days he has soccer practice. Help the child start thinking in terms of solutions by asking questions:
“What are your options? Could you go to bed earlier and do your homework in the morning? Could you talk to your teacher to see if there’s any flexibility in homework deadlines? What else is possible?”
3. Use humor.
We’re all cranky at times. When my girls were little and we took long car trips in a jam-packed car, they’d sometimes start to complain about being so cramped. So my husband and I would start whining with each other over who would end their whining. That made the girls smile, and the whining ended.
If we believe we can eliminate whining, we really can make it go away. And then . . .the only “whine” in our house is the kind that comes with cheese.
In Vegas, 30:1 odds are not considered good. But to a kid who’s known to whine? Hey, those odds are great. That kid doesn’t care if 29 out of 30 times his whining falls on deaf ears. It’s that one time when it works—that keeps whining alive on a regular basis.
But there’s a downside to the occasionally effective whining. It gets registered in the brain as being useful, so the child tries it again and again.
However, I don’t think people aspire to have whiners in their lives. Ever heard of someone looking for a spouse or boss or in-law who whines?
The truth is . . . whining children often evolve into whining adults.
It’s not just the bleak prospect of whining kids becoming whining grown-ups that should make us pause. Whining is the polar opposite of a cortex response, which is the kind of answer that we actually want our children to give.
For example, when our kids perceive something as unfair, we hope they’ll communicate in a way that shows reflection and thought. When our kids are frustrated by something troublesome, we hope they’ll explore options and creative solutions. That’s a cortex way of looking at a situation or problem.
In contrast, whining skips over all that cortical thinking and leaps right to holding someone else responsible for the present misery. And when that person doesn’t respond in kind? Well, more whining (of course).
The good news? Whining is not related to some neurological underdevelopment of the lower or higher centers of the brain. Whining only happens because we allow it.
Interested in eliminating whining from your life?
How to Stop Kids’ Whining-Part 2 will appear in the next post.
The hoopla began once Disney offered refunds to folks who bought Baby Einstein videos. Defenders of the videos insisted their children benefited from their time in front of the screen. Others gleefully took jabs at parents who thought watching them would make kids smarter.
But neither group asked the most relevant questions: Just how do young kids’ brains develop, and how can we use that information to provide the best learning environment for children?
With such questions, we can hardly pick on just Baby Einstein videos. Heck, kindergarten curriculum has also changed radically. Yet last I heard, today’s kids’ brains aren’t developing any differently than previous generations. Nope, we’ve just changed what we demand at an early age.
Now if a five-year-old isn’t sitting still all day in school, we sometimes call it Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder—or some other diagnosis—rather than ask: Would we perceive that same child differently if he were in a play-based kindergarten?
Unfortunately, I’ve met too many adorable young kindergartners who have already experienced failure. That’s why I’m jealous of countries that use curriculum based on natural brain development.
For example, movement, intuition, images, and rhythm are mostly associated with the right side of the brain, and reading, writing, and math are mostly associated with the left side. Turns out the right side has a burst of development between the ages of four to seven, whereas the left side gets going between the ages seven and nine. So are we surprised that Denmark boasts nearly 100% literacy—and doesn’t present formal reading instruction until age eight?
But then, why stop with Disney and their Baby Einstein videos? Why not hold schools accountable, as well? Challenge educators to provide research that shows today’s young children’s brains are different than kindergartners of past generations. Have them prove that there’s no link between the recent accelerated academic push and the number of kids who are struggling in school.
And if they can’t substantiate claims that academic kindergartens are far better for young brains than play-based ones . . . . will millions of school kids also get a refund?
At the Brain Highways Center, every child transitions 15 times during a 45-minute class. Here’s what we recommend and why it works.
1. Be goofy: Humor and novelty override primitive reflex responses.
2. Add visual, tactile, and auditory cues: If there’s static in one or more sensory channels, a multisensory approach helps ensure comprehension.
3. Add speed: There’s no time to get distracted while racing.
4. Avoid solo transitions: If everyone has to make the switch, there’s no fear-based reaction (i.e. Why me?) from being singled out.
5. Transition during an undesirable activity: We’re all more likely to transition if the current activity is not so fun.
6. Let your child direct the transition: Kids with an underdeveloped pons and midbrain like to be in control, so they’re more apt to do what they’ve stipulated.
7. Jumpstart the transition: Kids with an underdeveloped pons tend only to see what is right in front of them. So, give them what they need to get started.
What else has worked for you?