What Our Teenagers Are Really Thinking And Why

Are you exasperated by your teen's lack of thought?

Frustrated by their ability to be reckless, and irritated by the assumption that someone (i.e. you), will pick up, and clean up after them?

Well, the chances are they're not doing it solely to infuriate you. New research from the US says it's the way our teens' brains are wired that makes them behave, well so annoyingly.

According to neuroscientists, your grown up kids, are not as grown up as you might think, simply because a crucial part of the brain - the frontal lobe - is not yet fully connected. In lay-man's terms this means teens access the part of the brain that rationalises ideas and weighs up consequences much more slowly than adults.

This may also explain why teenagers often seem so self-centred. 'You think of them as these surly, rude, selfish people,' says paediatric neurologist Frances Jensen, from Children's Hospital, Boston. "Well, actually, that's the developmental stage they're at. They aren't yet at that place where they're thinking about - or capable, necessarily - of thinking about the effects of their behaviour on other people because that requires insight. And insight requires a fully connected frontal lobe.'

Which is also why in a moment of hilarity or as a dare or even without thinking your teen may well do something with no thought of the consequence. A good example being student Edward Woollard, 18 who was recently jailed for hurling fire extinguisher from a rooftop into a crowd during last year's student protest. In a court statement, Woollard said: "When I was told I had potentially endangered people, I felt sick. I was absolutely not intending that anyone in any way would be hurt."

However, before you throw your hands up in despair, all is not lost. While the ability to make choices based solely on consequence is the last process to be completed in the developing brain (some research indicates this isn't until the age of 24 years). The good news is you can help your teen with their choices.

Gill Hines, education consultant and author of Whatever! A down to earth guide to parenting teens, says: 'One of the ways to help is to create rules for them. For example the young person who wants to go out late on a school night will not, when asked, admit that there will be a negative consequence tomorrow because their desire to go tonight is greater.

'One way to help them take away that need to ignore the end result is to allow them one 'late pass' per month.' The choice of having a late night when they have to be up the next morning will enable them make the link between late night and being tired on their own and help them to learn when it is worth the aftermath and when it isn't.'

At the same time bear in mind that what you say to your teen may not always be heard in the way intended. Natasha Farrell, mum to twins Hannah and Chloe 14, says: 'I talk, and they ignore me. I repeat myself and then get furious and they turn round and claim they didn't hear me

In the first place.'

'As parents we all have misconceptions about the way our teenagers relate to us, the greatest of which is that they can hear us in the first place!' warns Gill. 'Most teens can tune out the voice of anyone who nags at them, hence selective hearing.'

What's more your teen's ability to read emotion, your body language or tone of voice is also severely compromised. They are processing and communicating using a different part of the brain to you so many of the signals that you receive from them will be wrong.

To avoid family meltdowns, help them and of course yourself, Gill advises:

  • Explaining how you feel. Do not over-explain as you will either give them plenty of ammunition to argue or they will tune out of half of what you are saying

  • Keep instructions absolutely clear, concise and emotion free where possible.

  • Slow your speech and lower the tone. Higher pitched and faster moving voices are easier to tune out and interestingly enough most mums are on a bit of a nag they tend to speak in higher, faster voices.

  • Don't assume that just because they have lived with you for 14 years that they understand all the systems of your shared lives. They may well not know where the plates are put once they are out of the dishwasher because these things are incredibly unimportant to them.

  • If you want them to follow a routine you need to outline the routine clearly and concisely to them probably more than once. Making it less personal and more about what 'we' as a household do.

  • Finally be aware that their bad moods are not necessarily related to you or the topic you're discussing. A bad mood or sulk could literally be about anything so hard as it is, don't take it personally!

How do you cope with your teen's thought process and moods? Let us know.

Every week Marianne Kavanagh struggles with her teens in our column Surviving Teenagers