As many parents can attest, the teen years are some of the most challenging. As a parent, it can be hard to remember what it was like to be a teenager, so you might feel a bit lost. Suddenly, your child is going through puberty, expressing autonomy, and changing in unexpected ways. You might find that you’re getting into arguments with them more often, because they are undergoing teen neuro-hormonal changes that make them feel that they aren’t vulnerable to harm and, as a result, act out with dramatic mood swings.
It’s important to encourage your teenager to find creative and productive outlets for the strong emotional changes they’re experiencing. This will help you nurture your relationship with them while making sure they have safe ways to express themselves through the tumultuous years leading up to adulthood.
Helping your Child Deal with Teen Neuro-hormonal Changes by Finding Interests
Your teenager is probably experiencing the intense emotions that come with emerging adulthood. Their minds are hardwired to want instant gratification, and they’re grappling with responses from their amygdala, the brain’s emotional center.
To help them channel these emotions and learn to balance instant gratification with long-term goals, have a conversation with them about hobbies and interests. If they have been showing an interest in art, encourage them to take an after school or weekend art class. If they often play basketball with friends on the weekend, ask them if they might want to join a school or community basketball team.
It’s important for your teen to have productive outlets, such as art, sports, dance, writing, community involvement, photography, or local volunteering. These outlets will not only allow them to channel their strong emotions, but will also shape their identities and help them decide who they want to be as adults.
Finding the Right Balance for Technology, Activities, and Sleep
With such easy access to technology, many teens want to spend more time with their devices than they do on hobbies and extracurriculars. While there may be legitimate concerns about teens spending too much time glued to their phones, it’s also where many of your teen’s friends are, as well as where they can find thriving communities for acceptance and expression. Instead of viewing social media as something that pulls teens “away from the real world,” recognize that for many teens, social platforms are an enriching supplement to their face-to-face friendships and interactions.
Beyond devices, the pressure to do well in school and prepare flawlessly for college means that some teens wind up over-committing themselves between a part-time job and too many activities, not leaving any down time or room to do homework.
The right balance will largely depend on your teen and what will help them thrive. Some teenagers are more solitary and enjoy spending time alone, working on creative projects by themselves. Other teens are extroverted and need to spend time outside engaged in physical activity. It’s important to take a step back as a parent and listen to what your teen has to say, instead of making assumptions and talking at them. Ask them what they prefer and let them take the lead—but gently encourage them in positive, productive directions toward hobbies and extracurriculars over excessive screen time and risky social activities.
Finally, don’t forget about the importance of sleep to a growing teenage mind. Teens are biologically predisposed to require more sleep than adults, which may mean they spend a lot of time on the weekends sleeping in late to get caught up. Their brains are working overtime to build up creative skills, face new challenges, and keep up with radical changes. Getting enough sleep helps them modulate teen neuro-hormonal changes.
Guiding Teens Who Don’t Know if They Have a Passion
It can be tough for teenagers who aren’t naturally gravitating toward something they’re passionate about, whether it’s gymnastics or music or coding. The teen years are filled with ongoing pressure about post-high school education and choosing a career path, and many teens aren’t sure yet what they love to do or what drives them.
Your teenager doesn’t need to have found their true calling by the age of 14, 16, or even 18. It’s perfectly fine if the hobbies and extracurricular activities they’re participating in don’t turn into a career and aren’t something they continue to pursue after high school, because they’re valuable in other ways. Just as no one expects that a teen’s first job will be what they do as a career, it’s normal for your teen to experiment with photography or ballet before realizing they aren’t passionate about it.
Hobbies have a positive impact on teenagers’ self-confidence and allow them to channel their explosive emotions into a productive outlet. Encourage them by letting them see that it’s natural and okay to fail, work harder, and try new things.
Even if they don’t always seem to be hearing you, teens are listening and absorbing when you interact with them. It’s often the voice of their parents they hear in their heads as they make important decisions, try new things, or explore the world around them. That voice should be a positive one—so continue to encourage and connect with them as they navigate these turbulent years.
Photo credit: Laurentiu Lordache