During adolescence, which is a time of growth between childhood and adulthood, the brain is tasked to mature our child’s thinking toward independence as an adult. Despite the wonderful biological reason behind adolescence, the transition is often confusing for both the adolescent and the parent. One day the adolescent demands complete freedom to make his/her own choices and the next day, he/she does not want to grow up and would rather relinquish all decision making to the parents. This complicates things, because as the parent, you never know how your input is going to be received.
It might help you to know that the biology of the brain is a big part of the reason your adolescent’s responses are unpredictable. Neurons, or cells in the brain, communicate with each other using chemicals called neurotransmitters.
We are coming to realize that one particular neurotransmitter called dopamine is highly expressed in adolescent brains. Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers and is associated with competitiveness and aggression, among other things.
Be positive and encouraging
So what does this dopamine challenge have to do with parenting? When your child was younger, you could give them a direction and expect an expect them to follow with a good attitude. Because of the changes going on in your child’s brain during adolescence, their response will likely be argumentative, laced with an attitude. They will want to renegotiate with the hope of bringing you to their perspective. It’s all about competition and achieving what they want.
You might need to rethink your parenting style to be successful during this dopamine-dominant time. Positive, encouraging comments are more likely to inspire them to do what you are asking because thanks to dopamine, your adolescent is highly motivated by reward. They will want to impress you because that will make them feel better about themselves.
Suggestions for positive parenting
- Set your adolescent up for victory by providing challenges that you can praise. More than anything else, they want to know you are proud of them.
- When you need to correct them, look for anything positive first and then give guidance.
- Ask questions and listen before reacting so that your child will feel that their opinion matters to you.
- Learn the art of renegotiation and let them win as often as possible.
Something to consider
Ask someone close to you to evaluate how you are doing on the positive parenting scale.
It is often more effective to hear from someone else what we sound like, than to judge for ourselves.
Note: A great book that provides much more information about the effects of dopamine in the adolescent brain is called Brainstorm, by Daniel Siegel.
Go here to read parts on of our Parenting Adolescents Series….
Part 1: Are You Ready?