Your child asks you to drop him off at school, but as you approach the campus he insists that you stop a little further away because he does not want to be seen in the car with his parent and siblings. Have you had this experience with your young adolescent? Heightened self-awareness is probably one of the first indications you had that your child was entering adolescence.
In this article, we will explore a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. It is located behind the forehead. The prefrontal cortex is assigned the tasks of planning, impulse control, attention, and self-awareness among others. We have known for a long time that this part of the brain goes through a growth spurt in babies, but now we realize there is another growth spurt that takes place in the adolescent brain.
My heart goes out to these young kids. They are constantly trying to balance how they look versus how they really feel. Even as an adult, it is unpleasant to have to put on a confident exterior when you’re not feeling confident inside. For these kids, this effort is further complicated by the immaturity of their prefrontal cortex and their struggle to be their own person. Their best source of encouragement during this time is you. Your words can be the anchors upon which they build confidence in themselves. You can probably still remember painful comments directed at you as an adolescent. It is important to choose your words carefully and support those words with a positive tone.
Focus and discipline
Helping your adolescent to be on a schedule and be focused on their tasks helps the developmental process in the prefrontal cortex. They probably won’t appreciate your efforts now, but being disciplined helps you to feel better about yourself. If you put this together with the dopamine effect, you can see how focus brings success for these kids and results in greater self-confidence.
The same can be said for teaching impulse control. You expect to see emotional outbursts in young children, but the adolescent must learn that this behavior is unacceptable now that they are older. They need help acquiring techniques to manage their emotions and they will also need a good role model to imitate. Their eye will be on you to see how you handle emotionally charged situations. When your example fails, apologize and offer and idea of how you could have handled the situation better. That would be a powerful learning experience for your child and then you expect the same response from them.
Suggestions for positive parenting
- Carefully select the words you use when you respond to your child. He or she is vulnerable and needs help building their self-confidence. Your opinion of them matters a great deal.
- Work with your adolescent to set a weekly schedule that both of your can support. Don’t make it too burdensome so there can be victories along the way. Daily discipline helps the prefrontal cortex to establish important pathways for the future.
- Stay connected with your adolescent’s teachers to get another way to assess your child’s ability to focus. Be clever about this. Your child does not want you hovering.
- When your adolescent is becoming emotional, stay calm and listen to what they are feeling and not just what they are saying. Try to take your own emotions out of the situation and let them know you hear what they need but you want to help them think express their feelings with more self-control.
- Every week, select a quality about your adolescent that you can praise. Look for or create different opportunities during the week to say something about that quality, write a note about it, or just casually remark about it. If you look for your child’s positive qualities on a daily basis, your child will perceive this focus as very supportive.
Something to consider
When you observe your child trying to fit in too much with his or her peers, how do you feel about it?
Are you responding to your adolescent out of confidence or out of fear?