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Parents: Here’s A New Way to Look at the Teenage Brain

Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, has been studying the brain for over 20 years. His unique focus has been exploring the effects of meditation and mindfulness on the brain, and he has come to recognize that meditation and mindful awareness can alter brain function, mental activity, and interpersonal relationships. His research and extensive books and articles on the brain, has led to providing easy to understand descriptions of difficult scientific concepts about the brain.

In his 2014 book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, Siegel illuminates how brain development during adolescence influences teenage behavior and relationships. He de-mythologizes the many societal ideas about the adolescent brain and facilitates a deeper understanding and a new perspective for parents and teachers. In fact, his main premise is that the myths about the teenage brain are not only wrong; they are destructive. For instance, the tendency for teens to be impulsive is explained and discussed with a positive spin. Rather than the typical trepidation with which some parents approach adolescence, they can instead facilitate the explosion of creativity and life that the adolescent brain is experiencing.

Siegel places the teenage brain within the age window of 12 to 24 years. During this time, he says that, “Life is on fire.” There is a burst of exploration, maturation, and growth. If parents can see this, they can further this growth, support it, and know what to expect in order to deepen their relationships with their children. For example, getting to know the unique positive qualities of the teenage brain can help balance the downsides that will still be a part of adolescence. According to Siegel, some of these positive qualities of the teen brain are:

Searching for What is New and Novel: The burst of power and energy in the adolescent brain is also a search for what is new. The teen wants to try new things, explore the world, and role-play. Although this also comes with impulsivity, a parent with a deeper understanding of a teen’s brain growth might allow for more investigation of the world while curbing a teen’s impulsivity.

More Social Connection: Along with this growth in the brain, a teen wants to be surrounded by connection with others. Too much isolation could lead to risky behavior, poor decision-making, and perhaps even mental illness, such as teen depression. Strong friendships and relationships with family can support healthy adolescent growth.

Emotional Responses: A teen will have a heart full of emotions. Although this can lead to moodiness, it points to the explosion of life that is happening within.

Creativity: With a fiery mind and heart, full of emotions and curiosity, the teen is likely going to be creative and innovative. Although curiosity can lead an adolescent in directions that don’t support his or her overall growth, that curiosity also supports his or her discovery of self, which is a necessary task at this stage in life.

Siegel also points out that these attributes would also serve the adult, that as we progress and get older, the brain continues to want to function in these ways. Keeping this in mind, parents can do their best to facilitate this rather than stifle the growth of their teen. Doing this requires keeping in mind both the positive and risky sides to the explosion of life that is happening within.

In short, the book is an excellent resource for parents – and teens. It provides a formula for both teens and their parents to form better relationships and to become overall better people.

 

References:

Goleman, D. (Jan 2014). Why Every Teen – and Their Parents – Need a Brainstorm. The Huffington Post. Retrieved on April 1, 2014 from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-goleman/why-every-teen–and-their-parents-need-a-brainstorm_b_4576095.html

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. Dr. Dan Siegel. Retrieved on April 1, 2014 from: http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/brainstorm/

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