Friday, February 28, 2014

Quit With The Condemnation

(Expanded version of O.C. Register article-2/28/14)

"You should know better" with its unspoken "shame on you" is a damaging phrase. I have found that parents of teens overuse this pointed remark, myself included. This is the problem: teens are children in almost full-grown bodies. That's confusing. They are as tall as us, they borrow our clothes, their voices sound mature, and if you took a saw to their skulls, you would find their brains are practically the same size as ours. But we need to be careful not to equate size with knowledge. Studies show that the brain of an adolescent is still under construction.

The brain, the complex organ responsible for "knowing better," goes through quite a bit of growth during the teen years. Before a person enters their twenties, the parts of the brain involved in managing impulsive and emotional responses are underdeveloped. Add to that the heightened reproductive and stress hormones coursing through their bodies and you will find an unpredictable, self-critical, roller-coaster-of-a-teen. Should we really be making them feel worse for their medically-proven inability to know better?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we should just throw up our hands and leave them to their own devices. We must parent on: reminding, lecturing, spelling-it-out, teaching. That's our job. But don't be surprised, or overly critical, when what seems so obvious to you is completely shocking to them. Yes, we have spent YEARS repeating the same lessons. NO, the rules haven't changed much. But our competition is great. Teens are consumed by things of their world: a comment they heard at school; a picture on Instagram; and the overwhelming feeling that they might laugh/cry/scream/throw up/hit something, every day. It's hard on them and on us. I know...I live with one. But the job of a parent doesn't end until their brains are fully developed, apparently when they are safely in their twenties.

As parents, we need to lay off the shame and regularly remind our kids that what they're going through is totally NORMAL. They need our compassion, love, guidance, support, patience and protection. We need to check our expectations and help them navigate this overwhelming and confusing time. When we use those four condemning words tainted with the tone of disappointment, we stoke their self-doubt and communicate to them that they aren't intelligent. When we scold them for lack of control over their impulses (which, again, have been proven to be uncontrollable), we ignite their defensiveness instead of aiding their understanding. When we mistakingly expect our adult-sized children to act with the discretion and wisdom of an adult, we set them up for failure.

So, the more we know and understand the abilities and vulnerabilities of our teens, the better equipped we are to safeguard this critical stage in their development and in turn, their life-long mental health. If we are their advocates, their support system and their guides, they will come out of it with their hearts whole and their sensibilities intact. And don't we owe that to them, especially since we know better?

{J}

You can find more cool info about the teen brain at www.appsych.mrduez.com.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Evolution

(Published 2/14/14: OC Register-Ladera Post)

When you're a child, Valentine's Day means decorating a shoebox to collect fun notes and cards and sweet treats from your classmates. There may even be a lunch exchange or a party. And whether you like all of your classmates, you'll bring enough Valentines to share with everyone in your class. It's an "equal opportunity" holiday.

When you're a teenager, Valentine's Day has a little more at stake. The girls hope they get some sort of acknowledgement from the boy they like and the boys just hope that the girl likes them back. The communication about "the liking" is typically carried out by the friends of the supposed "likees." It's a "socially conscious" holiday.

When you're a young adult, Valentine's Day is about over-analyzing the level of investment of your first serious mate. Your expectations are high and the pressure's on. Your gift needs to represent exactly how you feel for him or her without overshooting or underestimating, either of which could be deadly. It's a "make it or break it" holiday.

When you're a newlywed, Valentine's Day is about indulgence. Fancy dinners, elaborate gifts, extensive foreplay and lingering passion. You and your spouse are completely into each other and demonstrating your undying love is paramount. If it's Facebook worthy, even better...you'll score major bonus points. It's a "more is better" holiday.

When you're a parent to babies or young children, Valentine's Day is about falling deeper in love. You never imagined your spouse could become more attractive but seeing them love your little ones--changing a diaper, singing a lullaby, kissing a boo-boo, telling a bedtime story--fertilizes that deep-rooted emotion you have for the person you've chosen as your partner in all things. It's a "count-your-blessings" holiday.

When you're a parent to tweens and teens, Valentine's Day is about remembering the reason you fell in love in the first place. Life is less about your marriage and more about your all-consuming, completely exhausting, totally thankless job of parenthood. Even though you're tired and the newlywed luster has faded while the business of life has settled in, it's more important than ever to sincerely demonstrate what a loving relationship looks like. Your children are watching and they need to see that the terms "unconditional" and "everlasting" are attainable and worthy of the work. It's a "put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is" holiday.

When you're an empty-nester, Valentine's Day is about a more refined level of indulgence than during your newlywed bliss. You enjoy life at a slower pace and have discovered a true understanding of what your lover wants and needs. On a daily basis, you act out your vows with more intention and promise than ever before. It's a "slow and steady" holiday.

So on this Valentine's Day, please take the opportunity to surround yourself with the people you care about, sharing your love and fostering relationships that will last throughout all the seasons of your life. In fact, the same goes for the other 364 days of the year. After all, there is no limit to love. Valentine's Day really should be a year-round holiday.

{J}