Parents of teens worry that their often difficult and frequently unlikeable teens have entered a phase from which they will not emerge. I am here, today, to give you hope that as your teens enter young adulthood which is somewhere in the mid to late twenties they will change and become significantly easier. If your angry or dramatic teenager is only 14, I am sorry if I just upset you further as you are facing another several years before your kids become kinder and gentler. As you are reading this, your teen may be isolating in her room so that she doesn’t have to deal with the adults in the house. And, you in turn, may be wondering why you have a child who makes you want to tear your hair out? You are probably asking yourself where you went wrong or why you had kids in the first place. If you are having these thoughts, please try not to feel guilty. You are in good and plentiful company. Over the past 3 decades, I have had the opportunity to work with teens and their exhausted parents. I have seen how parents and teens struggle to understand each other. You see, the brains of teenagers are not fully developed and it is not really their fault that their undeveloped frontal cortexes are contributing to their difficulties with emotional regulation and impulse control. Nonetheless, it certainly does become your problem, right? I encourage parents to act as their kids’ frontal cortex to the best of their ability. This translates into helping them control their often unpredictable emotions and talking to them about the consequences of their decisions. They may not always act like they are listening but secretly, they are taking in what you are saying, particularly if you keep it calm and they don’t feel like they are being scolded. This is no easy task but once again I can promise you that years later they will thank you. Just wait. You will remember my words when your emotionally reactive, door-slamming tenth grader texts you at age 25 wanting your sage advice.
Here are just some of the ways that your teens will change as they reach their mid to later twenties. It’s a long time but it sure is worth the often torturous wait.
1. As I mentioned above, your unlikeable teens will become increasingly likable as they get older. This is the result of so many changes. How could you not like a 25 year old child who is concerned not only about herself but also about you more than a teenager who screams at you for breathing too loudly? Trust me on this one. Recently, I ran into a young woman in her late twenties while in the grocery store. I had worked with this young woman during her teens. Her reason for seeing me as a youngster was, of course, that she hated her mother. She was in the grocery store buying ingredients to prepare dinner for her mother who was recovering from surgery. I remember this young woman’s mother well. She was so worried that she would never have a relationship with her only daughter. Over time, things had changed and I was more than just a little delighted. I am sure that her mother was too.
2. Your sons and daughters will become less emotionally reactive over time. Certainly, some individuals remain more emotionally responsive than others but overall you will see less emotionally intense responses. And, as a result, you will be less likely to feel that you are walking on pins and needles around your kids. Conversations will become more fun as you don’t have to worry about potential emotional landmines and missteps. You will be able to ask about your child’s friend without being accused of only asking so that you can criticize that friend. Or how about this scenario? You will be able to make a suggestion about life choices without experiencing door slamming and eyeball rolling. Continue, however, to work on being nonjudgmental. No child, at any age, likes to feel judged. This is true for us well into our later years, yes?
3. This is one of my all time favorites. Your young adult kids will become more agreeable. What would you have given for your 16 year old son to be more agreeable? If you ask your twenty somethings to help around the house they will be much more likely to step up to the plate than their younger contentious selves. Choosing a movie to watch together may also become a significantly less complicated task. Life becomes easier for everyone when family members would rather agree than engage in conflict.
4. Your formerly impulsive teens will become less impulsive and hence better decision makers. Certainly, some of your kids may have impulse problems as they age. In those cases, professional help may be necessary. On the average, young adults have better control of their impulses because they are better equipped to think before acting. We are all thankful for this as parents, aren’t we? As parents, we never stop worrying about our kids but they are less likely to be reckless and careless as time passes and they and their brains develop.
5. Your kids will become more organized. Remember that sloppy and disorganized 17 year old daughter who left her clothes all over her room and screamed at you about her missing soccer clothes? I’m quite sure you do. Surprise. At 27, that once 17 year old may come home and not only do her own laundry but may also offer to do yours as well. And, yes, I have experienced this first hand. I love when my daughter comes home. I can’t even believe how beautifully she folds my laundry. And, no, she was never asked to do this for me in her teens. At that point, I too, just wanted my child to relax a bit and be a bit more emotionally regulated. Laundry was never even on my list. A peaceful household was my priority.
6. You won’t even believe what I am about to tell you next unless you have young adult children as well as teenagers. Your young adult kids will start to become interested in you. Yep, you read that right. They will start to ask about your history, your life experiences, your opinions, and even how your day went. And, by all means let them know how your day went. You will be teaching and reinforcing a wonderful life skill and that is the importance of engaging in reciprocity in conversation. We all love people who listen and once your kids do that please do not forget to tell them how much you appreciate that.
7. Your kids will become less self-conscious and less embarrassed by you. It’s a shame that they are ever embarrassed by you but that is part of being a teenager. As they become more comfortable with who they are they will no longer see you as a direct reflection of them. So, feel, free to start singing out loud again. Your kids have other things to attend to and it is certainly not your singing.
8. Your young adult children will become less susceptible to issues of peer approval and rejection. The teenage brain has difficulty handling perceived or real peer rejection. The more developed young adult brain is better equipped to handle these sensitive issues. This translates into a child who is less likely to engage in behaviors simply to fit in. Now, isn’t that comforting?
Parent-child issues exist at every age but that is for another time. At this moment, I hope you get some comfort from knowing what is in store for you over the next several years.
Jensen,Frances and Nutt, Amy. The Teenage Brain. New York:Harper,2015