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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

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Family LifeParentingInside the mind of an adolescent

Inside the mind of an adolescent

🕓 Estimated read time: 5 minutes

Adolescence is probably one of the most challenging times, not just for your child but for you as well. Do you know what’s going on inside the mind of an adolescent?

The Teenage mind

It’s a strange and wonderful thing, the adolescent mind. Mrs F and I have 3 kids. We’ve been through some challenging times with our oldest over the years and are now seeing the exact same thing with our middle daughter.

Why was it challenging? Quite simply, we didn’t understand what really goes on inside the mind of a teenager. We now have an understanding of what to expect with our middle daughter. The attitude, the mood swings, the tantrums and the constant battle she has to ensure she blends in with the right (or, sometimes wrong) people. But we’ll never fully understand what an adolescent feels, each child is different and develops differently.

Understanding the adolescent mind

With my oldest, there have been many occasions with heightened emotions when the words “ you just don’t understand” have come out. Many times we have actually understood how “it” feels. We’ve been their age before. Thinking about it though, do we REALLY understand? Or do we just understand it from our own perspective?

I’m going to get all scientific here, but as parents, it’s important to understand how a child’s brain develops. It’s this understanding that might just be the thing that makes those challenging times a little easier.

The adolescent mind explained

In terms of physical growth, adolescents are at their peak. But on the inside, their brains are still developing.

During their childhood, grey matter inside the mind increases and also increases nerve connections. Around the age of 11, the brain does a bit of gardening and starts pruning the nerve connections that are hardly used. The pruning carries on well in their mid-twenties. It’s at this point when the brain becomes fully developed. It is this process that enables adults to make sound judgments.

The frontal lobe, which controls your attention span and impulse decisions is still under development in an adolescent. Because of this adolescents use the amygdala (the bottom middle of the brain) to make decisions. The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls emotions, such as fear and anger.

Limbic System Showing Amygdala And Frontal Cortex
Limbic systems – showing locations of the Frontal Cortex and the amygdala

So as you can see pretty much every decision your teen/adolescent makes is based on emotion and not on sound judgment. They perceive things differently because they use a different part of the brain.

This is why adolescents and adults find it difficult to communicate at the same level, we are using two different parts of the brain.

Understanding my daughters mind

Some would probably say that’s it’s not worth trying to understand my oldest daughters mind. I’ve said it before, she’s strange. I’ve always thought of her to be a very complex and emotionally driven individual. But trying to understand the biology of what her mind has and still is going through is interesting. We have more adult conversations with her, fewer tantrums and certain decisions she makes are a bit scattered. But over the last 12 months or so it’s been quite clear, to me, how her mind is developing.

I wrote an article interviewing my kids in 2020, nothing too serious but wanted to try and get inside the minds of my children. Some of the answers were humorous, some were quite deep. I thought I would do the same again. However, this time around to try and understand my oldest daughters mind with more of a ‘mature’ topic.

The questions are split into 3 of the developmental milestones of an 18-year-old. My aim was to see how she responded to them with a slightly more developed mind. Remember, these answers are likely all coming from the emotional cortex (amygdala) of her brain.

Emotional

Now that you’re 18, do you feel you have a full adult mindset?
Not at all

Do you still feel the need to seek adult/parent advice?
Not so much advice, but more to ask permission to do things as it’s what I’ve always done.

Growing up, do you think your Mam and I parented you well?
Yeah. At the time I didn’t necessarily think you did though. Especially when I didn’t get what I wanted.

Looking back at your not so distant younger days, is there anything you wish we had done differently as parents?
No, not really.

How do you manage your emotions, when things aren’t going too well?
I don’t have a particular way of dealing with them.

Before your college days, have you ever had concerns for your future?
Yes, I’ve always been concerned about how my life is going to turn out.

Social

Growing up, you were subject to a lot of peer pressure, is that still the case now?
I wasn’t really. No not at all

Do you think peer pressure plays a positive or negative role in growing up?
It depends on what kind of situation. For example, I feel that when people around me are doing work and studying then I tend to do the same.

Looking at your friendship group now, do you believe that it will remain for many years?
Yes, well hopefully. We all get on very well and understand each other.

We now live in a world where “you can’t say that” is common.
Do you think your generation’s unconscious bias has had a negative impact on society today?

My generation is very split in their opinions. I wouldn’t say negative, but it makes people more aware and conscious of others, but sometimes that can be taken too far.

Cognitive

Do you still read fictional books, or is it all social media now?
I still enjoy reading books. I prefer things on paper and would prefer a book over reading one online.

Would you consider your vocabulary expansive?
I would like to think so.

Looking back when you were a bit younger, do you cringe when you hear some of the slang words used today?
Definitely.

What do you do now at 18, have fun, and relax your mind?
The opposite actually, I have so much work to do to make sure I get where I want to be in life.

What’re your future plans?
I want to finish college, go to uni and get my degree. So that I can have a good career.

After the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the education system, do you now have any concerns for your future?
Of course but I think most people my age do. It disrupted learning massively.

Final question and the most important one…

Tearing away the hard exterior that you show towards Mam and me. Do you feel you still need your mammy and add now that you’re an ‘adult’?
Yes and I think I always will.

Is an adolescent mind a young mind?

The adolescent mind is complex. Clearly, it’s mixed and very much stuck in limbo between the younger and more adult mindset. It’s still developing, so there will be tendencies of that much younger mindset popping up. There were a few points my oldest daughter raise, that make me understand her mind more.

  1. The need to seek permission, is because the frontal lobe of her brain hasnt fully developed. She cant make a sound judgment, it has to be an emotional one. Seeking permision is the reasurance of her emotional state of mind.
  2. The need and willingness to learn are driven by the fear of failure (the fear emotion that comes from the amygdala).
  3. The frontal lobe plays a big part in future planning. There’s a mix of emotional and judgmental decision making. The frontal lobe can override the amygdala (emotional decisions) to give a solid judgment.

Inside the mind of an adolescent

Managing a teenager/adolescent is like trying to complete a Rubik’s cube. No one really knows how to do it. But if you have some understanding and logic you can figure it out. Similarly, If you try to understand the mind of a teenager/adolescent it may make it easier to manage heightened emotional situations that will inevitably arise.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. This was fascinating to read and got me thinking about my own teenage years and how I felt/responded/behaved, etc. There is obviously so much to understand in terms of brain development and how that impacts the everyday lives of teens and I think knowledge about it all is vital for parents and teachers, etc (basically any adult that has an informative role in their lives). I think it’s great that you have this Q&A session with your daughter, I am sure she appreciated you wanting to know more.

    • It is fascinating, I must admit. Understanding why she was the way she was and seeing my middle child the same and many other ‘kids’ does give parents the knowledge to handle what is perceived to be as a negative situation.

  2. So interesting. I moved out of home when I was 17 as I wanted my independence and to be an adult. But looking back it seems so young and I was so naive! I learned a lot though, but I would say I didn’t feel particularly like a ‘proper’ adult until I was about 26/27.

    • That’s Interesting Victoria. My daughter went through a stage at 17 of desperately wanting full independence. I think she realised where she was better off though… ha ha

  3. I’ve been looking into teenage development a lot and your post basically confirms everything I have been reading. In all seriousness, when you start looking at the physical development of the brain, it leaves me wondering if 11 is too young for kids to start secondary school. Are they genuinely developed enough? And when you understand the mood swings etc come from a place of physical development, you know how to respond. Shouting at kids doesn’t work, they need undrestanding, empathy and guidanc ebecause they genuinelly do not know what to do in certain situations and their brains overload. And of crouse the best beit. . . brain development goes on until about the age of 25!

  4. Hi Damion,

    Your task is made tougher by the fact that there is also huge variation in the behaviour of different teenagers. I remember my parents once telling me that it sometimes seemed as though I was born ‘grown up’ – so rare was it that we had any major bust-ups. My younger sister, on the other hand, was … well, not like me!

    That said, I remember that my dad absolutely hated the fact that I would sleep in until lunchtime, given the chance. And hated it even more when I told him that this was perfectly normal for teenagers!

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