Understanding our teenagers

Notting Hill Post has just road tested a day’s workshop all about teenagers. This really includes anyone up to the age of 24 as that’s when teenage brains are fully formed and become adult ones. Except for Michael Jackson of course. The day is led by Naella Grew (BA; MA; Grad. Dip. Couns; MBACP) and Janey Downshire (Grad. Dip. Couns; Cert Emotional Literacy; MBACP). Have left all the qualifications in place so you can see they are both highly qualified counsellors who specialise in Teenage Development and Emotional Literacy, and so the tips I am about to give you come from learned beings.

I freely admit that I did think, ‘who can talk about teenagers for a whole day?’ and took my laptop with me. In fact, once installed, there seemed like endless new things to know about and us learners, 20+ mothers and one father, could have probably gone on for hours more, but for complete exhaustion. It was just like a Lakeland catalogue, lots of new areas to explore and things you didn’t know you wanted to know. Here are my main takeaways:

  • until their brains are fully formed, there is a disconnect between the fact that actions have consequences.
  • During brain formation the behaviour pathways get stronger, so a lot of what get laid down as a teenager stays when you are an adult.
  • There is something called an emotional hijack, when something goes wrong and a rational plan flies out of the window, stress chemicals take over and there is a teenage meltdown. (Think that happens when you are an adult too? I’m thinking John Cleese and the mini.)
  • Something in the brain called an amygdala scans the world like a periscope, it is the gatekeeper, and if something seems wrong in the world it shoots out cortisol leading to panic, or when not alerted the teen is calm. So if the family at home is calm and relaxed this means the teen is calm and relaxed so they can be motivated and focussed. If the home is a stressful place the teen tends to be stressed, anxious and pessimistic. Everyone needs to try to get to the relaxed place. (Good book, nice glass of wine, packet of crisps.)
  • Another thing about that amygdala. The teenage one is more sensitive than the adult one. Their periscope is scanning the world and checking, am I safe? am I going to be alright? We need to be calm to anchor their wobbly ship by role modelling, creating a safe haven, consistency and being available.
  • Today’s marijuana can easily cause psycosis in a brain that is developing. Also, taking ketamine, the horse doping drug, destroys bladders and can cause teenagers to wet themselves for the rest of their lives.
  • Too much alcohol to binge eating and cutting arms and legs is all self-harming. It is a need to escape and blot out reality. The teenager needs to be shown how to control highs and lows. To produce the love hormone oxytocin by socialising, bonding, security and trust.
  • There are good ways and bad ways of getting dopamine the chemical our bodies crave. Some teenagers use pornography to get a dopamine hit, but then research is finding that some can only get turned on by voyeurism and then they can’t perform sexually. Girls then think something is wrong with them too, maybe the boy is not turned on because she is not attractive or something. That’s a lose, lose.
  • There is a graph. It looks like this (pic above). We should try to keep nudging the teenager towards the pink line A. If they react too strongly to something going wrong, and then go too hyper when something excites them it is C, and if something goes wrong and they just go into a sulk of deep glumness for several days it is B. If they just keep bouncing back if something goes wrong, and cheerful when all is fine, that is the good one. A. Awesome as they might say.

At the end of a really interesting  day, my main takeaway is that calmness is contagious. I’m just off to put my feet up and read the book. Find out all about those interesting people, the next Teenagers Translated workshop is on Monday 30th January at The Tabernacle teenagerstranslated


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