It was just another day in enjoying the ESSENCE of the teen brain.
“Mom!” Oldest Son said urgently. “Mom, are you on your way home now?!”
“Yes, I should be home in about ten minutes.”
In that moment, I heard a succinct inner voice telling me I really didn’t want to be heading home.
This inner voice told me I would not be coming home to a peaceful, relaxing evening.
“Good!” he said. The relief was clearly evident in his voice.
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Oh! Just because that will make it easier for you to speak to the deputies who are at our house right now. Dad is talking to them, but I think he needs backup!”
Oldest Son could barely contain the concern, annoyance, and mischief all rolled up into his voice.
Flashes of the “BAM” of a potato gun going off in the field behind our house went through my mind.
Memories of our neighbor lady coming over to have a talk with me swished through my mind.
She wanted to know if I knew about the dry ice explosions in the carport.
It seems my son would fill 32 oz. cola bottles with dry ice. Then, he and the other three children would jump in the station wagon parked in the carport. (This safety suggestion was made by their father.) The dry ice would then expand.
BOOM!! would echo throughout the neighborhood, waking up the sweet old neighbor lady.
“Deputies?! What in the world are the deputies doing at our house?!”
The peaceful evening I had imagined went tumbling to the wayside of the winding road. I continued to listen to Oldest Son as he explained there was an ordinance in our country neighborhood about not shooting a shot gun within 150 feet from a building or a house.
Oldest Son’s father had not known about the ordinance.
Oldest Son had not known about the ordinance. He was continuing to speak of how it was breaking some “right” he had in our countryside house. (As many of you may know, the oldest makes the rules.)
Father was talking with the deputies while my son continued to explain the situation.
Evidently, a neighbor did not enjoy his horses being alarmed as my son, his friends, and his father all shot lids of 5 gallon buckets thrown in the air with the new shotgun. The neighbor called the deputies to correct the matter.
This adventure is all behind us now. It all settled down nicely.
The deputies were courteous and friendly. The neighbor was assured shooting the shotgun on our property would never happen again.
All was quiet once again. We would just wait until the next adventure resulting from the ESSENCE of the teenage brain.
The two-story tree house my son had built; the fort with the sun roof; the video of the computer being destroyed as a public service announcement; and the tobogganing in the mud behind a truck.
All of these inventions and adventures were a result of the ESSENCE of a teenager’s brain.
Each adventure and invention was creative, fun, imaginative and exciting in many different ways.
My husband and I have been parenting now for 26 years, 7 months and 18 days and some odd minutes and seconds now.
The teenage years are some of the scariest and most fun days of our parenting so far.
They are not done yet. We have 4 years and 6 days to serve still.
Then, we will be able to enjoy and rest in the memories the adventures of the teenage brain brought.
And you know what? We’ll miss the teen years. They are exciting times. They are filled with adventure and ingenuity.
Dr. Daniel Siegel, an author and professor at UCLA has written several books regarding children, the developing brain and parenting. He encourages and teaches us how to parent our teens in a way that respects their natural development.
I love how Dr. Siegel does not represent the teenager as “crazy” or “disturbed.” Rather, he describes the strengths of the adolescent brain in such a way that you and I (seemingly adults) could envy.
In adulthood, we usually think responsibly and act “adult-like.” In doing so, we lose what Siegel refers to as the ESSENCE of the teenage brain. ESSENCE is how the teenage brain is developing neurologically. Siegel describes adolescent neurological brain development.
He expounds also on the upside and downside of each part of the ESSENCE of this wonderful developing brain.
The ESSENCE gives 4 reasons why you should be jealous of your teen.
ES = Emotional Spark
Emotional Spark is happening in the teenage brain primarily because the lymbic system, the emotional reaction part of the brain, is communicating directly to the cortex and prefontal cortex, the reasoning parts of the brain. The reasoning part of the brain is not fully developed until ages 23 to 25.
This means when your teenager has an impulsive and exciting idea, the brain is ready and willing to follow through with the adventure!
As I often told/tell my teenagers, parents are often the guardrails for their teens. Other times, as in the case of my “Up For An Adventure” husband, we are the guides and parachutes on the adventures.
The teenage brain is alive and passionate. They are filled with vitality and simply want to explore in some way.
The downside to the Emotional Spark is the teenager can get over their head quite easy. An aspect of “flooding” or being overwhelmed sometimes happens. As in the case of Oldest Son calling me while the deputies spoke with his father.
SE = Social Engagement
Teens hunger for peers and Social Engagement. They want to connect and collaborate with others in their ideas, schemes and dreams. As in the above case, I don’t seem to recall how many of Oldest Son’s friends were at the house. I’m certain their parents all knew what was going on and my husband had obtained consent prior to shooting the lids.
The downside to this Social Engagement aspect of the teenage brain is they are naturally prone to peer pressure. They are easily swayed to “going with the crowd.” And they are very vulnerable to bullying.
This Social Engagement must be protected and nurtured by parents. A parent who is tuned in to their teen will prevent isolation from adults by having lunch and/or regular dates with their teen.
N = Novelty
Teens will naturally be seeking the “new” of life. This “new” will provide them with even more happy hormones, like dopamine and adrenaline.
The upside to the Novelty part of the ESSENCE is teens are open to adventure. This helps them to prepare to leave home. It also helps them to go for things that are exciting and rewarding in life.
As in the case of the teenage adventure above. Parents sometimes need to encourage their teens’ Novelty while keeping their teen within the bounds of safety. No one was hurt. A friendship was built with deputies, as well as a neighbor.
CE = Creative Explorations
The developing teenage brain is more open to new and creative ideas than any other time in a person’s life. Your teenager will think “outside of the box” about solutions to a problem. They will be innovative and question the standard answers given.
The downside to this Creative Exploration is again, boredom can create a lack of direction and purpose in the teen’s life. Without being able to use their exploration in a healthy, relatively safe way, the teenager may develop a crisis of identity. They may feel shut off from themselves – their hopes, dreams and goals.
Shutting off the Creative Exploration aspect of our teens is something neither my husband nor I were ever interested in. Again, we have provided safe and appropriate guidance and “bumper rails” for them. However, the Creative Exploration of our teens continues to be some of the best memory building times we have had as a family.
How About You?
As you look above at the ESSENCE of a teenage brain, are you recognizing stories of your youth? Are you celebrating the developing brain of your teen? Are you encouraging this process and guiding the natural growth?
Do you join with the ESSENCE of your teen? Or do you dampen the development with a “stop acting like a kid” mindset?
I encourage you to celebrate the ESSENCE of your teens’ brain. I encourage you to reignite the ESSENCE of your responsible “adult” brain.
The above is not professional counseling. It is practical advice from me, Kate Pieper, LMFT. I have studied and taught teen brain development to parents and therapists. I have also learned to celebrate the ESSENCE of my teens’ developing brains. If you thought this was helpful, share it with others. If you’d like to connect with me on a professional manner, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-268-3558. I would be delighted to help you in your journey as a parent of teens.