Parents get a peek into the mind of a teenager

Brainwave Trust educator Ron Fisher said some teenagers might look like adults, but their brain won't be fully developed ...
PAUL MITCHELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Brainwave Trust educator Ron Fisher said some teenagers might look like adults, but their brain won't be fully developed until their mid-late 20s.

Having a teenage brain is like driving a Bugatti you don't know has shoddy brakes.

You're going to want to go fast. You might even take some precautions, but you won't realise it was a bad idea until you crash.

In a seminar to parents, Brainwave Trust Manawatu/Whanganui educator Ron Fisher said parents and teachers want to teach teenagers how to be responsible adults, but it's not reasonable to expect them to act like they already are.

"There's a lot of skill required to think as an adult... [so] even though at 13, 14, 17 they can look like adults, their brain hasn't caught up yet."

From as early as 9 or 10-years-old, the development of the emotional part of the brain kicks into overdrive, but the part of the brain that thinks of consequences, the brakes, won't catch up until the mid to late 20s.

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Understanding what's going on with teenagers' brains helped the adults in their lives find the best ways to engage and guide them into adulthood.

That's why Palmerston North Boys' and Girls' High Schools invited Fisher to give parents a seminar on adolescent brain development at boy's high on Tuesday.

Adolescence is the second most important time in our brain's development, when we begin to fully understand other people's emotions and, eventually, how to rationally think things through.

"Adolescence is the second wave of opportunity to set the foundation for the rest of their lives. [And] it's all about relationships," Fisher said.

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Being surrounded with supportive adults was vital to that – people who can think through the consequences in a way they can't, who can give them space to learn in positive spaces like sports or community groups.

"They need you not to give up on them, no matter how much they might try to push you away sometimes."

Michelle and Gareth Weston, who have 14-year-old at boys' high and two younger children, said Fisher's seminar mainly solidified what they knew from experience about teenage boys. But learning the "whys" behind their son's behaviour had made them rethink some of their approach to parenting.

It helped to know that's just the way teenagers are wired, that every emotion hits harder and when they're stressed the logical part of their brain basically shuts down.

"[Next time] we might try to not just snap at him, but come back later and explain why what he did was wrong and ask questions and talk in a calm manner," Gareth Weston said.

 - Stuff

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