Big engine

Teen Brain NASCAR Metaphor
• Big engine—maturing bodies,
• Poor Driver—immature PFC and judgment
• Faulty Break system—immature inhibitory
mechanisms in PFC
• High octane fuel—hormones
Executive Functioning: The CEO
• Planning ahead, goal setting and analysis
• Reasoning/Judgment- weighing the costs,
benefits and risks of various options
• Impulse control
What happens at age 13?
• Up to half of the neural branches in the
thinking brain are sloughed off (pruning)
• Over the next ten years, new brain growth
occurs (blossoming)
• The neurons that fire together wire
together (what you do and think and
experience determines brain growth)
• Hard wiring of genetics and soft wiring of
experience interact to determine outcome
Take home message for parents
* During the remodeling of the prefrontal
cortex adolescence, behavior is often
governed more by the emotional centers of
the brain than the thinking part of the brain,
especially in contexts of high arousal and
peer presence.
* Teens of wholesome, authoritative and high
functioning parents have moodiness,
reactivity and impulsivity due to brain and
hormone changes.
Given the “norms” for teen challenges,
what’s a parent to do?
• Accept teen moodiness, emotional
reactivity and risk-taking (dumb mistakes)
• Develop excellent personal emotional
regulation skills in order to manage teen’s
intense reactions (self calming)
• Choose productive parenting approaches
to optimize learning opportunities for the
“Art of the Debrief “ Technique
• Before the debriefing session, let him know that
you want him to present his story of what
happened with honesty, reflection and critical
analysis. What are ways that careful thinking
could help him avoid such problems in the future?
• The quality of this self-analysis and the degree to
which he genuinely engages in a respectful
interchange will help determine your decisionmaking about disciplinary actions.
• The meeting will be discontinued if negative
emotions derail respectful and productive
Authoritative Parenting Style
• High warmth, thoughtful authority,
effective communication
• Effective communication requires a calm
mind to access a wise mind
• Discipline is effective only in the context of
a mostly positive relationship
• Parents are most effective when they are
united, clear and confident
C.A.L.M. technique (for meltdowns)
• C Cool down: Self-soothe; don’t talk; control yourself, without
trying to control anyone else. Slow breathing (Reset, Re-boot).
• A Assess options: What are the issues? Would it be better to
keep talking or postpone? Weigh the costs/benefits/risks of
options. Engage your own prefrontal cortex with this analysis.
• L
Listen with empathy: When re-engaging with teens, ALWAYS
start with empathy—without any “buts”. Appreciating another’s
feelings does not have to mean approval or agreement.
• M Make a plan: Consider ways to move forward. What are issues
with your teen that you might want to address in the big picture? .
Avoiding arguments, power struggles and
the “paper lion” parent trap
1. State your expectation
2. Don’t fall for “the bait” of resistive
protests and give the child room for
choosing to cooperate
3. Allow ONE reminder
Early in childhood, children should be informed that
they will receive consequences for non-compliance.
Parents should invest in controlling their children’s
conduct, not their thoughts and feelings.
When kids non-comply or resist,
Repeat yourself/nag
Get them to agree or accept your side
Ultimatums or threats
Explain/defend policy at the time of conflict
When kids resist, defy or try to engage in a
power struggle, consider:
• Using the C.A.L.M. technique for meltdowns
• The only person you can control is yourself
• Ask yourself: You might be right, but are you
• “My child is doing the best she can right now,
given her emotional state.”
• Respond skillfully to your child’s emotional
needs, “not the content issue.”
• Use artful one-liners
Stresses of hyper-parenting, overscheduled,
and over-pressured parenting
• Suburban sample of middle school children
compared to an inner city sample
• Significantly higher levels of depression,
anxiety and substance use
• Strongest predictor of symptoms was
perceived academic pressure from
parents and isolation from parents.
Luthar, S. and Becker, B. Privileged but Pressured? A Study of Affluent Youth.
Child Development, 2002, 73 (5), 1593-1610.
A checklist for parents of tweens (all in book)
Control media and electronic use and avoid giving into excessive
materialistic desire
Don’t let up on family dinner rituals.
Keep chores a priority—they are a vital preparation for life
Let your kids struggle, fail and learn, both socially and academically.
Keep having fun and building the family bank account of positive
Support your tween’s academic development.
Insist that your tween participate in athletic activities at school over
the full year.
Encourage at least one extracurricular activity at all times and keep
this expectation intact through-out high school.
Practice authoritative parenting, which includes firm limits and
boundaries, warmth and connectedness, and effective
communication. Role model skills in emotional regulation.
Be proactive about talking to your teens about sexuality, substance
use, violence and media literacy.
Build family resilience and spirituality by your own conduct and
Tips for parents
• Pick your battles. A top priority is to maintain a
mostly positive relationship with teens.
Otherwise, parents lose influence.
• A calm mind allows access to the wise mind
which enhances parental discernment about
how, when and whether to talk during hotbutton times.
• Empathy is important and doesn’t mean
agreement or approval.
• Parental self control and a calm home are
underrated in the pantheon of parenting skills.
• Engaging “under the influence” of flooding
negative emotions should be avoided.
More tips for parents of teens
• Parents should prioritize supervision and
influencing basic conduct of their teen (not
controlling their thoughts and feelings).
• Pro-social contexts for teens are critical (sports,
volunteering, exposure to mentors/elders).
• Limitations should be made on exposure to
media, risky situations, known deviant cultures.
• Role modeling is of the highest importance—
actions speak louder than your words.
• Parent-child connectedness—the holy grail?

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