It's easy to attribute a teenager's eye-rolling, talking back, or "pagdadabog" to puberty. "It's the raging hormones," we often say, dismissing the behavior as "just a phase."
Well, in a way, it is a phase--a phase in brain development.
Psychotherapist Lisa Damour, Ph.D., in her book Untangled, explains that between ages six and 11, kids go through the developmental phase psychologists call latency. "As the term implies, the mercurial moods of early childhood simmer down and girls are pretty easygoing until they become teenagers and their emotions kick up again," Dr. Damour writes. "Though we used to assume that the brain stopped developing somewhere around age 12, we now know [from recent developments in brain science] that the brain remodels dramatically during the teenage years," she explains.
The brain remodeling is similar to how the human brain develops in the womb--first the lower, primal portions or the limbic system, and then the upper, outer areas or the cortex. The limbic system ups the brain's emotional reactions, while the frontal cortex--the part of the brain which gives a calming, rational influence--fully develops only later when she reaches adulthood. So for the greater part of the tween and teenage years, the intense emotions basically dominate the brain. Hence, the eye-rolling, emotional outbursts, and such.
"Adults often tell teens that their feelings are at full blast because of 'hormones'. This usually doesn’t go over very well, plus it’s probably inaccurate. Despite the obvious coincidence between the beginnings of puberty--with its acne, growth spurts, and dawning smelliness--and the intensification of your daughter’s emotions, research suggests that the impact of pubertal hormones on teenagers’ moods is indirect, at best," stresses Dr. Damour. In fact, stressful events and relationships can influence your teenage daughter’s moods even more than their hormones.
If you want to help you daughter during the time when she’s transitioning into adulthood, keep in mind these guidelines:
1 Be present. Let her complain to you, advises Dr. Damour. “Girls who get a chance to talk about the abundant frustrations of their day usually feel better once they’ve unloaded their distress on you,” she says. It's important that she should feel safe to express herself freely to you, and knows that you understand or recognize her feelings.
2. Empathize. Externalization, or how teenagers sometimes manage their feelings, by getting their parents or someone who loves them 'have' their feelings instead, is a profound form of empathy. “Your willingness to hold your daughter’s emotional hot potatoes from time to time is a thankless and charitable act, but it will help her get through some of the roughest patches of her adolescence," Dr. Amour says.
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3. Listen. Be an ear, not her problem-solver. “Do not feel pressed to solve your daughter’s problems; you’ve probably tried and already found that she routinely rejects your suggestions, even the especially brilliant ones,” Dr. Damour says. Most of their complaints really have no magical solution to them. Your daughter runs to you mostly for support, not to ask you to fix the problem--well, not always.
4. Teach her the difference between complaining and venting out. Complaining generally communicates a sense that “someone should fix this,” while venting communicates that “I’ll feel better when someone who cares about me hears me out.” Ask your daughter, “Do you want my help or are you just venting out?” Helping her understand the difference also helps you know what to do.
5. Don’t dismiss her feelings. “Consider saying, ‘I have a different take on the situation. Do you want to hear it?’” Dr. Damour says. “Should she say no, bite your tongue and find comfort in the knowledge that your daughter is now aware that she shouldn’t mistake your silence for a tacit endorsement of her views,” she advises. If she wants to hear you out, on the other hand, do so without antagonizing her feelings.
The next time your tween or teenage daughter "acts out" on you, take her feelings seriously because it might actually be the case. She needs you to recognize that because she could very well be shocked at how intense her feelings are towards, say, having her favorite pair of jeans in the laundry basket when she wanted to wear them for casual Friday at school. Remember, her friends are going through the same exact thing, so they might not be her best confidantes at the moment.