It can be a heavy time of year for those teenagers involved with exams.
Teens tend to get a lot of bad press. They’re notoriously accused of being difficult, resistant, moody, and in particular lazy – often with regard to their study and sleeping habits!
But I wonder how many parents and teachers understand that for much of it – they can’t help it. It’s the way their brains are wired at that time in their life. And instead of confronting them head on, might it work better if we adopted a stance of deeper understanding and tolerance?
Their bodies are going through massive upheavals. We can see that physically. What we can’t see is the upheaval and change their brains are going through at the same time. Once they reach adolescence their brain is going through the biggest dramatic rate of development since infancy. And it’s these ongoing changes that provoke much of the behaviour we see in them, often as negative.
Their thinking skills make huge leaps in development and this would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that it creates an emotional upheaval which overrides their logic sometimes. They are both fighting for independence and hankering for an almost childlike reassurance. Their need for peer approval becomes exacerbated by these processes, often resulting in them taking risks or behaving in ways that are contrary to what they believe, or the family principles with which they’ve grown.
As if that wasn’t tricky enough, and whilst they experience angst at sometimes unwelcome physical changes (spots do nothing for the confidence!), their body’s natural rhythms are so disturbed as to reduce the amount of quality sleep that they get. This in turn makes it difficult for them to get out of bed in the morning, or to function properly early in the morning when they’d normally be starting school.
This is why sleep scientists regularly call for later starting times for teens as this report describes.
At the same time as these personal changes they’re often at a point in their lives when academic challenges are building, when they may have intense study or revision or are sitting exams. It’s a cocktail of pressure and no surprise to hear of teenage depression increasing.
So how can we support our teens as they go though these changes?
Five ways might be to:
- Acknowledge that for the most part their behaviour is not their fault; it’s biologically driven, and try to remain non-confrontational.
- Learn a little more about the changes their brains are going through; this helps us to be more tolerant and understanding. Useful article here.
- Avoid situations that might create resentment or resistance. E.g. ignore the small things (like criticising their behaviour or dress or time Gaming) and keep discussions open about the bigger things (like asking ‘how’s your revision going – can I help at all?’) which lets them know you’re on their side.
- Allow them to sleep as much as they like, when they like, without any guilt or accusations of laziness.
- Offer activities and opportunities to go out somewhere completely new and distracting, to dilute any academic pressure they may be feeling.
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