#Parenting101: Understanding Teenagers Psychology

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By Dr. David J Carey

Funny aren’t they, our teenagers; moody, noisy, sloppy, crazy, opinionated, challenging and lovable loafers. Why do they do the things they do? Why do they act that way? What is “normal”adolescent behaviour?Unfortunately their immune brains can cause a lot of havoc such as violence, breaking laws and sometimes tragic consequences such as vandalism and arson. Most parents and teachers have to tighten the seatbelts and ride out the storm of adolescence. It isn’t easy but it is possible to understand why they do the things they do once we take a look at how the teen brain grows and develops. We don’t know everything yet, but what we do know sheds a lot of light on how our teenagers function in family, school and society.

Remember: They haven’t finished maturing yet

We tend to forget that the development stage we call adolescence is a relatively new invention. A century ago in Western society we simply grew from childhood into adulthood, there was no identified transition period. I imagine that in the highly industrialised world, when families needed to put children to work in order to survive there wasn’t much room for a transition. We now recognise that there is a period, usually between the ages of twelve (younger for girls) and eighteen, when children begin to display some typical traits of adolescence.

The neurosciences given us ample proof that the human brain does not finish developing and maturity until the mid-twenties. What is particularly important to know is that the regions of the brain that do not mature until later are those responsible for some critically important activities called executive functions: planning, organization and time keeping and emotional regulation? These brain functions are controlled by areas in the frontal cortex of the brain, which are late in maturing. Being able to think ahead, plan for the long-range goal, break things down into manageable steps and then execute a plan is a necessary part of adult life. So is the ability to control our emotions and anger. Our teens simply do not have all the neuronal wiring in order to do that successfully ALL of the time. Some of them can’t do it ANY of the time. It’s exactly why so many secondary school students fall behind in assignments. In fact a lot of third level students have the same difficulty. It isn’t always because they are lazy or poorly motivated. Most of the time their brain simply won’t let them do it.

Dr. David J. Carey is a psychologist trained in the United States and working in Dublin Ireland for the past twenty years. He is currently the Dean at Progressive College, Dublin and Director of Psychology at City Colleges, Dublin.  Dr. Carey has worked in Kenya over the past 15 years where he directed the Diploma in Early Childhood Education in partnership with Amicus School.Amicus College was established 16 years ago by Mrs. Joyce Marangu and her daughter Christabel Marangu with the aim of providing quality early childhood education for the Kenyan education sector. The college is known for providing teachers with a holistic view on education and not just a focus on academics.

Dr. Carey who was in Kenya recently for a workshop focusing on early childhood education, and understanding the adolescent mind both physically and psychologically that was targeted at education professionals in the Kenyan market with a focus on school head teachers and parents.Dr. Carey in partnership with Amicus College is also working on a certificate training programme for special needs assistants and carers to children and adolescents with disabilities. This will be a great eye opener not only for special education teachers but for all teachers. This certificate will be awarded in partnership with the College of the Progressive Education, Dublin Ireland.

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