Nationally recognized child and adolescent psychiatrist Jess P. Shatkin, M.D., MPH, writes that “Mother Nature has purposely put our brains out of balance between around 12 and 26-years-of-age.” If you spend any time around teens, that statement probably rings true.
Shatkin explains that brain and hormonal changes that take place during that transformational phase of life play an important role in driving behavior.
The levels of dopamine, a neurochemical that helps people experience pleasure, are very high during adolescence, and the emotional brain (or limbic system) has greater influence over decision-making.
In addition, sex hormones (testosterone in boys and estrogen in girls) are causing all sorts of bodily changes that teens have to deal with, including hair in new places, larger breasts, periods, sexual arousal, and growth spurts.
Oxytocin, the “love hormone” helps teens feel bonded to others, and may lead to angst when they feel they are not accepted by their peer group.
Research has shown that the brain’s social attachment system is connected with the brain’s pain system, so when teens feel left out of social events such as parties or social media tagging, they may feel real pain.
Shatkin notes, “Hurt is so real that Tylenol relieves the emotional distress that kids feel in these situations.”
He goes on to say that “this [all] makes sense from an evolutionary perspective because life is a team sport, and once you’re sexually mature, nature demands that you find a mate and procreate to sustain yourself and your species.”
The problem is that sometimes in an effort to stand out and impress their peers, teens may take undo risks.
For parents, the challenge is balancing your strong desire to keep your child safe while still allowing him or her to try things out during this critical developmental phase.
Shatkin advises,“As they age into adolescence, it’s essential that we help our children establish self-efficacy and the ability to manage and regulate their behavior and emotions, which means continuing to monitor while at the same time shepherding them to self-discovery by giving them some room to explore.”
This is sound advice from an expert on adolescent behavior who is also the father of teenagers himself.
If you would like to learn more, here is a link to Dr. Shatkin’s story on The Doctor Weighs In.
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