I was at a talk tonight by Dr. Jennifer Leigh on the subject of The Teen Brain. Essentially the lesson was around the state of brain development, and how the teenager is still very much, and entirely in their “limbic” brain — the area that controls the five “F”s: fight, flight, freezing, feeding, and “the f word” (sex). Additionally, their developmental state leads to all “stimulation” and little “motivation”, hence the drama, risk-taking, and lolling about. At some point in their 20s, their pre-frontal cortex will kick in, and things like planning, loving, caring, thinking ahead… these things will present themselves. Our job as parents is to encourage the pre-frontal cortex to develop into its best possible instance through safety and security so that the resulting adult is fully capable of receiving and giving love and life.
The best route to safety and security, and therefore pre-frontal cortex optimization is true blue, ego-less listening on the part of the parent, and any other caring adults in a child’s life. After all, when someone truly listens — not just hears the words, but really hears YOU and sees YOU — you wind up feeling valid, real, worthy, interesting, and loved.
Listening, Leigh points out, is not something we are taught. “Just because we can hear, does not mean we can listen.” Listening means really seeing someone for who they are and what they love, without the desire to help, solve, share what happened to us when we were that age, or judge. In order to do that, we must drop our own wounds from childhood. After all, we cannot truly see someone else, or be truly present for them, if we are with them through our own wounds or baggage. And often, those wounds are very hard to see or recognize unless you’ve made a considered effort to do so (as I have) and even then, catching yourself in the moment of response is monumentally challenging.
Check out her site for more on “The Power of Listening” including two listening quizzes.
So very often we come to our teens with our own ego-expectations — a desire to be the authority, the knowing one, to share our own experiences, to offer advice. Dr. Leigh wisely advocates dropping those ego-based responses, picking your battles, and focusing on being there for your teen in the most authentic sense. That is the most loving thing you could do for your child as they grow into their own individual, separate, healthy person. Bring your heart to them.
Oh, and remember to have fun! All it takes is a few cans of Silly String!