During adolescence, the brain remodels intensively until the individual has reached their mid-20s. Up until that time the decisions, moods and emotions of a young adult are in a state of flux.
The front of the brain – the prefrontal cortex – is the last section to be remodelled and is the part of the brain that governs decision making. This is significant because it means teenagers may use another part of the brain – the amygdala – to make decisions and solve problems during this period.
Adolescence and basic neuroscience
The amygdala is, however, not best suited to this role. It is associated with the creation of impulses, aggression, emotions and instinctive behaviour amongst others. It is, therefore, no surprise that the young adult in your family is acting out, pushing boundaries or upsetting you.
The good news, though it might be difficult to comprehend in the heat of the moment, is that they do not want to upset or disappoint you. As a counsellor, I can say from experience that I regularly hear children and young people feel guilty about their behaviour or outbursts. As the adults in the equation, we need to understand and accept that, to a great extent, neuroscience tells us it is out of their control.
Ideas from the counselling room
That is not to say that we simply need to batten down the hatches and pray for the storm to pass. Adolescents still need boundaries and rules from which to learn. Even if the enforcement of them can become a source of tension and conflict.
However, working with young people on a daily basis gives counsellors a unique insight and provides the opportunity to share ideas with parents and carers. In that spirit, here are a few of the things young people would like their parents/carers to try with them.
Share your lived experience of adolescence
Young people often feel like their parents/carers do not understand what they are experiencing through adolescence. The reality of course is that we all have lived experiences of this time, good and bad, that can be relatable.
Adults can help a great deal by simply reminding young people that they too were once a teenager grappling with similar kinds of issues. Build a connection by opening up about what you experienced at that time with raging hormones, peer pressure, sexual identity and the like. You may both have a shared experience or not, but by gently and tactfully sharing your own recollections you can open up a space to talk in.
Reassure them that they are not alone
Use that space to encourage them to open up about the issues they are struggling with. Going through adolescence can be difficult as they navigate school, exams, relationships with peers, intimate relationships, bullying or questioning their identity or sexuality.
It is common for adolescents to believe that they are ‘alone’ in feeling a particular way or struggling with a particular issue. Sharing in this situation is less about ‘finding a solution’ and more about providing support and reassurance that they do not have to find a way through it alone.
Listen to your young person
Try hard to avoid handing down ‘solutions’ to your young person. Though it will upset you and worry you deeply that they are struggling, remember that this is their transition to adulthood.
It is, therefore, about supporting them to make good decisions as opposed to telling them what you think they could or should do. The temptation to try and resolve the situation will be strong, but by working with them you will be helping to equip them for decision-making that will benefit them for the rest of their adult life.
Counselling for young adults
The transition through adolescence is a tricky one. Sometimes young people – or their parents/carers – can benefit from the chance to open up to a professional counsellor. Our team of specialist children and young people counsellors work extensively with young adults managing their journey into adulthood.
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Hayley is a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) and provides counselling to young people in Scottish Secondary schools. She recently completed a Diploma in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and enjoys working collaboratively with clients.