With the school year underway, middle and high school students are facing the
challenge of navigating new territory. These young folks are not only handling the
expectations of a new grade in school, they are simultaneously dealing with vast
changes occurring physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially.
Adolescence is a time of great development and upheaval. An enormous
transformation occurs as adolescents have the highest dopamine and lowest serotonin
levels they will ever experience. This combination creates great risk from a brain
development perspective, with impulsivity and an over-willingness to take chances.
Adolescent brains view the world through amygdala based perceptions. Processing
their information emotionally leaves teenagers feeling twice the emotion of adults. The
adolescent brain is still under construction. When an adult brain fully develops, it will
utilize frontal lobe based perceptions to process information logically using the
prefrontal cortex. Thus adolescents and adults literally see the world differently.
Advancing to Middle or High School brings about many changes. There is a new
campus with new teachers and new expectations. Adolescents may experience
increased concern about looks, style, and feeling accepted. Adolescents tend to spend
less time at home as they navigate out for social activities with new peer groups.
For a young person to successfully make this transition, their planning and
organizational skills need to evolve. School grade progression requires more student
responsibility with each new grade. Adolescents must learn to manage their time well to
structure academic work. Impulse control is key as they grow their independence and
ability to be trusted. Parental involvement should decrease as children go up the
academic ladder. To develop autonomy requires adolescents to fail and learn from their
mistakes. This process is essential to learning how the world works.
Resiliency is a very important characteristic for adolescents to build. This means having
the ability to tolerate stress and develop frustration tolerance by staying with a problem
and not giving up. It can also mean being able to correct course when heading down
the wrong path. How well your child overcomes obstacles will tell you a lot about their
Successful adolescents are able to learn and employ anger management skills. They
can be assertive without being aggressive. They can hear the word “no” without an
explosive response. Adolescents who flourish employ expressive communication skills
to interact with parents, teachers and classmates. They have the self control to put
down their technology for a conversation where they can look you in the eye. They
utilize listening skills without interrupting others when having a discussion.
To help adolescents prosper, parents should create consistent structure. Parents must
not be vague about expectations. What are the explicit rules in your home? Are they
written where your child can see them? How late can your children stay up? How much
sleep do they need? How much technology is allowed? What time does it get shut off?
When is homework completed? What chores are required? If you have answers to
these questions you give your adolescent a better chance to succeed.
Behavior must be monitored and consequences enforced when rules are not followed.
It is incredibly important that parents administer consequences and not punishment
When we know what will happen to us before we do something, that is a consequence.
When we do not know in advance, that is experienced as punishment. Consequences
actually change behavior. Punishment only suppresses behavior.
Increasing your child’s independence as they grow older requires a “different” not
“distant” relationship from parents. If both parents can be on the same page, they
ensure giving their children a consistent message. Even if there are two homes.
Children succeed the most when parents are of one mind.
Parents have incredible influence when it comes to their child’s academic success. The
Rosenthal effect of self fulfilled prophecy shows that other’s expectations significantly
effect actual performance. If parents create the expectation that their child will go to
college, it is more likely that child will go to college. Thus parents should make clear
what their values are and share this information with their child.