Bad attitudes. Sleepless nights. Defiance. Messy bedrooms…and living rooms…and basements. No, this isn’t life with a newborn — or even a toddler. This is life with a teenager. And it’s a test. It’s only a test.
Here are 3 teen behaviors that might leave you wondering if something has taken over your kid — and how you can respond when these behaviors come up.
1. Unpredictable Outbursts
If your teen seems to jump from one idea to the next, misplace their belongings everywhere (they swear they left their homework on the kitchen table), or have these crazy mood swings for no reason, it’s probably because they can’t actually control some of these impulses.
The reason why can be found in the brain: There are four lobes — or sections — in your brain. Your frontal lobes are the largest of the four, and they do a lot for you — like control voluntary movement and speech. One of those lobes is called the prefrontal cortex, and it plays an important role in memory, intelligence, concentration, temper, and personality. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until — you guessed it — after the teenage years. In fact, it may not develop until well into early adulthood.
But recent studies suggest this lack of control only happens in heated situations, not so much during calmer moments.
So, to diffuse your teen’s outbursts, stay calm. Show them that the situation may not be as urgent as they think.
2. Erratic Sleep Patterns
On the weekends, they’re awake until 1 in the morning, asleep until noon the next day, and they regularly fall asleep on the couch mid-day. During the school week, they’re still awake until 1 in the morning, but then they’re waking up to their alarm for school just 5 hours later. It’s easy to see why their sleeping patterns may seem all over the place.
But it may not be their fault — sleep patterns actually shift during teen years. This means they may have trouble falling asleep before midnight, but their schedules often require an early wake-up time, which can be problematic.
Most teens require 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, and one study found that only 15% of teens may be getting that on a school night. This lack of sleep during the week can cause them to sleep in late on the weekends to make up for lost time.
There are ways to combat this, though. As challenging as it may be, trying to get your teen on a schedule can help their focus, temperament, and overall health. It’s also helpful to avoid eating, drinking, or exercising during the hours just before sleep. And it’s important to talk to your teen about the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep — one which no pills, vitamins, or energy drinks can replace.
3. Emotional Drama
Whether it’s crushing breakups, fights with a friend, or frustrations about school‚ there always seems to be a crisis in your teen’s life. It’s very possible that things are bad, but there’s also a chance that their brain is causing them to view things a little less clearly.
Remember that prefrontal cortex that controls temper and personality? While that part of the brain takes its time to fully develop, another part of the brain develops fairly early: the amygdala.
The amygdala is responsible for immediate reactions like fear and aggression. Put a well-developed amygdala and an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex together, and you get an emotional individual with the inability to reason about some situations. This can cause your teen to misinterpret social cues and emotions, leading them to react more impulsively to situations they see as threatening.
Some studies show that the inability to think through a social situation may not necessarily decrease with age, though. So, while it might be frustrating, it’s important to take the time to work through these situations with your teen. Ask them why they are upset, how you can help, and how they can try to see the situation in a different, less-threatening light.
No matter what, the most important thing you can do is to keep talking to your teen. Ask them how they’re doing, voice your concerns, and let you know how much you care — these are all vital to their development and your relationship with them.