Saturday, August 20, 2011

How To Think About Teenagers

I'm a child psychologist. This includes training about teenagers. Teens, by definition, are still children from the ages of thirteen to the day before they turn eighteen. Nineteen year olds, though technically adults, are still teenagers. On the low end of the teen spectrum, very mature twelve year olds will act like immature thirteen or even fourteen year olds. For this purpose, I treat mature twelve year olds like immature teens, even though the chronology doesn't exactly line up. The same is true in reverse for nineteen year olds. If they are immature, they will respond to the ideas that are aimed more at 13 to 18 year olds.
Teens are different "animals." They are transitional beings; neither really young, nor particularly mature. They are neither fish nor fowl. They sometimes look like adults, even though their nervous systems are not mature. They sometimes look like younger children, even if their
nervous systems are comparatively more mature. Their behavior changes from one to the other. For example, one minute your sweet child is begging you to come on the class trip or to lie down with him or her while s/he falls asleep. Then, seemingly overnight, s/he starts treating you like dirt, discounting everything you say and snickering at your suggestions. Some parents think of teenagers as just larger children, while other parents think teenagers are smaller adults. Technically,
they are still children, even though it's sometimes hard to tell whether they are acting like children or adults. They are both and they are neither.
Teens are beset by pesky hormones, which start earlier than you think. This hormonal shift actually begins between the ages of 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 years, depending upon whether your teen is a girl or boy, respectively. Hormones spark huge emotional and physical changes. Teens often look lanky, having just experienced one or more growth spurts, which usually means they are not well coordinated because, literally, their brains have not gotten used to their new physical dimensions. This and numerous glandular changes cause tremendous behavioral changes and concomitant self-consciousness.
At thirteen, parents become "aliens;" that is, thirteen year olds
typically withdraw from parents and overly bond with and seek refuge and
support from peers. Again, mature twelve year olds do this earlier and
immature fourteen year olds do it later, but this stage is one most teens
traverse in this age range. All of this is normal.
Over my many years of working with individuals and families, I have
developed techniques that profoundly influence behavior. Despite being in
that awkward stage, teens, just like little younger children and adults,
respond to these and other often simple, but well-understood treatments.
When I say simple, I do not mean that everyone knows these things--they don't. And, when I say profoundly, I mean they are powerful and work quickly--instantly in some cases. I developed one technique only after observing successful families for a whole year. Other ones I swiped from
minds greater than my own; for example, from B.F. Skinner (the "rat" psychologist) I use some behavioral techniques. Skinner never applied his findings and techniques to what I address in the articles to come. I put these and lots of other experiences I have had with kids over twenty-six years to form a system--a way to think about behavior and many ways to positively change it.
The best part is that my system is positive. The emphasis is not on
punishment even though there is a place for that, if needed. It's all based upon parenting techniques that are sort of good, then tweaked with hard research evidence of what really works and then applied warmly, with love--that makes them really good. I've been developing and using these ideas for years with very, very good results. Mothers leave my office shaking their heads after I've turned around "monster" children in a matter of minutes. Parents report a sharp increase in the quality of their relationships with their children. If you have younger children, these techniques are described in my ebook, How to Change Children's Behavior (Quickly), and are repeated in part, but modified (for teens) in this ebook. For the present publication, I use different examples because I'm talking about older children, for the most part. Younger children often will "change" in a matter of hours, even
minutes. Teenagers typically take longer, owing in part to their newfound independence, which predisposes them to resist older folks. The techniques still work, so be persistent and patient.

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