Revealed: Why teens behave that way – and what you can do.

Beautiful granny and her granddaughter are doing selfie using a smart phone and smiling while sitting on couch at home

With teenagers often being a mystery to their parents, is it any wonder they can seem even stranger to grandparents.

But there’s something all three generations should know that could transform understanding and relationships. And afterwork grandparents have a vital role to play.

At the heart of the teenage problem is the way they can so often behave. Moody, depressed, rude, impulsive and distant. Taking unwise risks, having intense friendships. And staying hidden under the bed covers until well past lunchtime.

For years it’s been assumed that such behaviour was all down to puberty and hormones. But new and ground-breaking research tells a very different story.

The cause is all down to how teenage brains develop – or don’t’.

What’s been discovered is that a teenage brain is not a fully formed adult brain. And because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teenagers are more likely than adults to rely on a part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems.

Why that’s an issue is because the amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behaviour. Get it?!

To put is simply, at their stage of life, teens are wired to behave in the ways that can seem so antisocial and destructive to those of us with ‘grown up brains’.

This vital discovery comes from the award-winning neuroscientist, Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore. And is set out in her ‘must read’ book Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.

This book is far more than a piece of academic research. It’s also a plea for parents, grandparents and society as a whole for teenagers to be better understood and not simply treated as difficult, selfish or rebellious.

In a recent media interview, Prof Blakemore explained, ‘Brain scans and psychological experiments have now found that adolescence is a critical period of neurological change, much of which is responsible for the unique characteristics of adolescent behaviour.’

She added, ‘Far from being a defective or inferior version of an adult brain, the adolescent mind is both unique and beautiful. Teenagers are brilliant.’

Which is why, she argues, that while adolescence is a period of vulnerability, it is also a time of enormous creativity – one to be acknowledged, nurtured and celebrated.

In her book, Prof Blakemore also comes to the defence of the ‘lazy teenager’. She wants us to understand they are likely to stay in bed because they need more rest to cope with developmental stresses.

In addition, she stresses that, a teen’s body clock is different to an adults. To put it technically, our sleep/wake cycle is controlled by a part of the brain that regulates the synthesis of melatonin. And after puberty, melatonin is produced later at night, which is why adolescents buzz until late in the evening and struggle to get up in the morning

This means we should stop worrying about teenagers wanting to sleep in all morning. As the Prof puts it, ‘To regard them as lazy is as illogical and unfair as it would be to consider a two-year-old workshy for needing a midday nap.’

That sounds like a wakeup call (see what I did there?!) Parents and grandparents alike understand a toddlers’ sleep patterns, yet the particular needs of teenagers’ are largely ignored.

What can all this mean for those with teenage grandkids? For a start it points to making sure their parents are on the ball on this significant issue. And then playing whatever part they can in supporting parents as they –

Let teens take healthy risks. This is a way to help a child develop their own identity, explore grown-up behaviour, and move towards standing on their own feet.

Help teens find creative and expressive outlets for their feelings. Watching or playing sport or listening to or creating music, writing, drama and other art forms are good ways.

Talk with teens about their decisions. Cover the choices of action they may chose and what the consequences might me. Help them weigh up the positives and negatives.

Offer praise for good behaviour and reward it. Consistent affirmation is a key to these troubled years. As has been said, ‘look for opportunities to catch them out doing the right thing’.

Talk with your the teen about their developing brain. Do the best you can to help them understanding what is going on and why – and how special and remarkable they are.

Above all, don’t underestimate the significant role a grandparent can play in helping a teen navigate their difficult and challenging years. Or in supporting their parents while it is all happening.

Dave Fenton:

Dave is a retired clergyman spending his after-work time lecturing at Moorlands College, building relationships and sharing his faith at his local golf club, and escaping to a cliff-top caravan in Cornwall where his seven grandchildren enjoy the local surfing beach.


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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife