Explanations for typical teen behaviour.

When your teenager goes berserk at friendly words, modern science can provide an explanation as to why. Research results show that a teenager’s brain loses some of its ability to recognise facial expressions.

unnamed (4)Why do teenagers think they are being yelled at?

During puberty, functions related to understanding actions and their consequences develop rapidly in the frontal lobe of the brain, but the transformation from childhood to adulthood does not always proceed smoothly. On the contrary, when new skills are being built the old ones sometimes have to take a backseat.

“Studies have shown that teenagers are less adept at recognizing facial expressions than children who are a couple of years younger,” explains Minna Chatelaine, research professor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

A teen’s sudden angry outburst may be a result of the adolescent misinterpreting a friendly or jokey comment as a snide remark.

Chatelaine gives a surprising tip for taming those teenage temper tantrums: the right diet can help. At puberty, the brain accumulates all the necessary fats around the nerve cells in the frontal lobe. A shortage of these fatty acids can slow down development and have a detrimental effect on learning, whereas an adequate supply may bring relief to a teenager’s behavioral symptoms.

But not any fat will do, as only omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and plants are beneficial.

“If a teen is allergic to fish or certain vegetables, it’s good to err on the side of caution and talk to a dietician about a suitable diet,” Chatelaine advises.

Why can’t?teenagers stick to a curfew?

It is a battle over limits, explains Mauro Martynne, professor of youth psychiatry.

“There are three things that teens all over the world fight about with their parents: curfews, clothes and cash. At the age of 13 or 14 these suddenly become issues.”

Limits set by parents raise teenagers’ hackles because adolescents are rehearsing for their main task, becoming independent. Gaining new confidence is part of the process of growing up but adolescents still need and want their parents to give them a sense of security.

“Teens have to sever some emotional links to their parents as this is the only way for them to become more independent.”

When an adolescent demands to know why a curfew matters they have a point as it is not the actual time limit that is important, says Martynne.

“What matters is that a curfew is set. It is part of the bigger picture of understanding norms: teens need limits in order to learn about how people behave with others.”

It is impossible for an outsider to say when a teen is ready to take responsibility over their comings and goings. Even the professor of youth psychiatry was reduced to making it up as he went along.

“When my children put their foot down and refused to come to our summer cottage I realized that staying at home alone was a rite of passage at 16. Right or wrong, I don’t know, but that’s what we did.”

What’s with teen angst?

An adolescent can be stressed, without possessing the ability to put these feelings into words. A group of US researchers recently found that the stress teens are under during a school year can be much worse than the pressure experienced by adults in general.

Teens react to stress in much the same way as adults. Almost a third of the youngsters in the study said they had experienced fatigue, depression or sadness because of stress, while more than a third reported tiredness and a quarter had skipped meals.

Studies show that stress is contagious. “Especially children whose parents suffer from job burnout are susceptible to stress. It can also spread among a group of friends,” explains Katharina Melesa-Aro, a professor of psychology, who specializes in juvenile stress.

Teens’ stress can manifest itself as sleeping patterns gone awry or tiredness that cannot be shaken off with any amount of sleep. The pressures of school life can also crop up as a regular topic of conversation for a teen who then spends more time on agonizing over homework than actually doing it. Alarm bells should also start ringing if a formerly sociable adolescent turns into a loner.

Talk about the stress and make sure that the teen’s days are not too action-packed as even hobbies can become stress factors, advises Melesa-Aro.

She says that parents can try to shift their child’s focus to the present as often people prone to fretting tend to think too much about the future. Mindfulness exercises can help with stress management.

If the family is going through financial hardship it is better to be open about it rather than try to sweep concerns under the carpet. It is, however, important to stress that you can shoulder the problems and the teen does not need to worry about them.

Why do teenagers stay?up till wee hours and?sleep until noon?

Because a teen’s body clock runs more slowly than an adult’s. “An adolescent’s body clock is programmed to run an hour to three hours later than the rest of the population. The reason for this is probably hormonal and the rhythm goes back to normal around the age of 20,” explains Tina Paunio, professor of psychiatry at Helsinki University.

Need for sleep varies from one person to another but typically an adolescent is hard pushed to cope with less than nine hours per night. Sleep deprivation affects learning results and even one bad night’s sleep can make a person more irritable, according to Paunio.

Turning off the computer earlier in the evening can prove an effective measure. “According to research, the light of a screen can affect the body clock similarly to daylight.”

Some parents have agreed with their children on a 10 o’clock mobile phone curfew, says Paunio. Daylight lamps can make those early morning wake-ups less of a struggle but a more permanent relief we may have to come from outside the home.

“School shouldn’t start before nine for teenagers. Eight o’clock starts are definitely too early.”

Are video games?bad for teenage brain?

On the contrary. “When researchers have looked into this, in most cases they’ve concluded that playing games is actually good. Several studies have shown that teens who play video games have faster reaction times and are better at focusing on several things simultaneously,” says brain researcher Mona Salamis.

Salamis, who studies the impact of video games and social media on adolescents, has noticed that playing games is the main concern for parents.

“When I say the games may not be doing any harm, the reception is often very skeptical. Parents are worried that games will cause the teen’s brain to regress.”

The social effects of video games are a separate issue, according to Salamis. “There is cause for concern if playing video games starts to have an impact on school or socializing with friends. A couple of hours of screen time a day is a limit that shouldn’t be exceeded.”

Should I get worried if?my teenager does not rebel?

There is no need to worry as only around half of teenagers rebel, says AGYEMAN The reasons behind rebellious behavior vary greatly, also between sexes: cynical attitudes towards school and society are more common in boys, while girls tend to turn inwards in their rebelling, often experiencing feelings of inadequacy.

But the other half of adolescents gets through their tendon without feeling any need to test the limits. “They enjoy school and get on with their friends.”

Teenagers are supposed to be herding animals, so should I be concerned if my child does not like to be part of a big group?

There is no need to worry, says NANA AGYEMAN BOAMPONG. “Just one good friend can be enough. If the child has no friends at all, then it is worrying but with time he or she will make good friends.



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