Tips to connect with your teenager

by Ellie Winch | 27 Jan 2023

In this blog, we take a look what’s going on in teenage brains and the intense development they undergo at this part of their lives. We also share some tips to connect with your teenager, as shared by staff at Suffolk Mind who have teens and young people at home.

Growing up

By the age of six, children’s brains are already about 90-95% of adult size.

As children become teenagers, their brains continue to grow and change, which can affect behaviour and thinking. Teenage brains are working intensively to remodel during adolescence and into their early 20s.

Although your teenagers are beginning to feel and act grown up, their brains aren’t functioning as an adult brain yet.

What’s going on inside a teenager’s brain?

As we grow from a child into a teenager, unused connections in our thinking brain are pruned back, while others are reinforced. This is to make way for new connections to form the adult brain.

Our prefrontal cortex, near the front of our brain, develops last. This is the decision-making part of our brain. It plans, thinks, solves problems, controls impulses and considers consequences.

While this area of the brain is being remodelled, a teen may rely on their amygdala (we call it the security officer) for decision making. The amygdala is a primitive part of our brain responsible for our black and white ‘flight, fight, freeze’ survival response. It’ll get you out of dangerous and sticky situations, but it’s not ideal for rational thinking.

Therefore, teenagers often have a bad reputation for impulsive behaviour, poor communication and a ‘Kevin and Perry’ attitude, but there’s actually major change happening in their brain.

The importance of an Emotional Connection

Although teens naturally become more independent of the family group and spend more time with friends, their key emotional connection is still usually their parent or adult care giver. This is the person who loves them for who they are, no matter what.

Charlie, Deputy Head of Education, says “Being accepted and understood is so important and will help calm strong emotions and lead to clearer thinking and better problem solving.”

Tips to connect with your teenager

To build emotional connections with others and give good quality attention, we need to use our Rapport resource. Often to build rapport we ‘mirror’ the person we’re talking with, through body language like both sitting down, or by matching the speed or volume of speech.

It’s important to remain calm if the other person becomes emotionally charged or raises their voice. You could try to use your voice to bring the other person back to calm by speaking slower or quieter than they are.

Here are some top tips from staff at Suffolk Mind who have teens at home

  1. Louise, our Children, Family and Young People lead says: “Find a way to build rapport by meeting them where they are. Cooking together, joining in with their hobby or activity or asking them to tell you about their interest can build your connection. Face to face is ideal, but sometimes working on something side by side can start the conversation.”
  2. Let them sleep. Teens need 10-12 hours sleep, which is more than adults who need about 8 hours.
  3. Give them their space. Wendy, Corporate Relationships Manager, says, “I am house proud so my twin teen boys’ room can cause me stress. It’s so untidy. But, I have to respect that it’s their private space. This reduces arguments.”
  4. Have boundaries but negotiate as they get older. This gives you a way to meet your needs for Control and Security and to stay in rapport.
  5. Charlie, Deputy Head of Education says: “Take breath and listen. Really listen. It will help you both feel more connected. Then, get curious. It’s so tempting to want to advise, guide or fix, but get as curious as you can instead and seek to hear and understand as the priority.”
  6. “Don’t judge. Don’t push. But be there for them.” says Linda, Head of Support Services. Linda adds, “Give them time and space to talk without having to look you in the eye (in the car is good).”
  7. Pick your moment. “Recognise that teenagers need for status is connected to how they appear in front of their peers. Parents should avoid trying to establish connections or open up topics when their children’s peers are present and respect their space and privacy,” Ezra, Head of Education encourages.

Further information

Find out more about the Emotional Needs & Resources approach, or take a look at our reflective listening video.

You can also become a Friend of Suffolk Mind, and access The Mental Health Toolkit: The Essentials course for free, to learn more about your mental health and how to support yours and others’.

by Ellie Winch

Ellie is Suffolk Mind’s Marketing & Engagement Manager and has been with the charity since 2017.

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