Following the Adolescent Mind

Earlier this week I blogged “What were you THINKING!?!”, concerning adult reaction when older children make poor decisions.   A news report concerning adolescents taking selfies on active railroad tracks, encouraged me to continue on this topic.  In the last year over 500 deaths on railroad tracks have been reported.  One of the issues is the adolescent attraction to thrills.  Of course, it was mentioned the influence of music videos and movies.  But we must also look at the physiological development of children and adolescents.

Neuroeducation.com states that by adolescence the brain is full size but is making many organizational changes:

“At this point in development the brain has to decide what’s needed, what’s not, and how to become the most efficient. In order to do this the adolescent brain has to undergo synaptic pruning, in which useful neural connections are kept and less useful connections wither away. One important area of reorganization is in the prefrontal cortex that handles abstract cognitive abilities as well as impulse control.”

Research has shown that the brains of children mainly focus on visual processing and slowly begin to develop in planning and impulse control, a process which isn’t complete until adult maturity.  The adults who are involved with children and teens must keep in mind that the brain function does not keep up with the physical growth on the outside.  To know what is going on in that brain, parents and other loving adults must become very good listeners.  Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the  intent to reply.”  An adolescent’s adults must listen to them with intent to understand, and often to ‘read between the lines’  throughout the conversation to ascertain what they really want  to be known.   Often you need to restate what you heard for clarification as what you hear is not always what they are trying to say.    They do not want to know what you think, they want you to know what they think.  When you stop listening, they stop speaking, when they stop speaking, there is no communication.   listening to hear

Observation of  adolescents shows they are a whirlwind of brain activity in short spaces of time.  They can be a wealth of knowledge one moment, have the enthusiasm of a  puppy, interest in topics far beyond their years, or want to spend the day watching cartoons.  It is normal!  Expect them to behave like children, be grateful when they act maturely showing signs of brain growth, prepare them as best you can for the decisions that they may have to make when you aren’t around, and love them no matter what.   listening with intent

C. Beth Hoffman M.Ed, author of My Loving Self and Me

Miss Misunderstood- an unpublished new story

The day had seemed long when Gabby opened the back door to the kitchen. It wasn’t that she felt sad, more like empty. Unsure of why she felt this way, she knew she felt like she needed a hug, a tight one, one that said, “You are all right the way you are.” Mom was already busy in the kitchen. Apparently she had school work because the computer was surrounded by a ton of books. Mom was attending college and that kept her very busy. There was something in the oven, and something on the stove, and Mom was racing around like she was in a big hurry to get somewhere. Obviously she had no time for Gabby tonight.

Mom turned her head when she heard the door close and called out, “Thank goodness you are home. I have a study group at the college tonight at 5:30 so I have to leave in an hour. I need you to finish getting dinner ready, set the table, and make some iced tea for your father.”

Gabby just stood there. So much for that hug she was thinking about. No time for Gabby at all.

“What’s that face for? I just asked for a little help and I get attitude from you?” Mom asked more as a statement of anger than a question.

“I don’t have an attitude.” Gabby replied.

“Yes, I think you do. I can see it on your face. You used to be so sweet and helpful and now all I get is attitude”, was Mom’s reply.

Gabby thought to herself, “Yeah. And you met me at the door with a smile and asked about my day and dinner was ready. You start college and it is me that changed.” But she kept silent.

The look on Mom’s face hurt Gabby to the core. She hadn’t doubted how her mother felt about her before, but she did now. She really felt alone.

“Gabby, why are you still standing there. Get started on the iced tea!” Mom yelled.

“I am,” she replied. Sometimes this type of conversation made Gabby very angry and she wanted to yell back, but this afternoon, she knew she was about to cry. In fact she could feel the tear coming down her face. She quickly wiped it away and got out the pitcher. She checked the oven and saw a lasagna from the supermarket had been recently put in. String beans were on the stove awaiting the stove to be turned on.

Gabby finished the iced tea and set the table for 3 since Mom wouldn’t be joining them, and took her backpack up to her room. She didn’t have the energy for homework right now and turned on some music, and put on her earphones. It was her way of blocking out all that noise she heard in her head. Sometimes she was angry. Sometimes she told her mother off in her head. Sometimes she told herself what she was sure everyone else was thinking. It was never good.

The door slammed open and Gabby jumped. Mom was standing there with her REALLY disgusted face on.

“That is why you didn’t hear me! Take those things out of your ears. Gabby you know I have to get out of here and get to school. Why did you leave me? I don’t have time chasing around after you”, said Mom, frustrated.

“I thought you were finished with me. I set the table and made the tea. The lasagna won’t be ready for 20 minutes. I needed some me time.” Gabby replied.

Mom looked like she was going to blow, but she took a deep breath, and then another. She came over and sat next to Gabby on the bed.

“You needed to get away from me, didn’t you?” Mom asked.

Gabby just shrugged her shoulders. “Mom, I am not trying to make anything harder for you. I am trying to do the chores you ask me to do. I know college is hard work for you. But I still need my mom sometimes and today was one of those days. I just needed a hug or a smile. That is all. Growing up is hard, too.”

Mom put her arms around Gabby. “My Loving Self was really far away. I was so wrapped up in my All About Me Self that I took it out on you. I know you are trying and should have been more appreciative.”

“That took a lot of love to express yourself so clearly and calmly. You are growing up and I am missing it. I am sorry, Gabby Gootz, I will do better at being a college student and a mom. I wasn’t thinking about how you were feeling. Here I thought you were being selfish and didn’t want to help. It was me that was being selfish. I will try to understand your feelings and not jump to conclusions. I know growing up is hard. I really don’t want to make it harder for you”, said Mom.

Mom hugged Gabby tighter and kissed her on the forehead. “I love you sweetheart”, she said with a smile.

Gabby smiled back as Mom got up and headed off to school. She sat for a few moments before heading down to check on the lasagna. Did Mom really think she was making annoyed faces at her?

She didn’t like being misunderstood. She wasn’t comfortable when her feelings didn’t seem important to anyone else. Mom was right. That did take courage to tell her the truth calmly. Gabby smiled to herself and then realized she was grateful that Mom listened. Gabby also realized that sometimes it was difficult explaining herself clearly because she didn’t always understand how she felt. The one thing she did know was that she wanted to feel good about herself, and pleasing others sometimes made that difficult.

Gabby continued down to the kitchen and remembered something Gram had told her.

“When nothing seems to be going right, take an account of all you have to be grateful for. Make a list. If you can’t think of anything, write down all your complaints then write BUT after them. Go back and read each sentence once more with the “but” there and fill in the blank. Once you have vented, you will have an easier time finding something good to complete the sentence,” Gram had said.

“I guess I can give that a try,” Gabby said out loud and went to find a pen and paper.

10 Ways to Help Children Face Negative Emotions and Find Happiness

Worry, doubt, fear, sadness and poor self esteem don’t belong in children. Adults either. But we expect children to be happy and playful and full of joy. How do they take on so much negativity at such a young age? Although it is assumed that traumatic experiences are the cause, more often than not, it is something much smaller that can cause a personality to wither with no one the wiser.

During a study of key life influences, I remembered one such account when I was five or six. The den in my family home had a bay window and I had been told not to climb on it. However it was very tempting. It was my very own dance stage! I don’t remember anything in my way. Perhaps I didn’t see it as an obstacle, but the Victorian lamp that probably had been passed down through the family, hit the floor. My distraught mother cried and cried. Why couldn’t I listen? What was the matter with me? How often scenes like this happen in family life. Frustrated parents lose it and yell, something they wish they could take back. But the child gets over it and life goes on. All is well. But is it? My little self perceived an unbelievable fact that day. Lamps and other things are much more important than me. It was my first encounter with not being worthy. I began practicing playing small. My mother always thought that I had a hard time adjusting to school and that was why I became more quiet and subdued. She would have been devastated to know that her reaction to a broken lamp had that kind of impact.   I discovered this about myself in my sixties and have pondered the unknown affects I may have inadvertently caused for my children and grandchildren. But the reality is that what took place took place in my brain.

The brain chooses how it will react to situations, and that reaction becomes an emotion. Each human being has a multitude of interactions and experiences some of which trigger negative emotions while others do not. Protecting children from experiences is not possible, nor healthy. If they don’t learn to deal with small things, they will have no skills for dealing with larger ones. Research has shown that over protective parenting leaves children vulnerable when they grow and leave home. They are used to their parents as their life shield. They feel exposed and worried. Rather than hovering, or feeling guilty for our own emotions, adults can teach kids how to handle situations that have triggered negative emotions of fear, self -loathing, sadness, feeling unworthy or unloved. People expect children to “get over it” when many adults do not have that capacity either. They hold grudges, blame, show anger, or are willing to let go of relationships rather than deal with the emotions, or “get over it” themselves.   happiness

So how do we help kids deal with negative emotions in their life and be happy?

  1. Appreciate having them in your life and teach them to love and value themselves.
  2. Acknowledge their feelings and give them an opportunity to talk often.
  3. Value their concerns and commend their efforts to deal with them.
  4. Assure them they are surrounded by God’s love and His protective angels; they are never alone.
  5. Teach them to communicate with God. Listening to the answers in their heart is just as important as talking.
  6.  Be grateful and practice daily gratitude with them.
  7. Guide with questions rather than tell them how to handle their emotions.
  8. Show them forgiveness and an ability to take responsibility for your own actions so they can model you. Children need to forgive themselves.
  9. Prove that joy can be found most anywhere (without medications, alcohol or drugs).
  10. Help them to choose happiness for what they have in the present.

All experiences in life offer choices. Kids need to learn that so they avoid feeling powerless. Imagine if you or I learned this as children!

Celebrations From Within the Heart

I love Father’s Day and Mother’s Day celebrations because it is a time we get together for a few hours over a nice meal and enjoy each other’s company.   Tradition in this country is for gifts and cards, too. (Well, come to think of it isn’t that our tradition for everything??) In many families I believe it is a time to remind children of all ages that it is someone’s special day and to be nice. Kids hear, “Don’t fight.” “Be nice.” “Say Happy Mother’s Day”, “Happy Birthday”, or whatever is celebrated. Some even get dressed up in their finest. There are many special celebrations!

I sit here wondering how these celebrations are different in families that practice living from their heart every day. I would love to see discussion on this page! My grandson is naturally a from- the- heart- kid. He enters the door and seeks both of us out for a hug and “I love you” before heading off to do something. He never leaves without a repeat. In between, he has his “Why can’t I…” “I want…”, “Why do I have to…????” , like many other kids, but he is respectful and caring every day. Celebrations are not necessary when every day is from the heart. The interesting thing is, those that live from their heart, look forward to celebrating others! They don’t resent it, it is a joy!

Each child has their own unique personality and reacts to living with the same upbringing in different ways. Some truly hold onto living from their heart more easily than others. Others become entrenched in serving themselves. This is one area where modeling doesn’t always work. (But don’t stop exhibiting through your words and actions how they should be!) Not all children learn to be loving from being treated lovingly. We cannot expect children to want to treat others the way they are treated because the truth is many receive the message that they are worthy to be treated that way. Reciprocation is not considered when it is they who are the deserving ones. Conundrum sometimes, isn’t it?

imagesDU8B6AI2Giving gratitude each day is a wonderful way for children to begin to learn to live from their heart. It can start with one thing, one general thing, one superficial thing, one selfish thing. And it doesn’t even matter if it is sincere in the beginning. Gratitude is a way of living that takes time for many, especially if they believe they are entitled. It is a small thing to do in your family. It can be done with each child, one at a time each day. Every day. Consistently. Why do I say one child at a time? Firstly what a special discussion time for you and your child every day! Secondly, kids are competitive. By talking with them alone, each has the opportunity to speak without feeling theirs wasn’t as good as a sibling. Janet Eltaktouk wrote an article in the Sun Sentinel entitled Five Ways to Create an Attitude of Gratitude in Children that continues this discussion. Every little bit of gratitude is a good thing!

After a few weeks, discuss gratitude about certain activities, abilities or people. What are you grateful for that happened in school today? What are you grateful to Grandpop for? Later, you can add things like, Do you think your teacher knows you are grateful for him or something he did? How could you let your sister know you appreciate her? Children who begin to recognize all the things in their lives they have to be grateful for, and give gratitude for them will increase living from their heart. The day will come when most days are days of celebration!

gratitude