Keep your humor when dealing with teens’ erratic behavior

Published 9:20 am Saturday, November 10, 2012

Column: Maryanne Law, Families First

Question: Is it normal for parents to be baffled by their teenager’s behaviors?

Maryanne Law

Answer: Until the past decade, neuroscientists believed that the brain was fully developed by the time a child reached puberty. As it turns out, human neural circuitry isn’t completely established in most people until their early 20s. To make life more complicated, different regions of the adolescent brain are developing on different timetables. For instance, one of the last parts to mature is in charge of making sound judgments and calming unruly emotions, which are being stimulated by activating sex hormones. This imbalance may explain why an intelligent 16-year-old doesn’t think twice about getting into a car driven by a friend who is drunk, or why a 13-year-old will be hugging her mother one minute and flying off the handle the next.

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It’s the responsibility of parents to stay engaged with their adolescents, riding the waves of change by encouraging and monitoring. Parents need their own support system and it’s essential to keep your sense of humor. With that in mind, here are some analogies and metaphors from real high school essays shared by a secondary English teacher who has learned to enjoy the teenage mind:

• He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

• Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

• He was as tall as a 6-feet-3-inch tree.

• The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

• McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

• Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

• John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

• The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

• She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

• It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it.

If you live with teenagers, you probably laugh and groan in close succession. It helps to remember the new research on brain chemistry.

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Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.