Colleen Wilson and Candice Smith
Much is written and discussed about the role of parenting tweens and teens.

So much reference is made to the trickiness of doing this in these times. So much fear and anxiety pervades our bodies, minds, our new streams, our Facebook walls and our table conversations. We get this. We see it and experience it too.

Yet we are deeply committed at Contemporary Parenting to exploring another way. A way in which we can bring up our tweens and teens with connection, love, joy and ease. Okay, perhaps less ease, while they are subject to the changing architecture of their brains and their hormonal fluxes.

Yet we still believe there can be a high degree of ease. Here are our top three tips to help you make this a reality in your own relationships with your tweens and teens.

Our teens’ brains are rapidly changing. 

This is not something they have in their control, so remembering this can help us to be more patient and compassionate. A few things that may be helpful to remember are: Their propensity for risk-taking behaviour is higher; it just is.

So we often need to be their neocortex (aka thinking brain) for them and bring in executive functioning and appraisal without blaming or shaming them for their choices that align with this heightened risk-seeking behaviour. 

Talking of the neocortex, our job as the adults is to know these are a work in progress and to aid their healthy development rather than punish teens for not having them yet. This is best done through helping them plan well, keeping their brains calm through good connection and creating a supportive environment so the brain can get on with its development.

Another important aspect of their re-wiring is that they are hard wired to connect more readily with peers than their family. So knowing this, we can support their engagement and connection with their friends in a healthy way without feeling and acting from a place of confusion and rejection. They would rather go for a sleepover or to a peer’s party than their six-year-old nephew’s laser tag party or their granny’s tea; fact.

Connection is our gateway to healthy brain development.

Connection is key. Yes, exercise, reading and healthy stimulation are important components of growing our brains. Yet an environment that allows tweens and teens to feel safe, supported, seen and soothed is the ultimate ground for healthy brain development.

Based on what we have discussed above, we really want good and solid development of their brains. If our children feel unsafe, unsupported, unseen and lack soothing, then their brains are pulled away from this critical development time and placed into survival mode. 

This is a stress state, and one that many kids (and adults) live in permanently and it is counter productive to their healthy development. Connecting relationships offer the most fertile ground and support for our children to have an integrated brain which allows them to avoid many unpleasant behaviours.

Loving and firm boundaries.

Boundaries need to shift in an age appropriate way, yet, the key is to implement them firmly and lovingly. Like this: “I love you darling, and no: you may not go to the party / use your device during the week / watch TV now / eat any more sweets / have that new outfit / download that app / borrow any money.” 

Creating connection doesn’t mean we never disappoint our children. We can create connection by keeping them safely within boundaries and doing so in a way that doesn’t shame or blame them and doesn’t involve threats or bribes. 

It rather holds a strong, loving, unmovable container in which they know where they stand. They may not like the boundary in the moment but they will appreciate it and it will grow connection in the long term. Do not be afraid of your tweens’ or teens’ strong emotions and military-like opposition. They are meant to come up against us, they are testing and getting to know themselves and us in this process.

* E-mail Wilson and Smith at [email protected]