Not My Teen: Why Teens Actually Need Parent Attention
Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at the findings from several studies, which reveal what children really need from their parents during their teen years.
Parents are often told to give teens space, to avoid giving teens too much attention and to let teens become independent. Unfortunately, these generalized suggestions don’t take into account the almost daily emotional and psychological changes that teens experience and, as a result, do little to help parents accurately navigate their teens’ formative years.
With more substantial studies being conducted on the psyche and behavior of teens, data has surfaced that sheds light into the motivations and often involuntary causations that influence teenage behavior. As featured in an article from The Wall Street Journal, the combined findings from various studies have led to insightful conclusions about the importance of parents staying close with their teens. Below you will find summaries of these findings, broken down by adolescent age groups. Ultimately, these results reveal why parents need to be in tune with their teen’s different emotional and psychological needs at each stage of development.
Pre-teens, ages 11 to 12
Reasoning and decision-making abilities are not only at a low point pre-teens, but they can actually appear to roll backwards. Children at these ages have a difficult time with memory and organization as their brains are still maturing.
This can be frustrating and stressful for tweens, but parents can help positively influence the brain development of their children at this stage by remaining supportive. In fact, a 2014 study from the University of Melbourne found that 16-year-olds who had encouraging parents when they were 12 “showed brain changes linked to lower rates of sadness and anxiety and greater self-control” as compared to pre-teens who grew up in argumentative and negative environments.
When confronting your 11 or 12-year-old, opt for positive and affectionate encouragement instead of using argumentative language. It is also helpful to offer tangible tips to help your tween think through the potential outcomes (both pros and cons) of a difficult decision. Ultimately, this will help prepare your teen to make sound judgments when confronted with troublesome scenarios later down the road – such as peer pressure or conflicts with friends.
Teens, ages 13 to 14
When tweens are between the ages of 13 and 14, it’s all about their friends. At this stage, teens are highly sensitive to their peers’ opinions, even though their social skills have yet to fully develop. As shown in this Scientific American article, the hormonal changes teens experience at this point in their lives make them more sensitive to social stresses. This makes it especially confusing for teens who are worried about being accepted by their peers while not having the skills to analyze social situations accurately.
A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2016, surveyed 362 Israeli teens and found that of those, the ones less likely to become depressed after being exposed to stress had home environments that were warm and constructive.
Parents might have limited control over the social pressures that their teens are exposed to, but it is possible for parents to provide a buffer with emotional support. It might seem like your opinions don’t matter to your teen during these years, but the research shows that an encouraging environment created by positive attention can help teens cope with social pressures.
Teens, ages 15 to 16
Risk can be very appealing for teens that are between the ages of 15 and 16. Their appetite for extreme behavior is at a peak, which can be difficult for parents to handle. Advising and teaching teens to make and maintain close and trustful friendships is shown to mitigate their risk-taking, according to this 2015 study from the University of Illinois.
Studies, such as this 2015 study from Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, also show that it’s not too late for attention and affection to make an impact on teen’s risk-taking. When teens became closer with their parents, they “showed less activation of a brain region linked to risk-taking” and subsequently take less risks than teens who feel estranged from their parents.
Teens, ages 17 to 18
Parents can take a bit of a breather when their teens reach the ages of 17 and 18. Teens’ brains quickly develop at this stage and, believe it or not, become rapidly smarter as demonstrated by this 2013 study. However, even though your teen might be older and smarter, it’s important to remember that their social skills are still developing and they continue to need guidance from their parents. Ultimately, it is crucial for parents to be consistently attentive and understanding of their sons and daughters even through the late teenage years.
Next time your teen tries to push back against your support or encouragement, fight the urge to back down. Instead, be assured that no matter what age group your teen falls under, the attention you pay them has been scientifically proven to help them maneuver their adolescence. This is an important time of learning and growth for your teen, and your positive responsiveness will allow them to not only be successful teens, but thriving adults as well.