Two ways of viewing the challenges of adolescence

M4034S-4211When you hear the word “adolescence” what goes through your mind? I recently realised as I spoke to my oldest son about his approaching teen years that I often speak negatively about this stage of life. Since then, with the help of a book called “Brainstorm: the power and purpose of the teenage brain” I have been able to see the positive possibilities of the teenage years.

Below are two ways of viewing and dealing with the challenges of adolescence.

During adolescents our minds change in the what we remember, think, reason, focus attention, make decisions and relate to others. The brain changes in early teen years set up four qualities: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity and creative exploration. 

Novelty seeking: emerges from an increased drive for reward in the circuits of the adolescent brain that creates the inner motivation to try something new and feel life more fully, creating more engagement in life.

Negative Positive
Sensation seeking and risk taking over emphasise thrill and downplays risk resulting in dangerous behaviours and injury. Impulsivity can turn an idea into an action without a pause to reflect on the consequences. Being open to change and living passionately emerge, as the exploration of novelty is honed into a fascination for life and a drive to design new ways of doing things and living with a sense of adventure.


Social engagement: enhances peer connectedness and creates new friendship.

Negative Positive
Teens isolated from adults and surrounded only by other teens have increased-risk behaviour, and the total rejection of adults and adult knowledge and reasoning increases those risks. The drive for social connection leads to the creation of supportive relationships that are the research-proven best predictors of well-being, longevity, happiness throughout the life span.


Increased emotional intensity: gives an enhanced vitality to life.

Negative Positive
Intense emotions may rule the day, leading to impulsivity, moodiness, and extreme, sometimes unhelpful reactivity. Life lived with emotional intensity can be filled with energy and a sense of vital drive that gives an exuberance and zest for life.


Creative exploration: with an expanding sense of consciousness. An adolescent’s conceptual thinking and abstract reasoning allow questioning of the status quo, approaching problems with “out of the box” strategies, creating new ideas and the emergence of innovation.

Negative Positive
Searching for meaning of life during the teen years can lead to a crisis of identity, vulnerability to peer pressure, and a lack of direction and purpose. If the mind can hold on to thinking and imagining and perceiving the world in new ways and of creatively exploring the spectrum of experiences possible, the sense of being in a rut that can sometimes pervade adult life can be minimised and instead an experience of the “ordinary being extraordinary” can be cultivated.

Time in

Most people have heard of time out. When your child is acting in a way that you don’t think is appropriate, you send them somewhere to calm down.

Time out has been very popular as a behaviour technique for children. Parenting strategies taught in various parenting models advocate for this approach, e.g. triple P and 1,2,3 magic. The problem with ‘time out’ is that it isn’t really helping our children develop the way other options do.

More and more experts are advocating for an alternative method. “Time In”- this is where the child learns to handle their emotions with the support of someone else. It is a technique that works particularly well with traumatised children who can’t regulate their emotions but it works just as well with anxious, angry or stressed kids.

Time in means that you have your child near you when they are experiencing high emotions. Your ability to stay calm and relate to them even when they are distressed helps them to learn to express and deal with the situation that is causing the high level of emotion.

The emotion needs to be seen as them expressing something, not as a personal challenge to you. Any emotion is seen as acceptable. It’s ok to be angry. It’s not the emotion that is the problem but the actions that may come after it.

Next you help your child discuss their feeling. Just by saying “I’m angry” or  “I’m upset” enables the intensity of that emotion to be reduced. Helping them to express the emotion and why they feel it (if they are old enough to say) gives the child the support of knowing that you are there for them and wanting to help them with these feelings. It involves listening with your ears, eyes and demonstrating this with your body language. We all want to feel understood and accepted for who we are and how we feel.

When the child has been able to express what is happening for them, you can work on solutions together. It’s always good to come up with more than one solution and discuss the pros and cons of each.

You can still set limits and consequences for unacceptable behaviour but best to leave these until after you understand what is happening for your child and the child is calmer. As the child gets older you can involve them in deciding what the consequence should be. Believe me I have seen this work time and time again.