Teenage Angst

Most of our students are just surfacing from the onslaught of exams – but that doesn’t mean they are feeling any less stressed. They now face an anxious few weeks’ wait for the results to come in - ‘dreaded results’ as they often get called.

As parents, we often get exasperated at our teens’ behaviour, but maybe we should think back to the time we were in their shoes and remember the raging angst and fluctuating moods we undoubtedly suffered too.

Adolescence is a complex time. Is it any wonder some of our teenagers suffer melt down, show aggression or, even worse, signs of eating disorders or self-harm, when we throw at them the whole raft of potentially life-changing exams?  Just as they are trying to come to terms with huge physical and emotional change.

Whilst your 16-year old might think he or she has reached maturity, the facts dictate otherwise. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to fully develop and is undergoing change well into our 20s. This is the part of the brain that regulates complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behaviour.

This goes some way to explaining teenagers’ often erratic behaviour. They might understand certain actions are wrong or dangerous – but their brain doesn’t process those thoughts in the same way an adult does.

There has been a big debate about whether 16-year olds should be given the vote.  Naturally, teens feel they should be given a say in policies which could affect their future. However, from a neurological stance, there is evidence that there are impaired in their judgement and don’t process information in the same way as adults.

It’s for this reason, teens are more vulnerable to the influence of social media and violent video games. Inappropriate content, cyber-bullying and the like can have a far more damaging and long-lasting effect on a young brain than it would on an older person.

We can only try and ease the pain and angst for our teens by trying to be more understanding rather than responding with the knee-jerk reaction their behaviour often prompts.

If there’s any consolation, nine times out of ten, they will ‘grow out of it’ – a phrase I well recall hearing my parents despairingly mutter!