Teenage myth #1: Parents and teens just need to survive the adolescent years. The teenage years are all about pain, confusion and terror.
Teenage myth #2: Hormones make teenagers go crazy.
Teenage myth #3: At the end of adolescence, teenagers become adults and are completely independent.
In his new book, Brainstorm, Dr. Dan Siegel debunks all three of these and explains why they need to be challenged and corrected.
Teenage fact #1: The teenage years are not about surviving. They are about thriving. There’s a lot of necessary work taking place during adolescence to develop core character traits for the future. Teenagers who test boundaries and who have the passion to explore are working on themselves.
Teenage fact #2: There are more hormones fluctuating during the teenage years, but it is the changes in the way the brain is developing that motivates teenage behavior.
Teenage fact #3: Teenagers do not become adults and completely independent at the end of adolescence. In reality, they are moving from dependence to interdependence – the ability to depend on you and your ability to depend on them.
Who cares whether those are myths or facts? Does it matter if your crazy teenager is reacting to hormones or brain change? Yes. Siegel challenges us to use the power of the adolescent brain for teenagers and adults alike. He argues that if we label adolescents as crazy and immature, we can expect them to be that way. If, instead, we react to “adolescence as a time of intensity, creativity, and social exploration, we will give them the ability to develop and explore.”
He explains that there are four ways the brain develops during adolescence that provide the groundwork for healthy ways of living. He describes these four characteristics as the “essence” of a full and healthy life. He even has a handy acronym to describe these traits: ESSENCE.
ES: Emotional Spark. During adolescence, our brains become particularly in tune with our important internal sensations. This means we pay special attention to our powerful and intense emotions and thoughts.
SE: Social Engagement. As teenagers, we develop strong connections to our friends, creating mutually rewarding relationships.
N: Novelty. Teenagers are always on the lookout for new and exciting experiences, ones that engage us fully in our bodies, minds, and senses.
CE: Creative Exploration. As our brains develop during adolescence, we begin to see things through new lenses, which encourages abstract thinking and problem solving.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each trait:
The key to living with these four essential concepts, says Siegel, is to live mindfully. He explains mindfulness in this way:
Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic, and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences. With mindful awareness, the flow of energy and information that is our mind enters our conscious attention and we can both appreciate its contents and come to regulate its flow in a new way. Mindful awareness, as we will see, actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself. Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.
What is Dr. Siegel suggesting? Well, for starters he is asking all of us, adults and teenagers alike, to be aware of the way we think and how we feel. In other words, to think about how we think. When we are mindful, we do not have knee-jerk reactions to events. Instead, we are thoughtful and respond to situations with poise and calm.