“We are always in a perpetual state of being created and creating ourselves” – Daniel Siegel
“Adolescence is a new birth, for the higher and more completely human traits are now born” – G. Stanley Hall
“Teenage hearts are raw and new, fast and fierce, and they do not know their own strength. Neither do they know reason or restraint, and if you want to know the truth, a goodly number of grown-up hearts never learn it” – Catherynne M. Valente
Daniel Siegel is one of my favorite authors because he writes about childhood, adolescence, and adulthood in intuitive and informative ways. I recently revisited his book on the teenage years, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. The book is an important one for anyone involved with teenagers – parents, teachers, and perhaps even the teenagers themselves.
The teenager years are traditionally difficult and often parents say, “We just need to get through…” Siegel argues that these years are something to learn from and to grow from. He explains that, “While the adolescent years may be challenging, the changes in the brain that help support the unique emergence of the adolescent mind can create qualities in us that help not only during our adolescent years, if used wisely, but also as we enter adulthood and live fully as an adult. How we navigate the adolescent years has a direct impact on how we’ll live the rest of our lives. Those creative qualities also can help our larger world, offering new insights and innovations that naturally emerge from the push back against the status quo and from the energy of the teen years.”
In other words, if we pay attention and support those positive changes of mind during the teenage years, we can help our teenagers grow into accomplished and happy adults. The teenage years, instead of being a time to get through, are an opportunity to harness the amazing changes taking place in the teenage brain and transfer them to adult success.
What are the changes?
Siegel explains that there are four ways that the brain is developing 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.
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 fully engage body, mind 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.
The ESSENCE of life (Emotional Spark, Social Engagement, Novelty, and Creative Exploration) sounds great, but those four points have advantages and disadvantages.
Siegel argues that we must harness the positive parts of the teenage mind, the energy and drive that comes from intense emotion, the powerful friendships and socialization, the playful needs and sense of adventure, and the ability to look at the ordinary as extraordinary in our adult lives.
Too often, adults complain about being a rut – in their careers, friendships, or other areas of their personal lives. Siegel explains that the beauty of the teenage brain and the changes taking place in it can help adults get out of those ruts. If we learn to think like a teenager (and teach our teenagers to channel those positive elements), adult life can be a lot more stimulating and fulfilling. So, go ahead, embrace those teenage years – both your children’s and your own! Turn on the power of the teenage mind.Rifka Schonfeld