It’s no secret that parenting teens can be a roller coaster ride filled with mood swings, arguments, and confusion. Many of the challenges parents face during the teen years stem from their lack of understanding of the way the teenage brain works.
As a human behavior investigator, I have spent the last ten years studying the Science of People in my human behavior research lab. In my new book, Captivate, I present a completely different approach to interacting with people. I believe our relationships can be hacked for good — one of the most important life skills we can develop is being able to understand why people behave the way they do, teenagers included.
Here are five tips to help you decode your teen’s behavior.
1. Social Rejection Is Painful
Have you ever wondered why teenagers are so prone to peer pressure? Two researchers at UCLA discovered that social rejection actually registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain! There might not be that big of a difference between a physical punch and the emotional feeling of being excluded from a group. This helps adults understand why teens can be so upset by and swept up in what happens with their peers.
2. It’s Not Just Your Teen Who’s Super Moody
In research done by Csikszentmihalyi and Larson, adolescents were given beepers to record their moods and activities for a week. The subjects were paged at random times and asked to write down how they were feeling and what they were doing. Not surprisingly, their moods fluctuated rapidly from negative to positive several times each day, especially for teen girls.
3. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally
If your teen makes rude comments and/or gestures at you when you have conversations, chances are their behavior is not meant as a personal attack. During the teenage years, the brain is under a lot of stress because the way in which emotions and information are processed is changing. This makes teens prone to overreaction. When they overreact you can either let it go or calmly explain to them how their behavior makes you feel and ask them if you did anything to unintentionally upset them.
4. Teenage Brains are Wired for Rewards
If you’ve ever wondered why your teen makes decisions that seem obviously irrational it’s because the reward-seeking part of their brain is more developed than the part responsible for making logical decisions. Neuroscientists at Weill Cornell Medical College discovered that teens make risky decisions like speeding, experimenting with drugs and sex, and engaging in other potentially damaging activities not because they don’t understand the risks, but because they’re more likely than adults to see how the rewards outweigh the potential consequences.
Instead of threatening your teens with punishment for negative behavior, take advantage of their reward-seeking behavior by offering them incentives to behave the way you want them to.
5. Listen, Don’t Judge
According to parenting author Debbie Pincus, if you want to have open lines of communication with your teen, you need to hear them out without immediate judgment. Yes, you may be frustrated that they’re wasting time agonizing over silly drama, but telling them to get over it and focus on their homework only causes them to bottle their emotions and distance themselves from you. Validating their emotions makes them feel comfortable keeping you up-to-date on their lives.
Vanessa Van Edwards is the lead investigator at the Science of People — a human behavior research lab. As a published author and speaker she runs original research experiments on topics such as the science of attraction, human lie detection, body language hacks, and other people skills. Her latest book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People, was chosen as one of Apple’s Most Anticipated Books of 2017.