Parenting teenagers

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By Thomas Kulanjiyil
Last week we looked into some of the central characteristics of adolescent or teen-age development and offered some guidelines for parents to competently work with this age group. In this article we shall continue to consider a few more critical areas of adolescent development.

Parents often expect their teenagers to act and behave like adults, and this is based on the conjecture that the cognitive development of teenagers is on a par with the adults. It is assumed that by teenage years brain matures and that the teenagers could think and act like adults. Recent scientific studies have proven this notion to be false. Neuroscientists now tell us that the adolescent brain is only “a work in progress.” Different regions of the brain develop on different schedule. At this point of their development, adolescents certainly make significant cognitive achievements in such areas as long-term memory, information processing skills, and mathematical and scientific reasoning. However, one of the last parts of the brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of reasoning, judgment, and impulse control. Only between the late teens and early twenties the frontal reaches maturity.  Until the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, most teenagers would typically find it hard to make good judgments, organize multiple tasks, and to take full control over their impulsivity. The current information we have of the teenage brain development must help parents to have a reasonable understanding of teenage problems, behaviors, and needs. At this decisive stage of their development, teenagers require parental support and thoughtfulness that offers consistent discipline and supervision. When a teenager acts and behaves  in certain ways without thinking of their consequences, displays temper tantrums, experiences undue peer pressure, or struggles with the problem of indecisiveness, parents must step in to provide  help, directions, and corrections. It is crucial that parents keep the line of communication with the teenager open.

Another common assumption regarding teenagers is that they possess adult like ability for moral judgment. Psychological research has proven this too wrong. Studies reveal that the capacity for moral reasoning and judgment is intimately linked with cognitive development, and that too  is a process. According to a leading developmental psychologist, Kohlberg, teenagers typically operate from a conventional level of moral reasoning, in which, right and wrong are determined on the basis of the internalized moral norms and standards of others. Post conventional level of moral reasoning that involves critical appraisal of moral alternatives is achieved only as the teenager advances cognitively into young adulthood. This is an indispensable information for parents. Parents must recognize that they in some way influence the moral development of their children, and that their children internalize those moral values. When parents expose children to sound moral environment and training, they are positively shaped by them.  Parents must also know that today’s teenagers are faced with complex moral dilemmas, and they may not exercise sound moral discernment in all matters. Parents and adults must come to assist teenagers.

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