The Lowdown Hub

How to get closer to your Teenager


Adolescence is an adventure for teens and the adults who love them – a wonderful, messy, confusing, beautiful, crazy adventure.


Hormones are commonly blamed for the vast ups and downs of adolescence, but though there are hormonal changes, the changes in teens are primarily because of changes in the brain. Understanding these changes will help make the path through adolescence easier for everyone.

Adolescence is a time a discovery. Teens will discover fears, self-doubt and heartache they’ve never known before.


They will discover creativity, strength and courage they never knew they had.


They will find a depth of emotion they never thought possible and they will find within themselves the richness of their capacity to connect, a mind that is beautiful, bold, independent and curious and the power of their own presence and voice.


They will explore and challenge their view of the world and their place in it.


All of this is normal – so normal that pushing against it will be the surest way to unravel your connection with your teen. It will lead to secrecy, arguing, disrespect and feelings of isolation.


You’ll be just another one who ‘doesn’t get it’ and that’s the last thing they need.


What they need more than anything is the connection with you, even if they don’t let you know it. They need your wisdom, your guidance and your loving, open presence when the world disappoints them, which at times, it will.


Here are some ways to strengthen that connection:


Understand what’s driving them.

Their behaviour, as baffling and as messy as it might be sometimes, is being driven by the changes in their brain, not by their desire to be difficult. They are being rolled around by impulse and instinct and they don’t want to be disconnected from you, even though that’s sometimes where things end up. From ages 12-24, the brain is developing faster than ever before.


There are for main changes that are driven by the way their brain grows through adolescence:

• greater emotional intensity (they might swing between being moody, reactive or impulsive and being warm, loving, emotionally generous and wonderful to be with); • the need for connection and relationship (they’ll be driven to form new and deeper connections with others – friendships will become a priority), • the need for a novel ‘high’ (they will be more driven to seek out new experiences and they will find creative, courageous ways of experiencing life. The negative though is that they might open themselves up to dangerous situations and risky behaviour). • the need for creative exploration (they’ll have a greater capacity for creative thinking and abstract reasoning, they might be funnier and more creative and more challenging of the status quo, they will experiment with new ways of seeing and being in the world).

All of these behaviours are completely normal and it’s important to remember this, because it can be daunting when you’re standing by and watching them unfold.

They’ll do things that are unfamiliar to you and unexpected. If you can remember what’s driving your teen, it will be easier to give them the space to do what they need to do while being available for them when they need you – it can make all the difference to them and to you.

Understand that separating from you is a need, not a want.

One of the most important developmental goals for adolescents is to separate from their parents and to establish their own identity. This isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s so important. Sometimes, for parents who have always felt close to their children, it will be difficult not to take the separation personally. In fact, the closer they have been to you, the more they might have to push against you to find the edges of themselves. This is normal, and completely okay. Keep being a steady, strong, loving presence and wait for them to find their way back to you, which they will.

Ask what, not why.

Everything we do is to meet a need and teens are no different. The need they are meeting is always a valid one, even if they have chosen a spectacularly messy way to meet it. If you can understand the need they’re meeting, even their most baffling behaviour will start to make sense. The need won’t always be easy to identify, by you’ll have more chance of uncovering it if you start by asking ‘what’ rather than ‘why’. ‘Why’ will probably give you an ‘I don’t know’ – because they probably don’t even know themselves. Instead, ask (or look for): What happens to them or for them when they do what they do? What stops or goes away when they do what they do? What do they need? What can you do to help them?

Respect their privacy.

Resist the temptation to check their social media or do anything else that they might see as an invasion of their privacy. One of the biggest things they want from you is trust and freedom. Let them know that they can have both, but in return they have to show you that they can be trusted with that freedom. They’ll know that your trust is a big thing for them to lose, so that in itself will work to keep them on track. They’ll be experimenting with self-disclosure, but perhaps not with you. Respect that part of their job is to separate from you and find their own identity so don’t chase them to talk if they don’t want to. Be available, and open and ready for them when and if they need you – it will be on their terms, and that’s okay.

Support their friendships.

Support their friendships. If you don’t like who they’re spending time with, gently guide them and offer your advice when they ask for it but be careful giving too much of it when it’s not asked for. Friendships are a priority remember, so the more you push against their friends, the harder they’ll push against you in protection of them.

Give them space to experiment.

The more space and support you can give them to experiment safely, the less need they’ll have to put themselves at risk. Of course, they may still be driven towards risky behaviour anyway, in which case there won’t be much you can do except talk to them about it. Do your best to support them in finding a safer outlet, but understand that if you suggest croquet, you’re probably going to lose them. The changes in the reward circuitry of the brain that happens during adolescence will mean they’ll be hungry for the high that risk and new things can bring, but novelty doesn’t always have to be risky. There are plenty of things they might try to experience the world in a new way or themselves in a new way. This might come through sport, groups, clubs, hobbies, or reaching new heights in something they’ve been doing for a while. Whatever it is, understand their need to try new things and experiment with themselves and world, and give them the space to do that. The best way to do that is to hold back from judging, criticising or trying to change them.

*** The list is inexhaustible. We will continue in another series.

The take home is that the teenage years is a very important period for your children.


You need to be extra careful not to ruin your relationship with them. Neither do too much nor too little with them. Tread carefully and you will see that you'd end up having the best and most memorable relationship with your children.

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