So, your littlest dancer is finally through their transition period and back into the school year schedule, but the burnout hasn't seemed to stop for your teen. What's going on with them? Is there too much stress or not enough structure, do they now dislike all their favorite activities or are they just...a teenager? Most every parent is grappling with the constant ebb and flow of their kid's moods during this time in their life, and it's no surprise—they're figuring out who they are. There's no easy answer to any of your questions flat out, but we're here to help keep you better informed about the whys of these mood shifts and interventional tactics to help start conversations that help solve problems rather than start arguments.
So what is the current generation facing? Between the pressures social media puts on their self-esteem, cultural shifts, concerns about the environment, the continuing pandemic and its linked uncertainty, complex and divisive political upheavals, increased academic competition and expectations, and the time-honored teen stresses of bullying and peer pressure—the truth is, they may be dealing with more than any generation before them. Not only that, with our exponentially and rapidly changing world, the classic complaint of parents just don’t understand is also likely more true than ever. It’s easy to see how everything, sometimes even the littlest thing like heading out to their favorite dance class, becomes an argument—teens today are dealing with a lot of adult issues and stresses a lot earlier than past generations, and it must be overwhelming!
You can couple that with the fact that the teen brain and the adult brain are biologically different. Fully developed, adult brains generally come at problems with the rational, empathetic, long-term considerations of the pre-frontal cortex, while teen decision-making stems from the emotional amygdala—this explains why they can’t always explain why they reacted the way they did…it’s possible they literally weren’t thinking, just feeling. But this doesn’t make your teenager any less intelligent. The truth is, that while they’re still learning, the brain’s ability to formally plan, abstractly reason, and memory retention in general is done developing by 15 or so—if asked about a situation hypothetically, they can respond as any adult might. The issue stems from a mixture of amygdala-based reactions in the moment and the laundry list of increasing and changing hormones (one example: the adolescent male brain is producing 10x the amount of testosterone it previously was!)
But do you do about it? First off, expect it! It can be shocking when your sweet, well-behaved kid turns depressed, angry, or apathetic, but coming at it from a place of understanding is the best way to model healthy ways to deal with those feelings. As adults, we know that sadness, anger, and apathy don’t exist in a bubble—those feelings are the product of different stresses and chemical combinations in an individual’s brain. For example, generally, the problem isn’t that you asked them to load the dishwasher, the problem is something that happened at school, how much homework they have, etc. It can be extremely difficult not to react in a negative way to someone slamming doors and yelling, but taking the time to help them express that anger in a healthy manner (i.e. finding the root cause of it and helping them work toward solutions, looking at scenarios and their consequences together, and practicing techniques (breathing, exercise, talking through it, writing it out, ec.) to help them deal with their emotional upheaval,) models better ways to deal with stress that will follow them into their adult lives.
Communication, like anything else, is the kind of skill that takes practice—especially when it comes to its give and take nature. One of the easiest ways to slow down a meltdown (or get your teen to talk) is to ask them a simple question that can help put expectations on the interaction for both parties: Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to help you find a solution? There’s plenty of ways to make sure your dancer knows you care about them and the way they’re experiencing the world, but listening to what they need from you when they’re experiencing high emotions may be the best one. It not only continues to model healthy emotional behaviors, but puts your trust in their ability to know what they need, validates their emotional life, and lets them trust their self. It’s a step toward emotional independence and it puts the interaction in their hands—giving them concrete decisions to make while their amygdala is rioting.
But listening doesn't mean giving in to every demand--innumerable studies show that teaching your teen to honor commitments and keep to a schedule can help in every area of their life. From academic success to personal integrity and an increase in self-confidence and easier adjustments to adulthood, it's all about learning to be a responsible person in a safe environment. It also helps them become more empathetic and community-minded (i.e. my choices effect others) in a time in their lives it's easy to revert to an inward-facing gaze. Another equally important aspect? Exercise! Everything listed above goes for exercise too! Not only does exercise have academic, physical, and emotional benefits, it helps create healthy, lifetime habits in your teen. It's all a balance between their wants and their needs, with their parents the best judge and lead how to balance these sometimes conflicting desires.
Like we said at the beginning—there’s no simple answer to how to be a parent of teenagers, and it’s not always going to go well. You can help encourage them keep to their commitments, to keep a schedule, to exercise, to get enough sleep, to eat healthy, as well as support them and let them know you believe in their resilience, intelligence, and abilities, and they could still be the same moody, anxious teenager. But, the key really is the listen half of communication—when your child is looking to drop a favorite activity, for example. Is this stress and pressure and too much going on for them? Or is there something else underlying the decision? Have they changed and want to pursue something else and have thought through the consequences of the change…or are they reacting emotionally because of something else? The only way to know is to open up communication and truly hear what they have to say.
This post is part of a series. Check out our last 411 post, all about back to school burnout for your younger dancer, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram
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