“They really are losing their minds!” said psychologist Dr. Laura Kastner about teenagers. The third speaker in the 2009-10 Common Ground Series, Kastner addressed a gathering of 200 parents at Harker’s Nichols Hall atrium Jan. 26.
A University of Washington professor and author of four books on adolescents, Kastner reminded parents that normal teenagers “slough off half the neural branches” in the thinking portion of their brains around age thirteen. The loss precedes a huge bloom of synapse growth over the next ten years, but leaves young adults temporarily dependent on their emotional brains. Hence reactive behavior, mood swings and outbursts.
Combining neuroscience and psychology, Kastner provided a road map for parents anxious to navigate the emotional landmines of adolescence. Fully-developed adults also have emotional centers in their brains – called the amygdala – but tend to rely more heavily on the thinking brain – the frontal cortex.
Parents aware of their teen’s physiological dependence on emotional response and careful avoidance of letting their own amygdalas take over will provide better guidance for their kids. Parents of teens, says Kastner, should “accept teen behavior as normal” and “get going with good parenting.”
Good teen parenting, said Kastner, includes thoughtful, empathic reaction to outbursts and incentivizing teen self-critique rather than falling victim to emotional spiral typical of adolescent anger.