Why Teens Lack Emotional Control

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THEY say teens are toddlers with a better vocabulary. That’s not  far off. Teens and toddlers are passing through a similar phase of rapid brain growth in which they lack emotional control and are trying to separate from parents. Both – you may have noticed – are prone to tantrums.“These are the two most dynamic periods of physical, intellectual and emotional growth in life,” says Dr. Matthew Biel, an adolescent and pediatric psychiatrist at Georgetown University. “They are incredibly explosive periods of life. There is lots of frustration and exasperation. It’s hard to understand and hard to work with. These are really challenging times for parents.”So what’s a parent to do to muster the necessary patience — other than envisioning that teen in a toddler’s body?Teens Push for Autonomy but Need Limits“Parents need to remember it’s developmentally crucial that adolescents are pushing for autonomy,” Biel says. “It’s what they are supposed to be doing. Teens will be hostile and argumentative. They are developing a value system that is theirs. They are not clones. When teens are made aware of their parents trying to run their lives, they resent it because it is bucking up against their desire to be alone.”Teens, like toddlers, need limits, Biel says. “They may holler and scream about the limits but actually that’s what they are calling out for. They need limits and they need warmth.”Biel adds that communicating with a kid about the limits is the best antidote to the tension. “Teens need parents to be emphatic. They are not looking for parents to remove limits.” Keep Your Cool When Coping with TeenagersDr. Joseph Michael Houston, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Chevy Chase, Md., advises parents to keep their cool during these turbulent times.“You have to keep your emotions more in check than your adolescent,” Houston says. “You can’t let yourself escalate. You may have a stopping point but adolescents don’t necessarily.“Houston suggests parents count to ten and think through how to fix things rather than reacting with your amygdala. “A kid who has turned away from parents as role models who doesn’t yet have control over the most basic human emotions is a powerful ship without a captain.”We all remember those explosive toddler years.

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