Homebuilders – Teen brains

Our teenagers, with their rapidly developing brains, are particularly susceptible to addiction, and addiction can quickly lead to anxiety and depression. The typical addictions and problematic teen behaviours that most people will immediately think of are smoking, drinking, drug taking and sex leading to teenage pregnancy. But it will not be news to most that those behaviours among teens are in decline. The disconcerting news is that a whole raft of addictions have taken their place.

Once upon a time, the dopamine hit craved by teenagers came from smoking a joint or sculling their favourite alcopop. The pleasure jolt is now provided by electronic devices that typically come from playing games online (if you’re a boy) and engaging with social media (if you’re a girl). It is quite easy to pinpoint in history where such an abrupt change in teen behaviour took place … 2007, the introduction of the iPhone and the ability to access the internet and everything on it from a device that could fit in your pocket.

Unlike drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, electronic devices are not illicit. In fact, they are quite the opposite. They are distributed by schools (iPads) and parents (iPhones), with few restrictions placed on their use.

Every parent who has raised a teenager from 2010 onwards has faced challenges that the many generations before them didn’t have to. The adage, raise your kids the way you were raised is not so easy to adhere to anymore. New addictions are just a tap of a button away. Dopamine hits are being administered by highly addictive gambling, gaming, porn or social media applications designed explicitly to excite them.

As is often the case with addictions, the desire for that hit can often overwhelm the person’s better judgement. When we see this behaviour demonstrated by adults it becomes apparent how much of a challenge it is for a not yet fully developed teen brain to not do the same. The importance of recognising the challenges that developing teen brains face and the support that must be provided to them is crucial in enabling them to get through these tough years without suffering too much angst as the pitfalls can often be devastating for families.

All is not lost. Experts in teen behaviour have set out clear, reasonable and effective rules, to help you confidently manage your kids use of screen times at this critical point in their lives. They are:
• Parents make the rules and kids follow them.
• Those rules should severely restrict access to personal electronic devices.
• The rules should be clear and unequivocal.
• Breaches of rules should be punished – consistently.
• All teens need eight hours sleep a night.

While all of the above may sound like common sense, and apply to many areas of parenting, enforcing them is often the challenge.

During Term 1 at Homebuilders, we will be delivering a free programme for parents of teens where we discuss these issues. The programme will cover teenage behaviour and how it is at the mercy of biological changes. This will include addictive behaviour, depression and anxiety, impulse control and approval, as well as sharing thoughts on being the parent of a teen. For further details about this free programme, contact Homebuilders at homebuildersfs@gmail.com or 0800 100 037 to register your interest.