Parenting is a challenge. Parenting a teenager can seem like a monumental task. The adolescent brain has all adult capabilities. But the teen’s sense of fairness and ethics has not completely formed yet, so many healthy teens seem ruthless and selfish.
Development in the teenager’s brain is moving from concrete operational thinking (black and white, one-dimensional) to abstract thinking (multi-dimensional). As with all development, brain development is a process. Some brain functioning matures earlier and more quickly than other processes. One of the slower processes of brain development is empathy, fairness and a full understanding of ethics. Empathy remains in the concrete operational, two-dimensional stage for a longer period of time. A certain lack of empathy is imperative in the early years. It insulates the developing brain from feeling too much responsibility and power too soon.
Human beings tend to accept what enters their immediate experience and reject that which does not. A person must experience something to really understand it or feel a full sense of compassion for it. To some extent this is a survival skill. intellectually we may know that children die of starvation, neglect and abuse daily. But for the most part, we have no real control over that happening. The only way to really appreciate the suffering is to experience it. If we had a complete depth of the suffering of others, with no means of relieving it or impacting the situation, we would live in total despair. Our lack of completely developed empathy insulates us and keeps us safe until we grow into adulthood. Our ‘selfishness’ is like the cocoon that protects us into adulthood.
Children must learn to take care of themselves before then can learn to care for others. Learning how to tend to their own emotions and needs strengthens children and prepares them to explore empathy. Does this mean that children and adolescents have no ability to understand things from another person’s point of view? To a certain extent, yes. Children and adolescents, like the butterfly, must concentrate their energies on reaching adulthood safely and emotionally intact. Often, there may not be a great deal left over for others.
The next time that you feel badly because your teen acts selfishly (like within the next few moments), remember that she is growing into her new wings and this is part of the process. As the teen brain ages into adulthood, many of the neuron gaps close. As teens age, they will never again be able to do some of the rapid fire thinking they once did. It’s a give and take. With new maturity and wisdom born of age and experience, some of the intense thinking of youth is lost. It’s part of the great process called life.
For more on growth and development, visit me at www.healthhelp4u.blogspot.com.