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4 tips from research to support your teenager


Teenagers can be difficult to understand. They are socially and psychologically very different to children and adults. Teenagers are heavily influenced by peer pressure, need more sleep, often have low self-esteem, and need more exercise.

These tendencies can make teenagers seem lazy or irresponsible, when in reality, their brain structure, social hierarchies, and hormones are all highly accountable for these behaviours.

So, how does research explain why teenagers are different? And how you support your teenage child to make the best decisions?

 

Teenagers are heavily influenced by other teenagers

Research has looked into the effects of peer pressure on teenagers. For example, this study had teenagers and adults driving either alone or while being observed by their peers in a simulated task. They saw that areas of the brain related to impulse control were less activated in teenagers than in adults and, when observed by their peers, areas in the teenagers’ brain related to reward activated. This is because the prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with complex behaviours like planning, cognition, attention and impulse control is not fully developed in teenagers.

This research suggests that the mere presence of peers encourages teenagers to make riskier decisions. This is because they are more sensitive to potentially rewarding outcomes – in this case, peer validation.

What you can do:

  • Encourage your teenager to make risky decisions in appropriate environments – Making risky choices can often be beneficial to teenagers. For example, if your teenager takes a risk by taking a challenging class, this can be really beneficial to the development of their growth mindset.
  • Consult with your teenagers – Discussing concerns with your teenager can help to build a more open and trusting relationship. Advising them on how to manage peer pressure can also reduce the likelihood that they take part in pressured risky behaviours.

 

Teenagers need sleep

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night. Most teenagers sleep far less than this, with one study showing that two thirds of teenagers sleep less than 8 hours per night.

High quality, consistent and adequate sleep has been shown to account for nearly 25% of variance in academic performance. On the other hand, sleep deprivation has been shown to have a negative impact on:

What you can do:

  • Encourage naps – Naps may help re-energise sleep deprived teenagers, with research showing that a nap lasting between 30 and 90 minutes can even result in better cognition. Though do be aware that any nap that lasts too long (i.e. makes people go to sleep that evening much later) may have a negative impact.
  • Encourage your teenager to have a consistent sleep scheduleResearch suggests that irregular sleep patterns often result in worse sleep quality. Implementing a consistent sleep schedule during both weekdays and weekends will allow your teenager to truly experience the benefits of sleep.

 

Some teenagers have low self-esteem

One study which looked at teenagers’ self-esteem over a period of 20 years suggests that self-esteem drops significantly between the ages of 11 and 14, particularly for girls. It also found that 40% of girls who spend 5 or more hours on social media per day develop signs of depression.

What you can do:

  • Praise your teenager the right way – Praise can have a huge impact on your teenager’s confidence and behaviour. Praising them the right way boosts your teenager’s attitude and motivation, helping them develop better self-esteem.
  • Advocate for less social media time – Warning your teenager of the negative impacts the overuse of social media can have may help them develop better self-esteem and self-confidence. You can also help them develop better phone management skills.

 

Exercise is essential

It is no surprise that exercise has a wide range of physical benefits, but what can it do for your brain? Research has shown that sufficient exercise can:

Exercise is also a great way for teenagers to learn skills they can not only apply to sport, but also to their general lives as well as academic and future professional careers. Examples of this include how to perform under pressure and how to bounce back after defeat.

What you can do:

  • Encourage your teenager to sign up to a team sport – Team sports can be a great way to reap the benefits of exercise while developing a good support network to rely on and a sense of belonging. 
  • Suggest your teenager take up range of different sportsSpecialising in one sport when young may increase risk of injury and burnout, whereas doing a range of physical activities enhances a wider variety of skills. Suggesting different activity options to your teenager may motivate them to engage in multiple sports.

 

Final Thoughts

Although teenagers are at an age where they can start being responsible for their own well-being, parents can support their teenagers in many ways. These include ensuring that they get enough sleep and exercise, boosting their self-esteem and discouraging pressured risk-taking behaviours. These all great ways to ensure that your teenager develops the skills necessary to manage their stress, maintain their happiness and improve their cognition.

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