Adolescence: An emotional and cognitive tsunami

Parenthood   ›   Adolescence: An emotional and cognitive tsunami

Adolescence is a time of immense change and evolution: childhood gently fades away as adulthood appears, a distant land on the horizon. While these changes are often evident due to puberty, we too often forget about the significant transformations happening within a teenager's cognitive functions. These brain functions—allowing them to communicate, perceive their surroundings, concentrate, make decisions, and more—are undergoing a period of intense development. Let's take a closer look.

Let's face it: during adolescence, the brain is in overdrive! It processes increasingly complex data, can integrate new concepts, and neural connections are made faster. It's a whirlwind!

Good news, you say? Certainly. But this also means that your teenager is faced with new questions that would never have crossed their mind during childhood, such as "who am I in the universe," "why do I exist," "what will become of the world," and other lighthearted musings.


A Work in Progress to Respect


While adults are always the first to point out what young people don't do, or don't do right, the fact remains that teenagers' executive functions are greatly improved compared to childhood: organization, planning, anticipating consequences, decision-making... Your teenager is improving day by day, as they go through their teenage adventures - breakups, conflicts, friendship disappointments, and other milestones of this sensitive period.


It is therefore important, as an adult, to be patient and accept your teenager's inevitable trial and error.


Impulsive reactions, for example, can be more challenging for your teenager, who still has a strong need for immediate gratification and pleasure. In concrete terms, this means that some decisions may be more difficult for them to make than others: spending an hour on TikTok or an hour studying? Going to Sunday family dinner or to the park with friends.


Another major challenge for teenagers is anticipating the consequences of their actions.


Projecting themselves, thinking about what might happen... It's not yet natural at this stage of their development. And it's even less so if the act in question is set in a context of strong social or emotional stimulation. So it's possible that your teenager is having a hard time knowing when to stop drinking at a party, making a sound decision when angry or sad, or even using protection during their first sexual experience.


As a parent, you can help your teenager by raising their awareness of potential dangers, getting them to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and encouraging them to explore within certain boundaries. You are the only one who can assess and set these boundaries: you know your child, and you know yourself. However, try to keep in mind that the more you tell a young person not to do something, the more they will want to defy that prohibition: it is therefore always interesting (and beneficial) for you to keep an open mind about your teenager's desires.


As we mentioned earlier in the article, teenagers thrive on immediacy and recognition. And as you may have also realized, it's probably unrealistic to expect them to find the intrinsic willingness to do certain things. So why not turn these two realities to your advantage by encouraging your teenager to engage in certain behaviors by rewarding them with recognition? This can take many forms, depending on your family values: privileges, quality time spent together, pocket money, highlighting good deeds... The motivation will eventually come on its own, but you can give it a little nudge.


Things will eventually fall into place; in the meantime, stay vigilant while remaining open and available: your teenager is developing, it's time to support them as they embark on and dare to try new things.


Emotions on the Surface


One thing you've probably noticed about teenagers is their incredible self-centeredness. Their needs must be met this minute, their dramas are the most serious in the world, and woe betide the adult who tells them it's okay, it will pass, get over it.


This self-centeredness should not be confused with narcissism; indeed, we are talking about the cognitive sense of the term, meaning the place of the other, their judgment, and their view of us. In adolescence, we are simply much more sensitive to this. For example, unlike the child who acts without caring about their image, the teenager is now able to imagine what others think of them. It is therefore not surprising that we observe a certain intensity in teenagers for everything that concerns them and an excessive self-consciousness.


Not only do they have the impression that everyone is watching and listening to them (when this is rarely the case), but our teenagers also have the feeling of being the most misunderstood people on Earth. So unique, so different, they are going through things that we would be incapable of even trying to understand.


Here again, your patience is required: some decisions (what to wear to school this morning) may be harder to make than you think, and it's best to learn to live with this – temporary – reality. After all, do you remember the last time you experienced so many physical, physiological, emotional, and psychological changes at the same time?


Try to be indulgent, as much as possible: your teenager is facing a multitude of simultaneous challenges, it's up to you to help them with learning opportunities.