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Understanding the Teen Brain

Relationships can be very challenging, especially parent/teen relationships, but that doesn’t mean these relationships are doomed to fail and be a nightmare for both parties! Understanding the teenage brain can help.

Teens are going through a time when their desire for independence increases and their brains are going through significant growth and remodeling. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for solving problems, controlling impulses, planning, and thinking about consequences. It is remodeled last and often continues into people’s 20’s. Because it is still remodeling in teens, they often rely on the amygdala, which is the part of the brain associated with emotions, instinct, aggression, and impulses.

Understanding the teen brain can help parents realize that some of their decisions may be based more on their emotions, lack of ability to reason, and inability to consider the consequences than on them being “rebellious” or “defiant”.

What can parents and adolescents do then to improve their relationship?


  • Choose to stay calm, learn to listen, and empathize with what your teens are going through. You may not completely understand their struggles and feelings, but to them, they are real. Knowing that you are trying to understand and care can go a long way.

  • Resist the urge to react harshly.

  • Talk through solutions together, rather than demanding your way.

  • Praise and encourage them often, keep the communication open, and let them have a voice!

  • Prioritize spending quality time with them

  • Let the natural consequences of their behaviors do the teaching (read “Parenting Teens with Love and Logic”).


  • Keep an open mind to your parents, be respectful, and try to see things from their point of view

  • Find healthy ways to express your emotions

  • Stop and think before you act

  • Be willing to work together to solve problems

  • Remember that your parents are doing the best they can and make mistakes too!

Like any relationship, the parent/teen relationship can be challenging for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be if both parties are willing and open to work together and make some changes!

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