Middle School Makeover: Chapter Two!
Michelle uses this chapter to emphasize that kids of middle school age think differently, and shows us how this information can help us empathize and understand their thinking process.
One very interesting and enlightening fact is that at ages 11 and 14 (girls and boys respectively) brains are about half developed, biologically speaking. The prefrontal cortex—which controls critical thinking, decision making, and impulse control—is not working to full capacity at this point, leaving teens ruled by their emotions. Michelle suggests being sympathetic for this weakness and assisting rather than criticizing for it, the same way you wouldn’t berate a toddler for not having strong leg muscles and falling down from time to time.
Ways to help your teen with this include being what Michelle describes as their “assistant manager” and helping them compensate for what their brain is lacking. She suggests ways to do this, similar to the actions of a good leader. These can be found on page 26, but to recap a few: give consistent feedback, set clear expectations, communicate clearly for something well done, give constructive criticism, respect personal life, encourage risk taking to grow, provide new opportunities, and enjoy their role. However, this does not mean giving up stern rules on all issues. “[Y]ou should absolutely set limits on middle schoolers. Make them go to bed at a reasonable hour, make them do chores, and make them spend time with your family. Set your hard limits but pick your battles wisely” (page 29).
Another fun fact: “Twice in our lives, the temporal lobe purges information it deems unnecessary so it can make room for new information, roughly ages two and eleven” (page 32). For this reason, Michelle expresses the importance of practice and repetition for your teen to develop a skill to carry with him/her throughout their teen years and life. She suggests role-playing through tough scenarios and practicing good skills with them to ensure their proficiency.
Some thoughts for discussion:
Have you experienced situations where you could tell your teen wasn’t thinking rationally, proving their “manager” frontal cortex wasn’t fully developed?
Do you have any success stories being an “assistant manager” for your teen and constructively guiding them without necessarily setting harsh limits?
What boundaries are important for you to set for your teen? (Bed times, curfew, chores, family time?) How do you enforce these boundaries?
Michelle discusses using “Botox Brow”, a neutral expression, while listening or speaking with your child to keep communication lines open and prevent a situation from escalating. Have you had success with this? Would it work for you and your teen?
How else could you encourage critical thinking for your teen while their prefrontal cortex is on “vacation”?
Interested in learning more about the development of the teen brain? Check out these links!:
PBS: In "Inside the Teenage Brain," FRONTLINE chronicles how scientists are exploring the recesses of the brain and finding some new explanations for why adolescents behave the way they do. These discoveries could change the way we parent, teach, or perhaps even understand our teenagers. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/view/#ixzz3Dk3oYLYl
Or for a quick how-stuff-works: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/teenage-brain1.htm
Or for an enlightening TED talk by a social brain researcher: http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_jayne_blakemore_the_mysterious_workings_of_the_adolescent_brain
Stop by next week and we’ll go over chapter three which explains why middle schoolers' prefrontal cortex needs to take a vacation during this time anyway. Happy reading!