A reason teens may feel misunderstood

It’s OK to ask for help. In fact, we all have to do it at some point in our lives, and during the teen years there is a very good reason why even very smart kids may need to ask for help: Your beautiful brain components are not completely connected to each other, or your frontal lobe, which is the “decision maker” and “judge” of things.

The Discovery Channel put it this way on their website, “a teenage brain is more like your entertainment center when it first arrives and the components are not connected. The part of the brain that ties things together and helps control impulses and emotions is the prefrontal cortex — this is also the part of the brain most involved in making judgment calls about situations and in understanding the relationship between the self and other people.”

If you go to that website, you can watch a short video of teens talking about how they do things impulsively, or don’t make plans ahead, and sometimes just do things because they feel like it.

That’s because they are functioning from the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain. They want to do things that feel good, and give them rewards.

This can sometimes lead to problems when what they did that felt good has consequences that weren’t thought out, and they can’t figure out how to fix it. It’s OK to ask for help.

Your brain connection usually occurs around age 22 or 23, and you’ll find that you are making better choices, and understanding more about how things work. Now to apply this to your life: there will be times when you don’t understand things.

The word “process” is sometimes used by counselors to mean “figure it out” or “deeply understand” something. For example, “He was having a hard time processing why his dad beats his mother.”

The mind wants understanding. Understanding is healing for the mind. But sometimes the mind just isn’t going to be able to understand why something happened. It’s hard to process something like domestic violence even when all the components are connected, but it is extra hard when they are not. It’s OK to ask for help.

“Psychotherapy is a process that’s a lot like learning. Through therapy, people learn about themselves. They discover ways to overcome difficulties, develop inner strengths or skills, or make changes in themselves or their situations. Often, it feels good just to have a person to vent to, and other times it’s useful to learn different techniques to help deal with stress.” — http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/therapist.html#

Sometimes people go to therapy for just a couple of months to get them through a difficult time. Sometimes the therapist may just recommend that they attend a group session of kids having the same issue.

Most kids are relieved to find out that they aren’t the only ones who are having difficulty with something. Sometimes a therapist will see you every week, and then end up seeing you every month, and then maybe twice a year, just to see how things are going. Going to a therapist who specializes in teen issues is really best for teenagers, because of the different way the brain processes.

What therapists might do:

• There will be talking and listening so you can trust each other. It is very important that you answer honestly and to your best ability, just as you would to a doctor trying to figure out what illness you have.

• They could suggest you read a book or article to learn more facts about a situation.

• They may suggest that you keep a journal to record your ups and what makes you down or angry.

• They may ask you to draw a picture of how you feel.

• They could even ask you to role-play a situation.

• They might recommend a physical evaluation to see if a physical situation could be causing the difficulty.

• They might suggest that you join a group of kids with similar situations they’re dealing with.

• They may want to have you invite family or friends who are involved to a session. They would be a neutral party so that you and the others were treated respectfully by each as you explained how you were feeling, and they’d make sure that each side heard the other side.

If you get depressed, don’t isolate yourself from others. Don’t play a negative “tape” over and over again in your mind. It’s all right to be depressed for awhile, but then it’s time to get help and move on.

Here’s something else about the brain: Children have billions and billions of brain cells, but by the teen years about half of them are gone. The ones that stay are ones used to build neural networks created by the activities you do.

If you keep repeating negative thinking, those are the pathways that stay. We all know drama queens and kings stuck in a tragic loop of “poor me,” as well as folks who had some bad breaks but overcame them.

Try this. The next time something bad happens, and you don’t know why, think of it as a gift from the future. Everyone I’ve met over 30 has had some negative event occur to them that pushed them into a new way of thinking or acting that they believe made them a better person. It’s OK if you don’t know what’s going on right now. Get help to work through it, but look to see if there is any “gold” in this situation for you.

I knew a man who was very sad and mad that he had to leave his apartment … until he found one that was cheaper, bigger, and allowed him to have a dog!

I have all respect for teenagers, and I want you to make good choices. Sometimes you just need a little help to do that.


Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.