3 min read

Tongue Tied or Troubled?

Research suggests that, during the teenage years, language goes a little off-line and vocabulary can shrink from 40,000 words to as little as 8,000 words.

So parents could find their children go from being chatty and engaged to silent, repetitive and brief in their responses.  And that’s a perfectly normal part of the development of the teenage brain.

But when verbal communication dries up, how do parents and caregivers know when a teen is struggling, overwhelmed or troubled?

Gail Smillie is Carya’s Teen Brain Expert.  She has a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Victoria and has specialized in child and youth mental health for over 30 years.

She explains how parents can still connect and be aware, even when language is lost:

“During the teenage years, parents need to accept that closeness really isn’t everything.  It’s not normal for teens or even pre-teens to tell their parents every detail of their lives the way they might have done in their younger years; boundaries at this stage are actually really crucial to healthy development.

Parents should also be aware that their teens are entering a period of great emotional highs and lows.  Both of these factors combine to make it really difficult for those who care about teenagers to read signs of distress.

Ultimately, parents and caregivers are going to need to find other ways of knowing and connecting with their teens.  It’s not just going to be handed to you on a plate anymore, you’re going to need to be more aware, search for subtle signs and get to know your kids all over again.

How can we recognize signs of distress?

Well, for example, boundaries with parents are normal but boundaries from friends could be a sign that something’s wrong.  Look for signs of isolation; maybe they’re isolating themselves, maybe they’re being isolated?

It’s also useful to look at physiological manifestations of problems like losing or gaining weight rapidly.

These are signs that it’s time for parents to step into their teen’s life and take action.  Whether that’s seeking medical attention, counselling or just reinforcing that they have your support and you’re there for them if they need you.  And remember, it’s OK for another adult to step into your teen’s life and provide some mentoring and support at this stage: a teacher, coach or family friend for example.

The most important relationship you can establish with your teenager is one where they know you’re on their side, however that looks during these tricky years.”

Find out more about the teenage brain at Carya’s Enspire Learning Series Event

Gail will be presenting Crazy by Design: Exploring the Adolescent Brain on November 4th at the Cardel Theatre, SE Calgary at 7pm.

Tickets cost $35 and are available here.