Seminar designed to help unravel the mysteries of the teenage brain

Tara Jeffrey

Raising teenagers can leave some parents feeling lost — but it doesn’t have to be that way, says Garfield Gini-Newman.

“It’s OK to be frustrated and not understand … but kids are on a journey and they need our support and guidance,” said the social studies lecturer at the University of Toronto.

“Teenagers won’t always make the best decisions, but you shouldn’t be surprised by that. Instead, you should be ready for it and provide them with opportunities to think through and engage them in good conversation and thinking.”

Gini-Newman will be sharing his knowledge at a free seminar, “Understanding the Teenage Brain” hosted by Lambton Public Health at the Lambton College Residence and Event Centre on Nov. 28.

Garfield Gini-Newman

The event is part of the health unit’s ongoing ‘Make the Connection’ campaign, a three-phase initiative designed to develop and strengthen connections between youth and their families.

“The first year is focused on building family connections and ultimately family resilience because parents are the number one influence in a child’s life,” said health promoter Lisa Clark.

“Future years will look at promoting teens’ connections in their schools and communities.”

One of the most important insights, Gini-Newman noted, is that the teenage brain is still a work in progress — not yet fully developed, and highly adaptable.

“This is a time when teens can challenge and step out on their own, but there’s still that home support,” said Gini-Newman, also a consultant with the Critical Thinking Consortium. “So when parents see teens challenging authority — what you might find frustrating — research suggests it’s in fact a necessary process to becoming healthy adults, to move from dependence to independence. The teen years are the time to test that out. With support.”

Gini-Newman will also touch on the concern surrounding the sleep patterns of teens, noting that lack of sleep can lead to a slew of health problems.

While the average adult brain releases melatonin (which triggers the brain to wind down for the night) around 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m., the teenage brain doesn’t release melatonin until around 12 a.m. or 1 a.m., he said.

“So we know that early school start times are bad for teens. They’re not really tired until 1 a.m. but often have to be up at 6:30 to get to school. And arriving at school with this lingering melatonin in their brains makes it harder to stay awake, pay attention, etc.”

Gini-Newman will also highlight the emotional centre of the brain, the role it plays in decision-making, the impact of stressors like bullying, and the differences between male and female teen brains.

“We are better understanding the role emotions play in learning in terms of nurturing and deeper understanding,” he said, noting research suggests parents shouldn’t try to be a teen’s best friend.

“As much as we want good relationships, our job is to keep them safe and healthy through adolescence. And sometimes that means we have to make the hard decisions because they may be making an emotional reaction,” he said.

“I think the art of parenting is finding that balance between allowing them some independence but still being there to guide and support them.

“I once heard a woman say to her daughter, ‘I love you enough to let you hate me.’”

 

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Understanding the Teenage Brain

WHERE: Lambton College Residence and Event Centre

WHEN: November 28, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. (two separate sessions)

DETAILS: Event is free but seating is limited; Pre-registration required. Visit www.lambtonhealth.on.ca or http://bit.do/TeenageBrain