On Parenting and the Defiant Teenager Brain: What in the World Is Going On?

So some of you may be wondering just why it is that Bunnies don’t have many problems with defiant teenagers hopping around being rebellious and causing mayhem all through the meadows. And this is a very good question indeed. If, per chance, you have read any of our previous blog posts, you will already know that we Bunnies do work quite diligently at cultivating the skills and values necessary to maintain the culture of kindness that we are so well known for today.

Bunny Scout IllustrationNow, there are several reasons as to why Bunnies don’t end up with teenage problems and it may relieve you to know that in evolutionary terms, we didn’t really have much of a need for volatile teenagers in the first place. Humans, on the other hand, well, that’s a bit of a different story. And so we have gathered a bit of analysis together in hopes of helping you out with this baffling little problem of yours.

Perhaps we should take a moment to go with First Things First here at the outset though, and suggest that you take a deep breath and acknowledge that you are all just doing the best you can with what you’ve got because we Bunnies are quite certain that this is, in fact, the case.

Now, we already know that adolescence is a vulnerable time for Humans. And we also know that Human parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. However, we Bunnies do think that it might be helpful for all involved if you knew a little bit more about why adolescence is such a difficult time. For, understanding why things may be happening often helps one navigate the situation a little more gently, compassionately and effectively. 

So, What in the World Is Going On

On the surface, it would appear that a Human adolescent is intentionally defiant at every turn. They demand independence. They want to live their lives their own way. They can be unpredictable, erratic and, in some cases, even quite violent. They want to be able to express themselves freely through music, fashion and hair styles. And they want their parents to leave the alone.

Now, you parents, as former teenagers yourself, are inevitably baffled and distraught by this behavior. “What happened to my sweet little child?” you wonder. Well, let’s pause the scene here for a minute and take a look at a few things.

First, although you do have some years of experience on the little buggers, it would be helpful if parents could reach way down deep inside and dig up a bit of recall on your own teenage years. If you sit with it a moment, and quiet your immediate unrest, we feel fairly certain that it will not be too difficult for you to remember the rawness of that time.

If you have been practicing that old Bunny principle of Empathy, you may have already done this. If not, then, now is the time. As we all know that an ounce of Empathy, or the vicarious experience of the distress (or experience) of another, is critical when attempting communication.

Secondly, we’d like to take a moment to discuss just what it is that is going on in those teenage brains that could possibly account for this apparent insanity!

Bunny Scouts

The Human [Defiant] Teenage Brain

You see, the Human brain grows over time, beginning before birth and continuing up through early adulthood. Simpler connections, and basic skills develop first at the base of the skull. Development then proceeds forward during childhood with the frontal regions of the brain being the last to develop. The more complex structures are not fully developed until early adulthood. 

Now, between the ages of about 12-25, the architecture of the Human brain goes through a colossal restructuring as a result of the massive influx of hormonal activity that takes place with the onset of puberty.
Specifically, it is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain closer to the front of the skull, that is in the process of developing in the teenage brain. And it is this prefrontal cortex which is involved in higher cognitive processes, emotional intelligence, risk aversion, sound decision making and surviving danger.

Essentially, the prefrontal cortex is the part of the Human brain that acts as a voice of reason. It is the rational brain that, once fully developed, will be in constant dialogue with the emotional or feeling brain, the limbic system, which houses the autonomic nervous system and instinctual behaviors developed earlier.

bunny talking on cell phoneBut your teen is not there yet! In fact, if you are paying attention you might realize that these things like emotional intelligence and risk aversion sound suspiciously like the things your teen may be struggling with. As a general rule, one can use impulsiveness as the measure of the development of the prefrontal cortex.

This may be a surprise to a number of you as, in many societies, an individual of age 18 is considered an adult and by default, capable of the responsibilities of adulthood. A generally readable article on brain development can be found here if your are looking for more information on this.

Now, we can add to this puzzle that Human brain development is a dynamic process which incorporates both genetics and experience. This is to say, experience is critical in brain development. And this is the reason we continue to write these posts in hopes of providing fodder for your parenting decisions. Not that we have the answers. We are Bunnies.

However, as Bunnies, we do maintain that unconditional love and essential core values such as kindness, empathy and respect are skills that need to be taught and practiced throughout one’s life in hopes of providing for the best possible outcome.

Alternatively, the absence of responsive, appropriate, empathetic caregiving can lead to developmental problems within the process and, thus, make it more difficult for an individual to reach their full potential.

In other words, emotional wellbeing and proficient social skills along with basic needs such as food and shelter, are all integral to your child’s developing cognitive abilities and are critical for success throughout life. And it saddens Bunnies a great deal to know that so few Humans are actually raised in optimal circumstances.

Carrots Illustration

The PreHistoric Mind

Now, what we as Bunnies feel is most often overlooked, other than the fact that your teenager’s brain looks like a massive, spaghetti junction interstate construction site that would be confusing to anyBunny, is that, from a Bunny’s point of view, Humans still have prehistoric minds. This is to say that 98.5-99% of your evolutionary existence as a species occurred in prehistoric times, as hunter gatherers in egalitarian groups. We Bunnies think of this as akin to the idea of muscle memory, with instincts and processes resonating back to the minds of your ancestors.

It is also helpful to know that these teenage behavioral traits such as novelty seeking, risk taking and the need to socialize with peers, occur across cultures and throughout history. It is not unique to your teenager.

This little article sums up the timeline of Human evolution for you quite nicely if you are interested. In essence, Human lineage began with the split form the chimps and gorillas 6-7 million years ago with the first known Human ancestor in your genius, Homo, around 2.5 million years ago and Homo Sapiens (you) 200,000 years ago, with the advent of agriculture and Human settlements appearing merely 12,000 years ago.

Bunny RunningSo, to review, Humans evolved as a species to be successful in relatively small, stable groups of interrelated people of various ages with most Humans living out their entire lives within these hunter gatherer groups. And for the most part, an individual’s status or position within that group was determined during adolescence.

Your strength as a warrior or your speed and endurance as hunter, your desirability as a mate, your degree of honor, popularity, integrity, or respect, your intellectual acuity regarding medicinal properties, all of this was established during adolescence. In other words, your status within the group was determined by how you compared to and interacted with the others within your age group, your peers. As a result, teens are constantly looking for social feedback regarding these very attributes.

Thus, durning adolescence, teens develop tight, loyal bonds with their peers with any competing cliques resulting in major upset. If this sounds a lot like peer groups and pressure, it is. However, in the hunter gatherer setting, to be ostracized from the group meant certain death. As a result, teenagers are highly susceptible to distress when rejected or excluded by their peers.

Now if you consider the specificity of evolution, you will also realize that there was a vital need for strong young males with under developed prefrontal cortexes, specifically regarding risk aversion, irrational decision making and the tendency to be influenced by peer pressure. For, the one willing to take the risk in the face of his peers is the one that fed the group or saved the group from attack, etc.

three bunnies playing in the gardenIt is not that teenagers can’t evaluate the risks. They generally understand the risk full well. In fact, in many experiments, teenagers take risk at same rate as adults except when peers are present. The difference is that they value the reward of the peer’s esteem more heavily than adults and, thus, they do it anyway.

And this precise behavior so undesirable today was, in fact, of extraordinary value to you, arguably for 6-7 million years, if not 200,000 years ago, when you needed to defend the group from a predator, or even when you needed someone to dig down into a burrow to retrieve a few porcupines for dinner. It’s dark and there may be spiders and snakes and other things you would prefer to not encounter. But you needed someone who would do it anyway.

Thus, you see that the teenage brain’s risk taking and intense susceptibility to peer influence is, in fact, as key to the survival of your species as opposable thumbs. Arguably, most of you would need a bit of peer pressure to face off with a python without the benefit of a shot gun, as well. And, hopefully this gives you a bit of insight into why teens defy your insistence on rational, safe behavior and are even more likely to engage in risk when their peers are present.

A Bunny would also maintain that this is not behavior you should be working too terribly hard to eradicate as we are not quite sure what the future holds. You may find yourselves reliant on this adolescent behavior for survival sooner than you would think. For, your modern age is but one breath in the lifetime of the universe.

However, in modern times, you find this adolescent behavior incredibly annoying as it no longer serves a purpose. And therefore, the best a Bunny can do is help you understand the why of it and make a few suggestions on ways to manage it. It is up to you to find ways to channel the energy in a productive and useful way. It will be difficult though because so many of you resist having these things structured by a public entity. But, we will go ahead and let you know that any solution is going to require the expenditure of energy or exercise.

The most current research suggests that teens spending more time on electronic devices and social media at home instead of going out and socializing with friends in real life may be engaging in less risk taking behaviors and experimenting less with sexual activity, drugs and alcohol; however, they also appear to be less prepared for and capable of dealing with the challenges of adulthood.

This is newer analysis, but it does suggest again that there are significant benefits behind the needs for teenagers to spend time interacting with one another, and, engaging in (perhaps guided or supervised) risk taking behavior.

Bunny Scouts

What You Will Notice

This changing brain leads to the changing identity and all this changing is happening very rapidly. Thus, the teen is searching to define the emergent self, who they are and what they stand for. However, because their ancestral/biological energy is contrary to what current societal expectations of them are, it can become a very confusing and frustrating time.

parenting aggressive behaviorModern Humans want their teenagers, like their children, to sit still in desks and listen, to comply with authority and delay dominant urges and instincts. Though teens don’t quite really yet know who they are or even who they want to be, the need to break away is persistent and so they just start trying ideas on and testing out behaviors.

They begin to struggle for independence and control. They begin questioning why things are they way they are. This may revolve around the parents but also may include other authority figures and social constructs. Because they are beginning to develop the ability to think abstractly, the modern teen will begin to become interested in subjects like philosophy, politics and social justice. They also begin to be able to think longer term may being to set goals.

As we discussed, peer influence and acceptance becomes critical as do budding romantic and or sexual relationships. They may fall in love and are capable of long-term commitment in relationships. Simultaneously, the teenager is going through the physical, social, and emotional changes that come with the preparation for the transition into adulthood. These are stressful impulses indeed.

The parent, on the other paw, intuitively knows that the teen is not at all ready to exist independently in the world. Hopefully, the parent is also aware that what teenagers do and what they are exposed to has a huge impact on where they will end up later in life as current experiences can drastically impact the reconstruction process going on in that brain of theirs.

Keep in mind that because of this pleasure seeking drive, teenagers can quickly become addicts.  Drugs and alcohol make extremely messy work of the developing brain with some areas developing properly and other areas not developing at all.

Carrots Illustration

What To Do

Now, all this road work and restructuring of the teenage brain involves a process called myelination to connect all those highways and superhighways. And the best fuel to power this construction is Fish Oil. This means healthy fats! Fish is an excellent source of Omega Fatty Acids. But Healthy Fats can also be found sources like Avocado, Almonds and Flax Seed.

Bunny Scout Playing the drumsThe other key ingredient for the teen brain is pleasurable new experiences. This is why teens so often turn to music. It provides easily accessible, new and entertaining pleasurable experiences. But the search for novelty does not stop there and the risk taking, thrill seeking behavior peaks between 15 and 25.

Keep in mind that teens like other teens because they already know their family. Peers socialization provides both novelty and preparation for the future as their peers are who their future will include. This is significant because the more socially savvy Bunny gets the best nesting area, and access to more resources like food and water. As the parent, your job is to encourage peer interaction. However, it is also your job to know who their friends are as well as who their friends’ parents are.

It is the parents’ job to allow and even encourage the safe exploration of novel experiences. Don’t criticize or tease during this phase. Teenagers are already chock full of conflict, angst, and embarrassment,. Encourage new hobbies, sports, classes. What you are looking for is novelty without unfettered freedom! They do need guidance. They need supervision and safe activities and situations in which to engage in sensation seeking behaviors.

Generally speaking, adolescents would prefer to learn from their peers. However, they are capable of  recognizing that a parent can offer a certain degree of wisdom. The most digestible knowledge a parent can share with a teen is knowledge shared not from a position of authority but from the parent’s own struggles trying to figure things out.

Bunny Scouts

The Take Away

  • Stay engaged and guide your teen with a gentle but firm hand, allowing for appropriate degrees of independence.
  • Listen while letting go of control and the desire to impose your point of view. AnyBunny is going to be more likely to hear you out if they feel like they are being heard and understood as well.
  • Stay away from black and white thinking and open space for them to explore their own ideas.
  • Provide space for them to express themselves and try different things, fashions, styles, activities without judgement or comments from the peanut gallery.
  • Be Honest and Empathetic. There are going to be failures and disappointments, however, learning to admit defeat with as little shame as possible and then readjusting builds resilience and fortitude.
  • Be gentle. Validating their feelings will make them more willing to share.
  • Please Don’t Tease.
  • Look deep into their unique self and help them discover who they are, their strengths and talents. EveryBunny has a unique contribution to make to the world.
  • Encourage them to look into their unique self as well and discover their skills and interests. What attracts them, what comes most easily to them, those are the things that should lead them.
  • It doesn’t matter how you explain it. Your teen will engage in risk taking behavior. Accept it.
  • Teenagers are exquisitely sensitive and highly adaptable, to a certain extent, you must trust them to find their way.
  • Remember that you see what you focus on. Try to focus on their strengths.
  • Find ways to spend time together.
  • Discuss ways of managing different types of stresses.
  • Encourage them to talk to a trusted adult, preferable over the age of 25, about problems and concerns, especially if they do not want to discuss things with you.
  • They grow while they sleep so let them sleep. So let them sleep!
  • Recognize that your desire to protect your teen often feels stifling and annoying.
  • Remember, this is a developmental phase; it won’t last forever.
  • For the teen: enjoy the shelter provided, it won’t last forever for you either.
  • For the teen: acknowledge that your parents are wise and trying to protect.
  • Continue to practice Bunny principles such as Doing the Next Right Thing, practicing Kindness, Emapthy and Respect, and everything will eventually work out in the end.

Carrots Illustration

We know it is a lot. But it is important to acknowledge that as long as each generation does just a little bit better job than the previous, that is all that can be asked. And that is not a small thing. That is better. And better is a really big deal, for, it is progress, and that is how evolution works.

If you enjoyed this post, please share with your family and friends! And don’t forget to check out the Daily Hoppiness section of our blog where Scout shares Motivational Happiness Quotes for both children and adults!

Title The Bunny in the Bush

Bunny Scout 278432 has an Advanced Degree in Bunny Behavioral Development with a specialty in Adolescence and the Brain. She is a certified Bunny Family Therapist. She is a scout for Piper in Nebraska and Blogs for BunnyToday.com
The Bunny in the Bush is an Easter Story for Children that combines the origins of the Easter Bunny with a fun new Family Tradition that teaches values and encourages independent and creative thinking as you prepare to celebrate the Easter season!

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