Now that your child is a teen do you really need to prepare your home environment to accommodate them? Well, yes. Adolescence is not mini-adulthood. The adolescent brain is busy! The pre-frontal cortex (where decisions are made) is still developing, the amygdala (emotion central) is swollen and the brain, overloaded with new neurons, is working overtime: wiring, rewiring, pruning and blooming. All of this while the body is undergoing enormous physical changes.Your thirteen year old might still look like a child or might be mistaken for an adult, but neither is accurate. Adolescence is a stage unto itself.
Just like other developmental stages, you can design your home to help your child achieve independence and confidence. The brain is very open to learning new things at this time of development. Have your child help with DIY projects, encourage them to pick up an instrument, or engage in an active hobby. This is a great time to turn some of the cooking over to your teen, too. For most teens the kitchen is a familiar locale and a good place to start small and grow quickly. Your child has likely been helping you in the kitchen for years, but now you can step away from the oven (and completely out of the room), allowing your adolescent the freedom to be responsible for an entire meal. Just like the rest of us, the adolescent brain isn’t wired for multitasking, so having a simple recipe to follow is important. Let your budding chef know that focusing on the instructions is essential, as is focusing on kitchen safety. Just like at any age confidence is built on successes and perseverance. You’re trusting them with sharp objects and big appliances, your confidence in them helps them internalize their successes.
Maria Montessori believed that the hand was an instrument of the mind. Though in many traditional settings there is a push for adolescents to move away from any hands on materials (focusing most of their time on pencil, paper and keyboard), in Montessori we know that the adolescent must work with their hands. At this stage when the brain is overloaded with new neurons, all begging to be strengthened, your child has to touch things, create things, and get a little messy. Allow them to do this. And if they don’t initiate you might need to give them a push. There is so much going on for your adolescent and this is overwhelming. Because their minds are so busy they are interested in everything one minute and nothing the next. So yes, sometimes it will take a nudge from you to get them going.
Perhaps the most important way you can prepare your home for your adolescent is to carve out times and places for open dialogue much like they do in the Middle School classroom. Having a trusted adult is essential. Your adolescent will be up and down, sure and confused, happy, sad, angry, confident and insecure and they need to know that there is someone who is grounded supporting them. Dinner table conversations are wonderful, but so are conversations while weeding the garden, making a salad, working on an old car or walking your neighborhood. The best conversations often happen when you are side by side rather than looking at each other across a table. You never know when your teen will open up to you, but if you provide opportunities to be together, it will happen.
So, no, you don’t need to make big changes your physical environment like you did when your child was a toddler, but you can intentionally create a teen friendly home. Spend time with your child, encourage them to try new things, allow them freedom and independence, and be clear with them that open dialogue is a must. Understanding what is happening in their brains allows both you and your teen to navigate this exciting time together.
There is a lot of information about the adolescent brain. Here’s a quick article to launch you on this fun journey!