Managing your own brain; an open letter to a teenager

When you are growing up you rely on your parents. As a newborn baby you would die without their care. As you grow up in a family, they provide for your basic needs of survival and your need for love and belonging. They will meet these needs in different ways according to the time, energy and financial resources they have to do so.

As you grow and develop, you have the need to feel competent and to make some of your own choices. When you are a toddler, you exercise these two needs strongly by experimenting and saying things like “no” and “I do it”. Your parents could probably share some ways you learned to meet these needs.

The interesting thing about life is that these needs become prominent again in adolescence. As a teenager you want to meet your need for power and freedom and choose some interesting behaviours to get what you want.

Your parents gradually let you make more and more decisions, as they are wise enough to know of your need to feel powerful and competent. They like you to have some practice at making choices in a safe way. They teach you by putting the boundaries in place about what is expected of you, how you need to behave, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in your family. They want to help you be successful, to get what you want, but not in a way that is unacceptable to another person in the family. No one person in the family is more important than the other. Your parents set the expectations as they have more experience than you. They have a strong picture of what they want the family to be like.

While you are little, your parents may appear to have control over you. It is important that they do have control over some of the things that you do, so they can keep you safe. Some children make choices that are destructive and show that they are not in control of their own brain. They may seem to need more ‘control’. Their choices are made without considering the family. The times when your parents may seem to control you is when you are not in control of your own brain. However, most happy children do as they are asked, because they want to be part of the family. This, however, does not stop them from trying really hard to get what they want.

The time your parents are waiting for; the time that they are really, really looking forward to; the time they have been guiding you towards, is when you take control of yourself. When you have learned to manage your own brain.

There are a number of ways you can manage your own brain.

  • Be careful what you think. What is your self-talk? Does it put others down? Does it criticize or blame others. Or does it encourage and support others.

  • Does your self-talk criticise and blame yourself? “I can’t do this.” “I am just stupid.” Or do you say to yourself that you are doing your best and you can do even better if you try.

  • Do you ask for help when you need it? It is a sign of strength not weakness

  • You are responsible for your own boredom. Manage your boredom and see things that are good about the situation.

  • Intelligence is not fixed. The human brain does develop and grow. You do make new brain cells and when you learn something new, the brain builds important connections

  • Be a problem solver not a problem maker. You have the choice. If you are seen as trustworthy by peers and teachers they will have confidence in you and trust you.

  • Maximise your effort and become an engaged learner. In class, challenge yourself to ask questions, take notes, even if you have not been asked to.

  • Be the solution in a classroom that is unsettled. You have a choice about how you respond when other students choosing to disrupting your learning and the learning of others.

  • Look after your body and your learning will improve. Eat lots of fresh foods and get enough sleep.

  • Exercise is important not only for a strong body but for a strong brain as well.

  • Set your dreams and goals and keep a journal to keep them alive.

  • Take small steps and celebrate achievements

When you get into an argument, whether it is with a parent, a teacher or a peer, it is because what you are wanting and what you are getting are two different things. If you are self managing, you will discuss it calmly and listen to the other person. If your parents and teachers perceive that you are maintaining self control, they are more likely to listen to your explanations. With more information, they may get a different, more favourable picture of you. However, there are times when you will accept that you can’t always have exactly what you want right now. That is managing your own brain

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Bette Blance

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 Change is but one choice away