My Teen Has Been Abducted by Aliens!

“And so, rather than ignoring the ESSENCE of adolescence, what if we shaped our culture-in our homes, in our schools, and in our larger society-to cherish and cultivate these qualities?” -Dr. Daniel J. Siegel

Adolescent years often bring confusion…not just for adolescents themselves…but for their parents, who no longer recognize their children. It’s as if they’ve been abducted by aliens and replaced with total strangers. Dr. Dan Siegel, author of Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, explains this change in emotion and behaviors by using the acronym ESSENCE…

ES: Emotional life and Spark. Parents often witness a new intensity in their child’s emotions. What is happening is that the emotional part of the brain becomes more activated. Heightened emotions serve the purpose of preparing the adolescent to leave home. “Emotions evoke motion.” Adolescents may experience more irritability and discomfort but also experience a spark, giving them a new energy to explore new things.

SE: Social and Engagement. The adolescent brain also begins to seek to be attached to peers versus parents or adults, and to be part of a group. This is why they can become so emotional when they want to do activities with others, wear the same clothes as they do, etc. Engaging with their peers then becomes a focus, as feeling connected to their group brings security. This need is so strong that they will sometimes give up their values to fit in and belong.

NCE: Novelty and Creative Exploration. During this stage of development, baseline dopamine levels drop, which causes an adolescent to seek ways to raise those levels. When dopamine is released, the levels are higher. Teens may take more risks and be intrigued by novelty. This risk taking can lead to positive outcomes, but this is also why addiction to drugs and alcohol often begins in adolescent years. It’s why accidents are the leading cause of death for this age group. Adolescents develop a new ability for creativity and exploration as they are able to brainstorm new ideas and possibilities.

Dr. Siegel explains that understanding the ESSENCE of the adolescent brain is important so that parents and adults do not misinterpret this time of development to be the result of raging hormones or simply poor behavior. If you are having difficulty embracing the ESSENCE of your adolescent, a professional counselor can help begin the process. Contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Orlando today at 407-443-8862 to make an appointment.


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