How is it possible to miss your child so much when they live in the same house? And where’s your sweet, friendly, compliant child who liked to spend time together and share their thoughts and feelings?

It’s hard not to take it personally.

Feelings of rejection are normal and giving yourself space to grieve the person you knew and relationship you had is important, so your pain doesn’t become retaliation. Your teen’s brain is fundamentally changing so there’s no going back.

They’re not trying to be difficult; they’re going through something difficult.

Turns out going through a brain renovation is really scary and many teens think they’re broken or going crazy. No one tells them this is coming so their experience of the process isn’t sunshine and rainbows; more like being trapped, lost and alone in a high-density neighborhood with no map, at night.

The adolescent brain experiences the second and final growth phase in our lifetime creating more complex neuropathways for critical analysis, problem solving, independent decision making, risk analysis and a more developed identity with deeper self-reflection.

Unfortunately, this process, called pruning and myelination, removes simple, happy parts of their brains you loved, and they identified with to build the complexity necessary for adulthood. If you haven’t watched Disney’s ‘Inside Out’, I highly recommend it as a fantastic illustration of this.

I’m walking on eggshells!

The teen brain is naturally emotionally raw and reactive, and they perceive many things as a threat (physical or emotional) creating defensive, blaming and angry outbursts. Think of it like a turtle with a half-formed shell; you’d be scared too!

Parenting teens takes a giant dose of patience as you model emotional regulation, and they struggle to grasp it (emotional regulation and impulse control don’t come back online for a few years). Getting their raw feed feels frustrating when you’re going out of your way to be kind and respectful. Just like you’re parenting without a manual, they’re driving a new brain with no training and it’s messy and imperfect.

“Do you love me?”

The cry in your teen’s heart is to know you love and accept them in their mess and missteps, especially as their identity solidifies and they don’t know who they are from moment to moment. Feeling emotionally safe is critical to staying connected and avoiding the pitfalls of toxic relationships, peer pressure and substance use.

When you see your teen as getting a more complex control panel without notice or instructions, it’s easier to look past what they’re doing and see who they’re becoming because you can’t discipline this change out of them.

Join the conversation about this and other topics on parenting teens in my FREE, safe and supportive online community on Facebook. Every day caring and courageous parents just like you post relatable challenges and get encouragement and perspective, so you don’t feel so alone. Plus, I throw in lots of resources providing proven, simple tools to help you navigate these uncharted waters.

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