Winnis Chiang Newsletter
  Personal Note From Winnis
  Feature Article - Teenage Brains: Why Do They Act Like That?
  Chinese Article - Transition Into College
  Free Training and Announcements - Self-Growth "Retreat" in Mandarin
August 12, 2014
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How has this summer been for you and your family, especially if you still have school-age children and teenagers in your home?

When our son was 10-years-old, James and I started a group for parents of preteens at our home. Twice a month, these families met in our house on Saturdays. While our 4th and 5th graders met with their youth counselors, parents met to study books and learn about parenting adolescents. One time, some of us went to Central California to reach Chinese; another time, my family joined a mission trip to reach Native Indians living in a reservation in Northern California. It helped to go through our son's pre-teen and teenage years with other parents!

If you are getting anxious and frustrated about how your teenagers are spending their time, the feature article, Teenage Brains: Why Do They Act Like That?, may help you to understand what might be going on inside.

Love, Joy and Peace to You!
Featured Article
Teenage Brains: Why Do They Act Like That?

If you're raising a teenager, no doubt your mantra is "What were you thinking?" Teens aren't known for making the best decisions. Or planning ahead. Or considering consequences. The list of patience-trying teen behaviors goes on and on... Here's the good news. They'll get over it. Here's the startling news. When they say, "But, Mom, it isn't my fault!" they may be partially right.

It's their brains.

In terms of human development, the brain undergoes two periods of enormous growth: from birth to about age four, and then again from about ages 10 to 14. Dr. Jay Giedd, of the National Institute of Mental Health, says of the adolescent and teen years, "In many ways, it's the most tumultuous time of brain development since coming out of the womb."

Whereas an infant's and toddler's brain is literally growing, a teenager's brain is remodeling itself, mostly by making and pruning connections. Instead of having a screw loose, as the old saying goes about someone who makes lousy decisions, teens—metaphorically speaking—have wires loose.

Up to this point, adolescents and teens have mostly been acting from their emotions (think limbic system) and pleasure-and-reward systems (think amygdala), which explains a lot about their behavior. Now, as they approach and go through puberty, they are preparing to become adults, and their brains know it. It's time for the brain to rewire itself, adding millions of new connections between those emotional-impulsive behavioral centers and the frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex.

This is the "executive" center of the brain, the area that is active when we rationally assess situations, consider the consequences of our and others' actions, set priorities—generally all those things we expect our teens to know how to do but that their brains are not yet fully wired to do. The prefrontal cortex is the last area of the brain to be developed, and the rewiring will go on well into their 20s.

At the same time that all these new connections are forming, your teen's brain is strengthening already existing connections and pruning less used ones. Whatever your teen is focusing on—sports, study, friendships or, conversely, zoning out in front of the TV or endlessly playing video games—gets reinforced by the brain. Those connective pathways that are not continually activated get pared away.

What's crucial about this rewiring is that it influences the skills teens take with them into adulthood. To some extent the old adage "use it or lose it" holds true.

To be fair, this spurt of brain remodeling is not an excuse for a teen's sometimes exasperating behavior. But it does provide parents insight into why teens think something is a great idea when you don't, why they can't seem to plan or organize when you think doing so is a no-brainer, why they act without considering consequences that you think are incredibly obvious. Simply put, at this point in their development, teen brains have problems separating what's important from what's not so important.

So how can you use this knowledge to your advantage?

Experts suggest strategies that include being clear in your instructions and guiding your teen with advice, but doing so with a soft touch. Your teen needs to "practice" being an adult without being punished for not yet being one. Cultivate the patience to allow them to make mistakes with their growing independence. They are learning to curb their impulses and mediate their emotions. They are learning reasoning, logic and analysis. Whether they show it or not, they will look to the adults in their lives—meaning you—as examples.

This is a trying time for many parents, for while teens might seem to be pushing you away as they "practice" being independent, they also will be secretly watching and learning from you since you are the most important adult in their life.

Dear Parents, Remember how frustrated you were as a teenager when your parents (or teachers) did not seem to understand, accept, or respect you as a human being? Next time, instead of yelling, "What you are thinking?" try to keep your cool and listen with respect and curiosity. Use your adult mind and heart to find some truth in what your teenage-child is saying, even if it seems he or she totally gets it wrong.

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Real Life Story
Transition Into College

Evangel Literature, Inc. has published my article, Transition Into College, in their July-August 2014 edition. I was writing about my emotional ups and downs sending our son to college in September just a few days after the 911 Terrorist Attack in New York. You may read it here.
Are you ready to invest time and energy in growing yourself intentionally so to positively affect your entire family for years to come?

If so, don't miss a "low-cost but high-impact" opportunity to learn with others "on the same boat" in a supportive environment sponsored by the ministry of Herald Family Rebuilding Center in Fremont.

On September 19th and 20th (Friday 7:00 to 9:30 pm and Saturday 9:00 am to 9:00 pm), I will be speaking at a Mandarin "Day Camp Style Retreat" in Fremont on the topics of understanding self, managing emotions, handling conflicts, and communicating love. After each of my presentations, there will be time for discussion led by trained facilitators to help you process and learn from one another in a small group. You may attend by yourself, with your spouse, and/or your friends. Please let me know if you are interested in getting more information.
Winnis Chiang Winnis Chiang is Founder of Parenting ABC, an organization dedicated to training and coaching Chinese Christian parents from around the world to make a difference in the lives of children, youth, and young adults. Her passion is fueled by the new life she received when she found Christ in 1989 after her marriage and parenting were no longer working. She specializes in helping Mandarin and Cantonese speaking parents to get along with, enjoy, and influence their American Born Chinese children.

Winnis is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in California. She holds a M.A. degree in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling from Western Seminary and a B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from U.C. Berkeley. Her former careers include being a software engineer, development department manager, stay-at-home mom, counselor of kids and teens at public schools, and children's minister.

Winnis and her husband (now a pastor) have been married since 1975 after only three months of dating. They enjoy their son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren!

Winnis Chiang, M.A., LMFT


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