Help! Theres a Teen in My House: Six Secrets to Understanding Your Teen

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You instantly ponder questions like: Why would she keep this from me? Doesn't she trust me? Suddenly parents begin to question the relationship with their teen and the very existence of the trust they once shared. Let me ease the pain by assuring you that it's not only normal, but also an important part of human nature to keep secrets from those we care about.

Secret keeping develops in early childhood when children learn to differentiate secrets according to their benefits and consequences. Keeping certain secrets from parents can be adventitious while others can be more damaging.

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Since children do not begin to individuate from their parents during the early stages of human development, they are more likely to disclose their secrets to trusted family members. However, by early adolescence , teens are acutely aware that secrecy allows them to create their own identity which often requires keeping specific information from their parents.

Thus, the concept of secrecy among parents and adolescents can be controversial depending on the content of the secret, the individual or group keeping the secret, and the underlying motivation for absolute secrecy. Every generation of teens has it's trials and tribulations, but there is little doubt that today's teenagers face more challenges and obstacles than ever before. The onslaught of technology and the communicative veil of secrecy it provides gives rise to a myriad of secret-keeping behavior among adolescents.

Social networking sites provide the ultimate opportunity to "get around" telling mom or dad what's really going on by taking advantage of their parents lack of "expertise" in this area.

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Text speak and instant messaging give teens additional opportunities to express themselves in the privacy of the online world. For parents, keeping up with things like "who's friending who" on Facebook can provide grueling challenges. The media plays a key role in how teens decide when to keep secrets, when to disclose them, and who to disclose them to. The series has a large teen following because it addresses adolescent issues that are often hidden from prying parental eyes such as teen pregnancy , alcohol abuse , and dating dilemmas.

Despite the downside of media, it's important to note that depending on the program, TV and other mediums can be benefitial by helping them differentiate between which secrets are appropriate to keep from their parents and which ones are not. Family dynamics can also determine whether or not teens chose to disclose information to their parents, but so does coming of age.

One of the most important developmental tasks of adolescence requires a certain amount of privacy and risk. After all, teens are in the process of trying to form their own identity separate from their parents. Keeping secrets is often an important way teens learn to make their own decisions and face their own mistakes. Regardless of how close your relationship is with your teen or how adept you are at decoding texting messages, there are a few secrets teens keep that are "too big" for them to remain silent. These secrets can be life-threatening and can compromise your teens physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.

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The list below encompasses the most prevalent secrets I've heard recently from adolescents, but there are certainly more that may be included. Shame and guilt provide compelling motives for keeping difficult secrets such as sexual assault and eating disorders but they are not the only reasons teens remain silent. Despite their eye rolling, door slamming, and verbal insistence that they don't want their parents advice, teens actually do.

In many cases the biggest deterrent for teens is risking their parents disapproval or disappointment. This fear is common among teens and brought on by doubt, low self esteem , and the insecurity of youth. To be fair to teens, there are times when telling parents about difficult secrets can be especially devastating and harmful such as when family members are the abusers or when parents truly are not able to deal with important topics maturely and lovingly.

In these cases, the hope is that teens will be able to disclose their secret to someone outside their family like a teacher or friend they trust. In addition, studies have indicated that the motivation for secrecy among teens and their parents is not defined by family structure alone.

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Many believe that single or blended families breed more secret keeping among teens that result in a more dysfunctional family system. Yet a recent study by the University of Illinois found that intrafamily secrets among original, single-parent, and blended families are all remarkably similar in terms of teens habits of secret keeping and there is no significant increase in secrets from any of these family groupings. The bottom line seems to be that it's how parents approach and build trust with their teens that effects secret keeping rather than whether or not they have a traditional family structure.

It goes without saying that teens should report the 'big' issues to their parents or at least to someone they know and trust, but there are times when secrets can be a healthy option. Every teen needs their privacy and a space to call their own whether it's their bedroom or their Facebook "wall. The line parents must walk between invading their teens privacy and giving them the independence they crave is murky at best.

Many parents understandably struggle with giving up control over their children and are concerned that their teens are harboring dangerous, self-destructive secrets. As a general rule I tell parents that whenever possible, resist snooping through your teens dresser drawers or underneath her bed searching for "weapons of mass destruction" unless you have a strong, concrete reason to believe your teen is in trouble. It's helpful to think about it this way, there should be a direct link between the amount of consistency , responsibility and integrity teens demonstrate and the amount of privacy they're entitled to.

In short, your job is to learn how to effectively discriminate between big secrets and lesser offenses in accordance with the "maturity" level of your teen. For example, you don't need to read your teens texts to her girlfriend about what type of Victoria's Secret panties they want to buy at the mall, but you do need to know if she's sneaking laxatives or vomiting as a means to lose weight. If you suspect your teen's hiding a troubling secret or engaging in dangerous high risk behavior, parents have an obligation to protect their children from themselves, even if they don't want the protection.

The reality is that behind their oppositional masks and hidden secrets, most teens desperately want their parents to know whats going on in their lives and, when necessary, to help them through it. So sadly, the teenager can become more strongly addicted than the adult and have a much harder time shedding that addiction later.

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Frustrated parents and teachers often say, "What was he thinking? How could this really smart student do something so stupid? Understanding the biology behind what can be frustrating behavior might make us a little bit more patient. It's not that kids are trying to be incredibly annoying or reckless; they just haven't developed that decision-making capacity.

Yet they're independent enough to be able to get themselves into very precarious situations. They can drive, they can go places without an adult—so they're potentially at risk. This combination of excitable synapses and sluggish connection to their judgment centers in the frontal cortex, combined with hormones, makes adolescents highly emotional. The main area of our brain controlling emotion and sexual desire, the limbic system, is located behind the frontal lobe, so it builds strong connections earlier than the frontal lobe does.

Teenagers' threshold for emotions being activated is low. For example, studies have shown that if you show people a series of faces with different emotions on them, the brains of children and adults have a less hyped-up response than those of adolescents. And because teenagers also lack the emotion-regulating function of a strong frontal-lobe connection, emotions are potentially going to drive behavior more during the teen years than at any other time in life.

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An interesting thing for educators to know is that some mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, tend to blossom in the mid to late teens and early 20s. Surprisingly, in many cases we need to have a mature enough brain to "do" mental illness. These mood and affective disorders involve abnormal functioning of the frontal lobes, and if the frontal lobes aren't strongly hooked up to the rest of your brain yet, you're unlikely to manifest adultlike schizophrenia. You may have a gene or a trait that is going to cause one of these diseases, but as a child you appear completely normal.

As far as realizing that a kid is having trouble, that's becoming increasingly hard with social networking and the sort of social isolation that the Internet is creating in our lives. Even normal kids may appear to be quite socially isolated. Parents may not be interacting with their children as much as they did a couple of decades ago. The kids are coming home from school, closing the door, and staying in their room all night. Often, teachers spend more time with the kids than their parents do, so I think that teachers may need to be more vigilant these days for warning signs.

If there's an extreme loss or gain of weight, if the child appears disheveled or is suddenly sleeping a lot in school, if they appear to be abusing substances, these are all warning signs that you're dealing with something more than just a moody teenager who's just broken up with his or her girlfriend or boyfriend.

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  6. Anxiety and related disorders like anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and other social phobias are prevalent in this age window. In fact, recent reports have identified an epidemic of anxiety in teens. We should take note if we see a teenage withdraw from daily activities and become hesitant to engage in new experiences. Or they may go in the opposite direction and engage in more risk taking, such as drug experimentation, as a way to deny their fears. They may also experience physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, or hyperventilation. Our teenagers' lives are very intense these days. I blame the Internet partly for that. Social media can be a source of stress that can push young people over the edge. I also blame our hypercompetitive culture, in which parents are made to believe they're being neglectful if they don't have their child in several after-school activities and talent-building classes at the end of the day, not recognizing that kids need some down time.

    I think sleep deprivation plays a role. Sleep is crucial to mental health—especially for teens, whose brains are so active. Teenagers' biological clocks are typically geared to fall asleep late and get up late. For one thing, melatonin, a hormone needed to induce sleep, is released two hours later in average teenagers than in average adults, so they don't even get sleepy until around midnight. When we wake them up at a. That's not great for learning, and it's certainly not great for anxiety and stress.

    Studies have shown that stress during the teenage years can have long-lasting effects. Even though a teen may be adult-size, his or her brain is not adult yet. It's still building itself.