Challenges – Gifts?

The sticky kitchen floor needs to be mopped. Not a big deal–except this is my way of celebrating 6 weeks since my knee surgery. Nothing is easy anymore. Cleaning most anything while using a walker is a challenge, but it needs to be done. Learning new ways to do daily tasks frustrates me, but it also puts my brain through its challenges, making it stronger and creating new connections.

The brain loves novelty, doing ordinary things in new ways. That’s exactly the story of my life now that I’ve returned home after a month at the rehab center. No need for creativity to generate new brain pathways; that used to mean coming up with a new route to the grocery store or brushing my teeth with my non-dominant hand. Now they ambush me many times every day. Positive focus tells me to be grateful for the challenges. They will indeed help me to learn and keep my brain active–this time with physical rather than mental tasks.  In a couple of weeks, my surgeon will lift the weight restrictions and I’ll be able to go back to my habitual approaches–or not. I’ve discovered I actually enjoy setting up my “office” in a bookcase next to my recliner rather than climbing the stairs to my working desk. Maybe that’s how progress happens.

WOGO Interview – Max Your Mind with Mark Halvorsen

shutterstock_7455493 suspended brainThanks to Mark Halvorsen of WOGO/WWIB FM for interviewing me on his June 22 radio show to let his listeners know about Max Your Mind.  We whizzed through lots of material in what seemed like a very short time. God go with him and his family on their mission visit to Liberia. Chippewa Valley Local Authors appreciates his support as we celebrate our first anniversary.

http://podcast.wwib.com/2016/06/6-22-16-max-your-mind-sandra-stanton.html

Teen Brains: What’s Going On Up There?

College girls napping

Parenting teens tests most parents’ determination to give them what they need—not just what they want. We hope to provide practical tips to help you along the way in this most important—but very challenging responsibility. Hang in there!

Our Teens Need:

  • Respectful communication with parents and with other adults
  • Clear and consistent boundaries, consequences and follow through
  • Practice dealing with the consequences of their own choices
  • Opportunities to explore and create their unique identity
  • Enough rest to allow their brains to mature
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Peer friendships
  • Physical activity, preferably in nature
  • To know we love them and believe in them

The View from Here

How do we keep them in clothes? In food? They are growing so fast! The dramatic physical changes we see are only a sign of huge reconstruction going on inside. Think of the tree we see on a hill. It wouldn’t be able to stand tall without a complex and deep network of roots that are underground, out of sight. The same holds true for the brain.

The changes in the teen brain show up as behavior and relationship changes. The kind, respectful child we love may vanish, only to be replaced by someone we struggle to understand. “What have we done? How can this be?”  Not to worry, it’s only a reflection of normal teen development. Stay the course, keep the door open for communication, let them know they are loved, maintain expectations, boundaries, consequences, and hang on for the ride. It will get better—eventually.

Brain Basics

We all come with 100 billion brain cells as original equipment. Each one has up to 10,000 connections, but less than 25% of them are connected at birth. The child’s interpretation of experiences and interaction with parents and caregivers determine which cells actually connect with others.

Brain as an Ice Cream Cone?

David J. Linden, PhD, John Hopkins University neuroscientist compares the three parts of the brain and their assignments to an ice cream cone. (Readers’ Digest article by Kimberly Hiss “The Beautiful Life of Your Brain” Sept 2014, pp 78-79)

  1. At the top of the spine, we find the “bottom scoop” or brainstem. That part of the brain takes care of survival tasks like circulation, breathing, heartbeat, etc.
  2. The “middle scoop” is the midbrain which processes emotions and creates memory. The “amygdala” issues an “all system’s alert” shifting gears from thinking to feeling when it senses danger is near.
  3. The “top scoop” is the cortex. When we think of the brain, we visualize this folded surface. Thinking and specific jobs are assigned to particular places in the cortex. The front part of the cortex, or prefrontal cortex (PFC) provides self-control and what some call “executive function.”

The PFC is the last part of the brain to be fully developed, making parents wonder “What were they thinking?!” Truth is, most teens are working with only part of the equipment they need to carefully consider choices and consequences. They need boundaries, consequences, and communication with parents and other adults to head off their sometimes impulsive behavior.  Kids also need to find their own identity at the same time. No wonder why teens and parents experience conflict.

Building Blocks

Let’s look at the brain as an electrical system with several parts processing information from our senses.

  • First, our eyes, ears, skin, muscles, tongue and nose bring messages from our world into brain cell branches or dendrites.
  • They then pass the electrical message on to the neuron the central part of the Brain Cell.
  • A cable or axon then carries the information on to the next cell. The axon is protected like an electrical cord with a blanket of fat called myelin, made from omega 3 fats from foods we eat. Myelin makes the message “zip” onto the next brain cell much faster than it would without the protective coating. Myelination or wrapping it with this fat layer is the last stage of development. Until that is finished, teen’s thinking often appears—and is—“scattered”. Researchers have determined this process is incomplete until mid-twenties or later. That should clear up some things.
  • Neurotransmitters enter the gap or synapse between dendrites, acting on the impulse before it reaches its next destination. Some speed the message along, while others slow it down.

What’s Going on up There?

Living with a teen can feel a bit like revisiting their “terrible twos”—only with a bigger world and higher stakes. That’s because some of the processes are the same. The brain goes through phases of blossoming—creating huge numbers of new dendrites—and pruning clearing away the connections that haven’t been strengthened through repeated use.  The use-it-or-lose-it principal is at work. The unused and unsaved connections are removed to make room for more complex structures. It’s a good thing!

Vulnerable Brains

Huge changes going on in a teen’s brain make them particularly vulnerable to hazards. Fortunately, athletic organizations have responded to research by ramping up screening and precautions to protect players from concussions.  Alcohol, tobacco and drugs also present significant threats to kids’ developing brains. Research shows that damage to the brain can last a lifetime.

Online resources provide more information:

http://www.drugfree.org/why-do-teens-act-this-way/

http://www.eauclairewi.gov/departments/health-department/alcohol-tobacco-and-other-drug-use/start-talking

David Walsh, psychologist and bestselling author of “Why Do They Act That Way?” helps parents struggling with their teens. He told one dad, “When you feel like taking the wind out of his sails, it is a better idea to take your sails out of his wind.”  (Why Do They Act That Way? p 47, Free Press – 2004)

Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart! Hang in there—this too shall pass. Just love them.

This is an adaptation of an article written by Sandra Stanton for the Chippewa Falls Teen Brain Summit,  first published in the Chippewa Herald, June 9, 2015