All teenagers are crazy

Puberty, so what? Understand problems and master them together

Mobil-e: Ms. Overbeck, what are typical problems that cause trouble in families during puberty - and how do they arise?

Maja Overbeck: Most parents of adolescents are certainly familiar with their child's sudden, often violent emotional outbursts - anger turns into a tantrum, and sadness turns into the end of the world. The intensity of adolescent reactions to events that we adults perceive to be mundane is probably primarily responsible for the bad reputation of puberty. From a scientific point of view, the children can't really help it: their brain is completely “rebuilt” during puberty - and the frontal lobe responsible for reason often fails. In such moments, the feelings are converted into actions impulsively, as is typical for teenagers, and are not questioned, softened and controlled via the "reasonable" frontal lobe, as is the case with adults, before the brain triggers a reaction. Added to this are the hormonal surges that intensify the intensity of the unfiltered feelings. It helped me a lot personally to deal with these exciting processes in more detail in order to be able to react to them more comprehensively.

Mobil-e: What else changes in the brain during puberty?

Maja Overbeck: For example, modern brain research has found that dopamine levels are too low in adolescent boys and girls. They are therefore really looking for dopamine kicks. The so-called happiness hormone is released when we experience something extraordinary or receive recognition. This “reward prospect” often trumps arguments in teenagers' decisions, no matter how reasonable they are. That is why young people want and have to have experiences, preferably extreme ones. In concrete terms, unfortunately, this often means skipping school, binge drinking and the like.

Mobil-e: Are there other typical problems in puberty that can be scientifically explained and thus better understood?

Maja Overbeck: I also find it helpful to be aware that adolescent boys and girls are looking for their new identity as adults. Teenagers can feel very clearly when they are ready to break away from their parents. But at first it also creates great uncertainty about reinventing yourself beyond the normality of childhood. Teenagers cope with this insecurity by clearly separating themselves from their parents on the one hand and seeking new bonds on the other. In this sense, identity creates everything that creates a sense of belonging - an array of outward appearances, but also computer games, club visits and so on. Against the background of the urgent question “Who do I want to be?”, Teenagers see their parents with new eyes. Much of what they do or expect is suddenly questioned, openly criticized and deliberately done differently. And that doesn't just apply to clothes and school, but also to eating habits, travel destinations, hobbies and political views. In addition, growing up also means experimenting with opinions, limits and values, waiting curiously for the reaction and possibly even looking forward to an explosion. Identity-related demarcation needs friction.

Mobil-e: How do parents manage to master all these challenges for family life without despair?

Maja Overbeck: I can only recommend that you do not resist the changes, but rather make a few points and try to accept them. On the one hand: the days of hierarchy are over. Prohibitions and unilaterally set limits only lead to power struggles during puberty that parents can no longer win. It is much better to be on an equal footing, to take teenagers' desire for self-responsibility seriously, to discuss them instead of announcing them, and to be surprised how much teenagers like to adhere to boundaries that they have set for themselves - for example when it comes to Going out or in terms of computer playtime. On the other hand, in my experience, we often have too high expectations of young people. We hope that our upbringing will pay off, that our children will become highly intelligent, beautiful, successful, super-social - perfect - adults. And we are desperately trying to control it. But: teenagers cannot be controlled. They no longer want us to interfere in their lives. Instead, it's better to develop genuine interest. That means: observe curiously and if asked - and only then - support. Above all, that means: trust. Trust makes young people strong, self-confident and responsible.

Mobil-e: Do you have a few more specific tips for parents whose children are just about to reach puberty?

Maja Overbeck: I have noticed that many parents are struggling against puberty. They complain to friends and acquaintances about the emotional outbursts of their own child, increase the pressure when it comes to school, resort to abstruse attempts at blackmail or immediate punishment and, above all, hope that it will be over soon. I see puberty as an opportunity, as an exciting path to a new relationship with my adult child. That's why I would give all parents the following personal tips:

  • It is better to fight your own expectations - not puberty.
  • Accept that something will change and have fun!
  • Remember the power of positive motivation: see the positive, praise, show respect. Young people already have enough self-doubt.
  • Admit mistakes, show weakness, be authentic. For teenagers, it is a valuable experience to see that their parents are not perfect either.
  • Keep talking. I don't mean asking questions or lecturing the child, but rather listening, observing, being there.
  • Consciously cherish the happy moments and remember them when the puberty hurricane rages again.