I am so excited to be reading Dan Siegel’s ‘Brainstorm: The Power & Purpose of the Teenage Brain’   Unfortunately I’m reading it very slowly in small bites and I have his No Drama Discipline Book (written with Tina Payne Bryson) waiting invitingly by my bedside too but hopefully this bite size reading means more concepts will sink in?   His earlier book ‘The Whole Brain Child’ (see earlier blog) with Tina Payne Bryson  is one of the best I’ve read for relating latest brain & mindfulness research to parenting!

So the first bit of this Brainstorm book is inspiring because it’s saying how amazing the teenage brain is, and that if focussed in a positive way it can be a really powerful, healthy and fantastic thing.  In fact he even states that a mid-life crisis is often the adult seeking a bit of what drives adolescence, an interesting concept and something that rings true for me at the moment!

Dan Siegel’s way of looking at the essence of a teenage brain (page 11 of the book) is:

ES Emotional Spark: intense emotional feelings which can serve to create meaning and vitality

SE Social Engagement: important connections with others that can be meaningful and mutually rewarding

N    Novelty: we seek and create new experiences that engage our senses fully and in new and challenging ways

CE Creative Exploration: the expanded consciousness that creates a gateway to seeing the world in a new way

So parenting a teenager doesn’t need to be a fearful or difficult thing, instead it is a matter of understanding the needs of a teenage brain and finding ways for our teenagers to experience meaningful social engagement in novel, emotionally intense and creative ways!

Thinking back to my adolescence, probably the most powerful experience was going on the Leeuwin Sail Training ship for 10 days where we were taught how to sail a three masted barquentine, 1850’s style rig with a crew of 40 people aged 14-25 with team building and leadership exercises thrown in!  This fulfilled all 4 of the criteria above and was a really intense and novel experience where I learnt more about myself and others than I ever had at school!     In a way perhaps this was an informal  rite of passage….    Dr Arne Rubinstein talks about this in his ‘Making of Men’ book

But Dan Siegel is saying this isn’t just important in a rite of passage but within the teenager’s life and as parents we can help to facilitate this in a positive, healthy and empowering way and NOT let teenagers seek out the novelty, exploration, intense emotions and friendships in a negative, disempowering or deconstructive way!

I can see this with my own teenagers when they put these criteria to positive use it is incredible what they can create, think about, plan and inspire…..and in my stage of life I can see that I would benefit from some increased novelty, creativity and intense emotions!!!!   What I also see in my work is parents who don’t yet allow for these brain changes, who still treat their teenagers as if they are under the age of 12, who don’t allow for this new sense of independence and new push for freedom and that seems to be where the BIG battles lie…..?

So I’ll keep reading and leave you with this initial insight….as always a good reminder for me and I’ll write more as it comes to light! 🙂

Brainstorm by Dan Siegel

SE Social Engagement

The Big Squeeze – between reality & our aspirations / expectations…

expectations 2

I’ve just read Pema Chodron’s book ‘Start Where You Are: How To Accept Yourself & Others’, a really comforting book to read!

Pema Chodron's book

One concept that I loved and applies to my life right now is the ‘Big Squeeze’ the idea that for all of us there is a conflict between our current reality and our aspirations & expectations.  On one hand we need to learn to accept where we are at right now, to live in the moment and be grateful for life as it is, on the other hand we still need to aspire to new and better ways of living our lives and often it is in a crisis that we most feel the Big Squeeze….we know where we need to go but our reality presents something different entirely!

To me this sums up my experience of parenting!!  From pregnancy there were hopes & aspirations re: birth, sleep, breastfeeding, and time and again reality was different!  Some things I needed to accept I could not change, (e.g my house would forever more be messy!) some things like my temper and explosive anger I had to aspire to change but I also had to cope with the roller coaster ride of reality; sometimes improving and sometimes regressing as I went along…

Then there were/are the aspirations and expectations for our own children…..that they would be well-behaved at their Granny’s house or at the shops, that they would eat all healthy food placed before them, that they would willingly keep the house tidy, that they would like school and like doing what I like doing…..all of these things present an opportunity for the Big Squeeze – my well-intentioned aspirations and the reality….and each time it is a difficult task to accept reality but also to choose what I will continue to aspire to, and what expectations were too high in the first place!!!

Then the next area of life that has the Big Squeeze is the area of work / life balance.  I’ve just started a new job and I had great aspirations to build and maintain a healthy, creative, mindful, loving life balance (FINALLY!)….and the reality was on top of the exhaustion of learning the ropes my whole family got sick and it is taking awhile to recover, everyone is in a grumpy mood, the reality couldn’t be further from my hopes…..I don’t want to give up hope for a work/life balance but I also need to accept where we are at right now, it just takes the pressure off and makes life a lot easier, one step at a time….  And if I never reach that glorious balance….then I need to find a way of relishing the chaos of family life as it happens, as it unfolds!

I could go on, another big squeeze is in our adult relationships, the reality is often far from how we would like them to be, with our parents, siblings, partner….. and somehow in those still moments when you can accept where the relationship is at right now, and still hold hope for where you would like the relationship to be there is a nice warm peaceful feeling…’s just hard to maintain in everyday life!!!

I’m sure I’ll think of many other Big Squeeze moments, can you think of one that you are experiencing in your life?

Pema Chodron quote 3

Social Approval…..can we be mindful of this need?

limbic system 2

As I have recently moved states, moved towns, changed jobs…I’ve been thinking a lot about something that Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap / Act Mindfully) talks about….

If you have studied mindfulness then you will probably be aware of the latest brain research that shows that our emotional brain (amygdala / limbic system) sends out alarm signals when we perceive a threat to our safety….and we immediately go into a healthy flight, fight or freeze response to stay safe.  Often however in our modern world that alarm can go into overdrive and be triggered by very small events (e.g. our child’s tantrums, can’t find our keys, being put on hold for 40 minutes etc) and we can be on high alert constantly, experiencing chronic stress, even though our safety is not threatened. Thankfully research now proves that the ancient art of mindfulness can help to calm down our alarm centre….by breathing immediately and over time.

What I found fascinating and have been thinking about a lot recently is Russ Harris’s comment that because we are essentially ‘herd’ animals we can also feel the same sense of alarm when it feels like our ability to belong to a group is threatened….that we biologically once had a need for social acceptance to survive and we still have this!

So this explains that a lot of the tension in my neck and shoulders and high adrenalin is not from a perceived threat to my safety but a fear about whether I will fit in or not, about what to say and how to say it, about whether I will be liked by enough people to feel accepted…..and comfortable in this new community.  Awareness of this hasn’t really helped to ease the tension, but it has helped to understand it and to know that when I’m feeling particularly nervous/worried I can breathe mindfully to calm down that alarm centre… and hopefully reduce the stress a bit?

This then gives me great insight into how it is for kids and teenagers, that it is a ‘survival drive’ to fit in at all costs….that is why they are so desperate to have the latest gadget, to be on social media….to them it feels like a need and they are so upset when us as parents don’t give them what they ‘need’.   I’m still not sure how to negotiate this one…..but if awareness is 50% of the journey then at least I’m on my way to knowing what to do!!!  Perhaps a starter point is to talk to our kids & teens as to what is really a need and what is a want in today’s world?