Ch-ch-ch-changes in the Adolescent Brain

Why They Are Often Not in Control of Their Actions


The old advert, “make sure you grab control of yourself, before you grab hold of your child,” was never more apt then when trying to handle children growing into and becoming adolescent young adults. What seems a natural reaction to a child not keeping their room clean, causes Mom to simmer all day and unload on her child when he/she returns home. Tensions rise, everyone is furious, voices raise, and doors slam in anger.


“In a normal situation, everyone cools down, thinks it through and the child often comes to the parent and says, “I don’t know what happened.”

What happened is adolescence hits some children like a freight train, particularly many of those who are adopted or fostered. The adolescent is already asking him/herself, who am I? Testosterone and oestrogen start surging through their bodies. Those in a new family situation start to question: why don’t I look like my family? There are so many emotions boiling beneath the surface and these children feel huge amounts of victim anger.


Life is not fair! Why can’t I live with my birth family? Why do I have to live with these foster carers or my adoptive families? Why do I look so different from these people? And the littlest of word, ‘No’ can trigger a deep sense of betrayal and volcanic anger.

And… it does not start with adolescence. It begins much earlier and grows. Add in their unfinished brain, new hormones, past trauma, and you have the prescription for disaster. Many times it escalates into a serious situation requiring professional intervention because the adolescent is no longer physically a child. It can shift to unpredictable reactions where someone can become physically hurt. It is all very toxic to the family, especially when the parents and siblings become the victim.


We often see ‘baby rage’ in adolescents. An abused or neglected baby cries, becomes furious and red in the face. Very often these children were silenced by their abusers which causes one of two reactions later... a shutdown series of inhibitions/lack of expression or a volcanic explosion of rage.


Two, their background can create a ‘perpetrator interject’ where the child may have lived with violent parents hitting and hurting each other. This leads them to instinctively hide and withdraw or… they lash out and become the perpetrator. Why? Because the experience showed them this abuser smiled and walk away, seemingly victorious and deep down they think, that no way they will ever become the victim.


To avoid this? We need to examine what makes a parent passive when they should lead. The adopted parent justifies themselves by saying, “but he/she’s my adopted child whose been through so much. I just want to make them feel happy.”


The problem is your child won’t be a child forever. They are growing up and society will expect him/her to behave in certain ways. So, you must put boundaries in place, not at age 13 or 14, but as early as age 1 when you ask them to pick up their dirty clothes and put them in the wash hamper. You need to reinforce expectations and always remember the history. Adoption is not the issue, what happened before in their life is.


Children of all ages and backgrounds test their parents’ boundaries. You need to set them early and consistently. Otherwise they can quickly escalate and, sometimes, head dangerously out of control.


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