This year, National Teenager Day falls on the first day of Spring: Saturday, March 21st.
That means you get to celebrate two amazing things at once: the magic of Spring, and the joy of teenagers.
That’s right, we said the joy of teenagers.
We mean it. If there’s a teenager in your life, March 21st is the day to honor them, celebrate them, and tell them how much you appreciate their presence in your life.
Teenagers take a lot of heat for just being teens, but we want to remind everyone of two things:
- We were all teenagers once.
- Teenagers are awesome.
We believe that.
Not only because our entire mission as an organization is to help teens face and overcome difficult challenges, but because we know teenagers are awesome.
They’re not all eye-rolls, Instagram posts, stomping feet, and slamming doors.
Sure, we know. They do a lot of that.
But they’re also one hundred percent preoccupied with something else: growing into adults. Their bodies are changing. Their brains are changing. Everything in their lives is changing. In school, the subjects are more challenging. The classwork, homework, and tests get more difficult with every new chapter and study unit. Their friends are changing too: some of their old friends aren’t around, and you – as a parent – may wonder why some of their new friends are friends at all. At home, you expect more out of them on all levels. You expect them to help more around the house, you expect them to do their homework, be respectful, and maybe even find a job and start working.
Life pulls teenagers in a thousand directions at once.
We can take one day to recognize that.
Yes, we can and we should.
Adolescence Changes the Brain
One reason teenagers drive us up a wall is the way their brain develops.
The amygdala, which controls emotional reactions, develops ahead of the frontal cortex, which controls rational decision making. This out-of-sync development occurs throughout adolescence and causes most of the behavior adults find baffling.
For a quick and easy read on brain development in adolescents, read our blog post Understanding Adolescent Development.
We’ll summarize the key points of that article now.
The Teenage Brain: What Changes During Adolescence
- Ethical and Moral Decision Making. Early teens learn to think abstractly, develop their own moral code, test limits, and choose personal role models. Late teens develop a refined sense of ethics, learn personal responsibility, and may stop testing limits and boundaries – or at least slow down.
- Independence and Emotions. Early teens may be moody, be heavily influenced by peers, feel awkward in their bodies, and begin to demand more independence from their parents. Late teens will show signs of self-determination, real personal responsibility, and learn to show compromise and patience. Late teens often come back to their parents, in the figurative sense: there’s less conflict and door slamming.
- In the early teens, females develop physical and emotional sexuality more quickly than males. Early female and male teens may be shy, awkward, worry about their level of attractiveness, and jump in and out of crushes quickly. They may begin to experiment with sexual activity. Late teens will develop a sexual identity, experience intense feelings of love or passion, and develop the capacity for mature, loving relationships with their romantic interests.
Now you remember why you forgot what it’s like to be a teen.
Some parts were great, but some parts, well, some parts were just awful.
And we’re not the real-world pressures, like whether or not to go to college, what career to choose, or the fact that one day in the not-too-distant future, they’ll have to start paying rent on the first day of every month.
Celebrating National Teenager Day
This year, we want you to sit down and think about all the things your teenager deals with that you didn’t have to. We’ll list the top five:
That short list is enough to help you realize that although you went through the same developmental changes your teen is going through right now, the world is not the same as it was when you were a teenager. The way the five items on that list affect your teen is unique to your teen – and as a parent, it’s important for you to understand how your teen handles them.
Make your list, starting with ours if you need to, then set aside some time to have a heart-to-heart with them.
Tell them you remember what it was like to be a teenager, but affirm that you know life is different now, and that as much as you can relate, you are not them. We recommend asking them how – on top of all the physiological and neurodevelopmental changes – they think about and handle all five things on that list.
Then, all you have to do is listen.
You’ll learn, they’ll appreciate your undivided attention, and you’ll both be the better for it.
That’s how to celebrate National Teenage Day.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.