Career talks with teens – setting the scene

Many parents will be familiar with the challenges of communicating effectively with teenagers. Here NATHAN WALLIS sheds light on how to set the scene for a constructive chat about the future.

When your children reach their teens, you’ll need to help them start to make decisions about careers and a plan for the future. To communicate well with teenagers, it helps to understand what’s happening in the adolescent brain.

Brain number four
Humans essentially have four brains. The fourth one is the frontal cortex, and that’s the part responsible for planning for the future, understanding consequences, goal setting and life decisions. 

The fourth brain is the bit we need for career planning, BUT for approximately three years the teenager’s frontal cortex largely shuts down to grow and make the changes needed to mature into an adult. Teenagers actually only have access to this fourth brain around ten per cent of the time. For the rest, teenagers operate in the limbic brain, the bit in charge of emotions, so they are focused on the way things feel. This is why it’s so important to choose the right time to talk.

Pick your moment
If you observe your teenager’s behaviours and emotional responses, you may notice that there are certain times when the frontal cortex is up and running and your child can better control emotions. This may be after they’ve eaten, or on the way home from school in the car. 

Nathan says, “Don’t dictate to your kids when it’s the right time to talk. Wait to find out when your teenager’s frontal cortex is online. Look for that right moment. Get to know your kid’s pattern and adjust your schedule to talk about outcomes and career planning at the right time.”

It’s a long haul
For a brain to fully mature, research now shows it takes a lot longer than we have traditionally thought. While adults are operating in the frontal cortex 90 per cent of the time, our teen’s brains are still maturing, and they are operating at an emotional level the majority of the time.

“The average age that someone completes adolescence and matures into adulthood is mid
to late twenties. Girls mature faster than boys, and so do first-born children. However, the overall average is around 27 years of age,” says Nathan Wallis.

Model listening
Research shows that teenagers will model their listening behaviours on what they see at home. If you can demonstrate that you are listening to your children and validating their views and emotions, they are much more likely to be receptive to what you have to say.

Nathan says, “Children will do what you do, not what you say. The best way to get your teenager to listen to you is to model that. If you want your teen to listen for one minute, I’d expect you to listen and validate their emotions for two minutes.”

Check your style
Parenting educator and author Barbara Coloroso identifies three styles of parenting:

  • Brick wall – Rigid and controlling, rules are absolute.
  • Jellyfish – Anything goes, no structure or guidelines.
  • Backbone – Parent sets guidelines but allows for creative, constructive, and responsible activity. Responsive and flexible.

Research shows that children of parents with a back-bone style are most likely to have good outcomes. 

“The number one way to change a child’s behaviour long term is to use cognitive training. That’s where you listen first and validate their emotions before you educate. Validate then educate.”