Engaging Youths (青少年深入的参与)

Adolescents are more feelings- based than logic based. If you had a chance to read about the information I had offered about the Limbic System and Prefrontal Cortex in adolescents, you can appreciate the preceding statement I made. Adolescents are blinded to logic when their emotions are fully engaged. Therefore, they need timeouts to cool down and process their emotions. Does this mean that young persons cannot be logical?

You would know through your own experiences with them that it is not true. They may follow your logic, but when they have to respond in the moment, the natural responses from them may be more limbic by nature. For example, parents may repeatedly scold their child to complete their homework first before playing computer games. Does the child not hear or understand his or her parents’ explanations for the need to complete their homework first? Why then does he or she not comply?

It is interesting to note here that, parents would typically repeat their instructions or reprimand the child again, knowing that the child would still continue to play on the computer, especially when parents are not at home or do not say anything?

Controlling for all other factors, the child simply wants to play computer games more, compared to doing his or her homework first, because it is fun, exciting, social, rewarding, relaxing and even empowering sometimes. The positive impact of doing his homework first still cannot outweigh what he can achieve now with his friends – the immediate gratification that gaming provides and the heightened sense of overall well-being. Is this even logical?

With guidance, reflection and with the help of adults processing the instinctual limbic responses, young persons can learn to make more logical and sensible decisions and even delay gratification over time. It will take awhile before the young person can fully self-regulate. Ten years is the guide!

This is not to say that the young person is unable to be rational or logical as mentioned earlier. They can with assistance, guidance, supervision and support, especially the support to deal with their emotions, like sadness, anger, frustration. These emotions can be overwhelming.

Once they are supported, listened to, empathized with and they feel attended to by the adult, they would then be more disposed to understanding what the emotions are about, they would be more inclined to learn skills to handle or manage the emotions and situation better, and they would be more willing to learn the lesson that needs to be taught or reflect on the lesson that they learned through the experience.

In the meantime, adults need to learn to appreciate the nature of the young person, and be prepared to be there for him or her for the next ten years of his or her life. Be prepared to do what? To help facilitate the connections between the limbic system and prefrontal cortex, by asking questions about and processing with the young person all their limbic responses.

The goal is to help them understand their limbic responses and to develop skills and strategies to deal with and manage them as they come along. It is safe to assume that almost every action from the young person, at the first instance, would be a limbic response. Therefore, the sooner adults appreciate this reality, the better they will be at managing young persons more intentionally and with greater effectiveness.

There is this saying when we work with teenagers – “When we limbically confront the emotionally charged teen, especially when he or she is dealing with negative emotions, the adult would always be at the losing end”.

Essentially, if a student vented his anger by using expletives, and the teacher angrily reprimanded him and demanded that he apologizes for being disrespectful, there is a high chance that the student would be more angry, and the lesson on being respectful would have been lost right there – to angrily reprimand and demand compliance from the student, when he is angry, is considered a limbic confrontation; at the same time, the good intention to teach respect in that exchange is lost.

If this approach persists, every good lesson would be lost, the adult will continue to lose ground with the child. Why is this so?

The teen would not be able to rationalize and understand the adult’s intentions, and the adult would only provoke the child more. If the adult wanted to sincerely teach the child a valuable lesson, his efforts would be futile.

Take a similar example of a child in school having a bad day. He is angry about some incident that happened earlier that day. His teacher in-charge of discipline caught him with his uniform not tucked neatly into his trousers. Doing his job like he usually would, the teacher loudly asked the child to wear his uniform properly, to which the child ignored him. The teacher raised his voice louder to get the child to comply. This time, the child defiantly shouted, “Why should I?” This made the teacher fuming mad, and it escalated quickly towards a threat made by the teacher.

The child was required to apologize immediately for being disrespectful. Otherwise, he would be given detention. The child angrily apologized. Did the teacher “win”? Probably! He probably did by virtue of his positional authority over the child – being the discipline-teacher. However, the teacher would have lost the relational authority over the child right there. The possibility of the teacher being able to sit the child down and teach him a lesson on, say, respect, is near zero. The child would probably “switch off” and not listen. As teachers and especially parents, we never want to be in this situation. We want to always have their doors open to us so that we can guide and teach them, even when they are upset or angry. One may argue that it may not necessarily be a near impossible task to teach the child again, which is a valid argument.

However, the point is about effectively conveying the message or lesson to the child, with the intent to do so not just at that moment, but in the next few weeks, months and years. Therefore, it is not about who wins or loses either. This is because the child needs you – the adult!

It is extremely hard for the child to appreciate this fact. They are going through a tumultuous phase of their lives. Hence, achieving strong relational authority over them is far more desirable then achieving strong positional authority over them. The latter is counter-productive.

For more information on how to engage and parent adolescents, you read my flipbook, or purchase the full book here.

Alternatively, you may take advantage of the resources below, particularly the specially curated training for parents or anyone working with youths. All trainers are veterans in youth work. Continue to watch this space for more resources.

%d bloggers like this: