January 29, 2016

How to Understand and Empower Teens

Successfully managing a classroom, especially if you are a secondary teacher, requires more than knowledge of content and teaching strategies, insight into adolescent culture also plays a critical role in classroom success. Adolescenceis a difficult time in development – students often lack motivation, and may be confused about their place in the world. So how can youhelp students transition through adolescence andsucceedacademically? After taking Learners Edge Course 693:Fully Wired: Understanding & Empowering Adolescents, a secondaryteacher outlines the effects, causes and adaptations you can utilize to help better understand & empower teens.

Behaviors We See
Brain Characteristics in teens
Ways we can adjust to help communication
– Ready to fight
– Territorial
– Mood Swings
– Unpredictable emotions
– Hormones! Testosterone affects amygdala (brain part handles fight or flight response)- overstimulated and ready for fight
– Estrogen and progesterone affect neurotransmitters that control moods- allow for quick changes and extremes as hormones levels fluctuate
– Understanding & patience
– This is scary & confusing for teens too. Explain to them what is going on- won’t change hormones but makes it less scary
– Regular exercise helps release some of this, level out
– Quick to argue/talk back
– Misread emotions- “you’re angry/yelling at me”
– Irrational…lead to running off from overwhelming situations, slamming doors…
– Use amygdala vs. PFC- different part of the brain- MISREAD YOUR EMOTIONS (clinically, even)
– Amygdala overstimulated by hormones
– Teach teens to communicate in respectful, productive ways
– Expect misread emotions
– EXPLAIN how you feel (spell it out)
– MODEL reasonable dialogue techniques
– Impulsive- act/speak without thinking– PFC not fully functioning yet (“executive functions”) so cannot foresee consequences.
– No “filter”
– Hi-performance engine-but no brakes
– Have clearly stated consequences for breaking rules, be rational and calm in enforcing, connect directly to behavior
– Calmly mentally walk through decision making process for situations-talk through process to practice proper steps (wire-fire)
– Challenge parents/adults authority– Psychological stage of development-need to develop their own identity and independence, and establish adult relationships with parents– Expect this- allow for some expression but within limits (ok: grumble about rules, try new styles; not ok: swear, harm others, dangerous behavior)
– Understand they need to find ways to express themselves and may need to find new boundaries and approaches.


  • Stay Calm! This is hard to do, but take a breath before you react, and remember that they aren’t thinking the same way as you.
  • Be clear with your teen about what you expect; lay down clear rules and consequences, and follow through in a matter of fact way (Your choice to…led to…).
  • Allow for “attitude” and extreme emotions sometimes, but let them know when they are going too far; talk them through the right way to handle something.
  • Listen A LOT!
  • Model reasonable behaviors and discussion- do not get drawn into an emotional state yourself.
  • Help them to know that hormones and growth are part of how “crazy” they feel. If they can know what is going on, it’s less scary. Still hard to control, but less scary.
  • Patience and understanding are needed. Stop and try to put yourself in their shoes (and brains).

Want to learn more about the various changes occurringin the adolescent brain and learn how to understand, communicateand stay connected with your students? Enroll in Course 693: Fully Wired: Understanding and Empowering Adolescents. Withthe arsenal of strategies discussed in this course, teachers can help their students learn to control impulses, manage erratic behavior, and cope with their changing bodies.

Learners Edge is passionately committed to providing you with continuing education coursework, materials, and tools that will help you succeed in your classroom and in your career.

Offering more than 120 online courses for teachers, you can earn the graduate credit you need for salary advancement and meet your professional development needs. Contact us today to get started!


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