How to Understand A Teenage Son

Your child was complacent, outgoing and eager to please, and then the hormones kicked in and he's moody, argumentative and lazy. If you're wondering what happened to your lovable youngster, the answer is simple: Adolescence happened. A myriad of changes takes place during this short time period, and while they might seem overwhelming, if you understand the reasons behind them and stay involved in your teen’s life, you’ll make it down this bumpy road with your relationship intact.

Brain Change

While every teenager is unique, the brain develops in a similar manner throughout adolescence. Understanding that circuitry can lend some insight into why your teen acts and thinks the way he does. His brain is still developing. In fact, it won't complete maturation until he reaches his early 20s, according to the National Institute of Mental Health 1. While the parts of the brain that control movement and process sensory information have matured by adolescence, the areas that help your teen think through decisions are still in the process of maturing, and those involved in his emotional response are excessively active in comparison to an adult's brain, making teens more impulsive and prone to risk-taking behavior.

Identity Crisis

While it might look like your teen’s primary goal is to become the world’s greatest couch potato, he is actually in the process of some fundamental life changes right now. While he was once happy to follow your lead, he’s now working toward independence -- the reason he seems to be challenging your authority on a regular basis. He is seeking out his own identity, which is one of the underlying reasons his peer group -- and their opinion of him -- has become vitally important. His clothes, music choices and media idols are all carefully chosen to affiliate himself with his peer group, and his continuous acts of rebellion are used to separate himself from authority figures, furthering his stride toward independence.

Crucial Communication

If you want to know what’s going on in your son’s life, all you have to do is ask -- just don’t make it sound like an inquisition. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your teenager, encouraging him to talk to you about the mundane everyday stuff as well as the heavy issues. Be nonjudgmental and don’t be shocked -- or at least don’t let him see it -- when your teen wants to dye his hair blue or dress all in black. Save the arguments for more substantial matters, like sex, drugs and teen drinking. Be pre-emptive, too, talking about important issues such as sex and smoking before your teen is exposed to peer pressure. Make these topics just as open as any other subject so your teen will feel more comfortable coming to you if a problem arises.

Earnest Empathy

You can better understand your teenage son by remembering what it was like to be a teenager. Remember the discomfort involved in the physical changes that took place during adolescence and the social awkwardness that reigned supreme. When every rule you enact or consequence you enforce creates friction, keep in mind the struggle for independence you fought with your own parents. Help your child understand the emotional and physical changes he's going through are normal -- it's OK to feel a bit self-conscious, and it's normal to feel pulled between mature behavior and an interest in childish fun. However, keep an eye out for warning signs of emotional or mental health disorders that may arise during the teen years, such as sudden, drastic changes in his behavior, excessive sleeping, drastic decline in his school performance, sudden weight loss or extreme anger or aggressiveness, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website 4.