The Teenage Brain – How to Train Teens in Building the Right Boundaries

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

This is our first milestone for this podcast, and believe it or not, we’ve just reached our 50th episode.

So from all of us here at the Amen Clinic, thank you for your continued support and the wonderful feedback and reviews that you’ve left on iTunes.

Now to celebrate this milestone, we’re joined by Dr. John Townsend, a prolific, New York Times bestselling author of almost 30 books.

Today’s topic is all about the teenage brain. It’s a topic that’s near and dear to us because we too have a teenager who is so special in our life.

The problem is, in many families, these teens don’t get the attention they need to prepare themselves for the future, to be the next leaders. They are left vulnerable to negative influences.

If you’re in that same boat, be sure to listen, as Dr John Townsend shares with us his expertise in helping parents raise up teens with the right boundaries.

Read Full Transcript

Donny Osmond: Hi, I'm Donny Osmond and welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way, hosted by my friends: Daniel and Tana Amen. Now in this podcast, you're going to learn that the war for your health is one between your ears. That's right. If you're ready to be sharper and have better memory, mood, energy and focus, well then stay with us. Here are Daniel and Tana Amen.

Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're here with our good friend, Dr. John Townsend, author of 30 books including Boundaries and The Entitlement Cure. Today we're going to talk about teenagers...

Donny Osmond: One of my favorite topics.

Dr Daniel Amen: ...and the teenage brain and how boundaries relates. I know John, you have two kids, so you are veteran of raising teenagers.

Tana Amen: So, and we have four, we've got one at home still. She is 13. She's pretty amazing. But this is something near and dear to our heart.

Dr Daniel Amen: So why did you write Boundaries for Teens?

Dr John Townsend: Mainly just because everything else here, for the radio program that I do, and the conferences, people were saying that they're a different animal. My nine year old and my 14 year old, I'm sorry, you've got to make something more specific. And I started thinking we know better as parents.. [inaudible] ...their brain is wired differently, So I thought, let me write something for those parents who are in that sort of phase up. Who are used to come up and snuggle, and want to go to do your homework, and you were so curious about everything, and he's blowing us off and how do I have a happy family? So I wrote a book basically for parents to have a different kind of a game set so that the child becomes happy and responsible. The parents have become epic too.

Tana Amen: That's awesome. So I have a question for you to get started. So, our 13 year old, it's kind of funny story. Somehow she has learned to identify herself as that good girl, which thrills me to no end but I actually don't know how that happened. Because she, her friends at school are sort of the fast crowd. They call her mom and so she has become this good girl and she's sort of become as a result a challenge for some of the boys, if that makes sense. Yes a challenge because she is that one that's unattainable.

Dr John Townsend: Oh, so you can target her because she's a fast girl.

Tana Amen: She's not. They are there kind of kissing and whatever with the other girls. She's not. And she's made her identity of being the good girl. And it's interesting to me how this transpired. One of the boys is very popular, started texting her and Snapchatting her and whatever they do. And she always shows me everything. We're very open. And so, he sent one fairly inappropriate text and of course I got rather upset, and it said, one of them said, "Do you want to H you?" Which means hookup. And, and I made a fairly inappropriate comment that she should have made back. She goes, "Mom, moms don't teach their daughters that." I'm like, "Oh yeah, they do." She goes like, "I can't believe you just said that."

Dr John Townsend: You're a very protective mother...

Tana Amen: Absolutely.

Dr John Townsend: And claws a guy to come out sometimes with these kids.

Tana Amen: I was so irritated. She's 13 right. So anyways, later I asked her, I said, "What are you going to do?" She said, "I didn't respond." And so then, but because she didn't respond, he kept it up. She finally ends up saying, I said, "What did you say?" She said, "I said, no." I said, "That's it?". She goes, "Yeah. I said, no." And I said, "Well, why didn't you say anything else?" She goes, "Because if I had said anything else, I invited him to actually have a conversation with me, and I didn't want to have a conversation." And I'm thinking to myself: Who are you? Where did you come from? How did this child actually get this identity? How did she learn how to draw boundaries like that? How did she even know that that would open up a door? And I honestly don't.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's not really as much of a mystery as you're putting on. So Chloe was really hard, independent, strong-willed [crosstalk 00:04:15]. And when Tana read Love and Logic, which was a really good book on parenting, it's masterful. And we've been talking to her about what her goals are, what do you want in your life and does your behavior get what you want? And because we have not given her everything but she has very clear goals for herself that this bozo didn't fit with the goals that she has for herself.

Tana Amen: Exactly. But my question to John is for her to know that just saying No, I thought that was pretty high level thinking. That was a boundary issue. She didn't say anything else because she didn't want to invite a conversation. My question to you is, I thought that was pretty awesome, and I'm not even sure how she came up with that but that seems like a great boundary for a team.

Dr Daniel Amen: That's awesome boundary for anybody.

Tana Amen: And I'm just curious what you would say about that because I don't remember teaching her that.

Dr John Townsend: To me, there's no mystery here guys. You guys are awesome parents and as we know, teens become functional, loving, responsible teens when parents do three things, when they teach them responsible behaviors, your words. But when we do our little lectures, they roll their eyes. But we're supposed not to lecture them. Two, you model it, you guys are very responsible person. You are very loving and generous in front of people, but you're also responsible. So, she saw it and through it, she experienced it because I'm sure in her early years when she was so headstrong, you had her time timeout a little time, that you had to take away fun stuff. So, she experienced it, you modeled it, and you taught it. Now, with that as a foundation, what we found out about human development, to your questions handled like “I never said that to them,” is that people are highly creative and they put ideas together based on a good foundation.

Dr John Townsend: So she probably came up with that for herself because she had the foundational blocks, and she studied relationships and you guys were relational people. And she probably heard: if I say “No Sam to the hooking up” and here's why. Then Sam's going to get encouraged because some attention is better than no attention. I'm going to start Sam out and I'm going to say no, that's going to start with a little bit. We'll go to one of the fast girls cause she's easier to hook up and she was right about. She put that together because she had so much insight in human behavior.

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr Daniel Amen: So let's talk about some of the common challenges parents have with teens. In your experience, what are the top four or five?

Dr John Townsend: Well in the book, there's more than three, unfortunately. Anything from...

Donny Osmond: They're complex.

Dr John Townsend: ... Disrespect and the disrespectful terms as well as words, school problems, acting out problems, impulse problems, breaking house rules, family problems, defiance problems, passive aggressive, probably sneaking, all the way to alcohol and drug problems. And what I got it down to, no matter what the problem is, I have four solutions. The book is based on these four teenage solutions. Should I just lay those out?

Donny Osmond: Yeah.

Dr John Townsend: First off is love. And this is not in a random order. You have to convey to the child all the time that I love you. Even if they say “don't hurt me in public or whatever”. It doesn't matter. I love you because no child can tolerate consequences of boundaries unless they know they're loved. Because there's persecution, there's hatred, and if you don't love me, so you've got to be a very verbally and behaving loving parent. Number two, is the truth. And the truth is, the Amen's have house rules. There's things that we'll allow and don't allow. We do allow fun, and they write vacations, and we allow great times and social things, sports, and all that.

Dr John Townsend: We don't allow these words and these behaviors. So the truth is what the house rules are. Have some parents put the house rules in things that we will and won't tolerate. [inaudible]

Dr John Townsend: Number two is truth. Number three is freedom. And this is the one that gets parents a little bit scary. You also have the freedom to disobey things. We can't tell our parents: our kids, here's the rules that I'm going to make you bend the rules cause we can't make anybody. If somebody is three years old and runs out in traffic, sure you arrest the kid, but you know I can't really stop you from disrespect. I can't stop you from taking your grades. That's one thing. So you're free. But if you tolerate that, the fourth one is reality.

Dr John Townsend: Based on what you do with our rules, you're free to blow them off. If you broke the law, here's going to be the reality. We're going to away things you love. We're going to add things you hate, and we're going to take away your social situation, we're going to take away privilege, we're going to take away media, digital stuff, that's why I love all the digital stuff because that takes off kids that are addicted to it. You get away addiction, you pull away. But always go with those big four: I love you, now here's our house rules, you're free to stop doing these if you don't want to do, and here's reality. And follow through. Follow through, follow through.

Tana Amen: Couldn't agree more. Consequences are huge. Real life consequences. [crosstalk]

Dr John Townsend: The keys is, you got to find out what matters to them. If your kid's a loner, then don't say "be in your room." If your kid is really social, you take away the social thing they're administered. That's good. So you still have say to this going away or something?

Tana Amen: I don't know what you'd say to this cause one thing that we hear people say a lot is “I have no control.” I've heard this one a lot: I have no control. My kid is 16 years old, and he's way bigger than me and there's nothing I can do. And as a person who is fairly intense, I always laugh at that when I sit back, and I think really there's nothing you can do. Do you do his laundry? Do you do the grocery shopping? Do you buy his clothes? There's a lot of things you can do. Parents are thinking about discipline as opposed to the real life things that they do for these children. I don't know what you have to say about that.

Dr John Townsend: I totally agree. There are some things you can do. The take away the money, take away all the stuff in the world. The digital media, take away Verizon. There's got a lot of control.

Tana Amen: I agree.

Dr Daniel Amen: So a long time ago I wrote a book called New Skills for Frazzled Parents and it actually goes beautifully with what you're talking about. But the first part, just as you said, it's love. For me, it's bonding, that I actually will never let someone tell me something bad about myself. And there's plenty to say unless I trust them. So, if there is no bond, you have no influence in me. And so the first thing with effective parenting is bonding, which is listening. So not talking over them do. What we do as therapists is active listening and time, actual physical time. And that's what people don't do these days because they're so busy and as opposed to when you and I were growing up, almost all families now our two-parent working families. So everybody's running as fast as can be and the level of bonding is not.

Tana Amen: That is one thing that we've done really well with Chloe. In fact, we have rituals and that's one thing. I know everybody has to figure out what their ritual is because everyone has different schedules. So for us, it's our morning time before school, we get up extra early, we make breakfast together, we have our little hot water with lemon and ginger we do together, and then we leave actually a half an hour early and we go for a drive on the coast before we go to school. And that's our talking time. So rituals are important with your kids.

Dr Daniel Amen: And when I wrote another book called Healing the Hardware of the Soul, there's a chapter in it on how to make your child a Republican/Democrat or anything you want. And it's all about if you are bonded with your child, they will pick your values. If you are not bonded, they're likely to pick the opposite values just to irritate you. And I was not bonded to my dad. I am now. But he worked all the time. And in 1972 when he told me, he said, "If you vote for McGovern, the country will go to hell." And I voted for McGovern, and the country went to hell. But it had nothing to do with my vote. But if you want your child to pick your values, you have to connect with him or her. Otherwise, they pick the opposite.

Tana Amen: So I'm guessing that what we're saying when we're saying bonding, that's what you would fit into your love category.

Dr John Townsend: Yeah. It's like they always say that they don't care how much you know until they know how much you love them. It's the active listening. The way I phrase it is you've got to enter their world instead of, well, all your friends have tattoos, your friend has an American flag or whatever. And I try to enter that world. At least understanding not judging. Don't lecture them right now. Be interested. Interest can goes a long way with a kid.

Tana Amen: Exactly.

Dr Daniel Amen: This is so important. Boundaries for Teenagers. Dr. John Townsend. Thank you so much, my friend, for being with us.

Tana Amen: That was great.

Donny Osmond: Thanks for listening to today's show, The Brain Warrior's way. Watch a head over to Brain Warrior's Way That's Brain Warrior's Way where Daniel and Tana have a gift for you just for subscribing to the show. And when you post your review on iTunes, you'll be entered into a drawing where you can win a VIP visit to one of the Amen clinics. I'm Donny Osmond, and I invite you to step up your brain game by joining us in the next episode.