Why Do Teens Want to Argue about Everything?

A couple nights ago, after yet another silly argument between my husband and our teenage daughters over who-knows-what, he looked me and asked, “Why do they want to turn every little thing into an argument? And why do I let them suck me into it?” I had to bite my lip not to laugh out loud. Why indeed! And this is two entirely different questions. The first one, I actually know the answer to.
When I was working on the third book in the Unbreakable series, I had to do a lot of research into trauma and the teenage brain, some of which made it into the novel. One thing I learned is that, contrary to earlier assumptions that all the real growth in human brains takes place before the third birthday, we now know that the adolescent and teenage years are the powerhouse “pruning” years. During this time, the brain begins to weed out the less-used paths in favor of the more-used paths. While this might sound like a shrinking period, it’s not. Think of the young brain as a hunk of clay that needs to be chipped away at to form a beautiful sculpture. During the sculpting phase, the mind is organizing and prioritizing information, ideas, and skills to optimize each individual’s gray matter to suit their particular needs. If the young person is spending much of his time studying math or playing sports or learning the piano, his brain will optimize itself for these activities. That doesn’t mean he can’t acquire completely different skills at some point in life, just that it will be harder.
But there’s also this:
“Scientists have discovered that in the teen brain, the emotional center matures before the frontal lobes. Emotion therefore often holds sway over rational processing. When we realize that the prefrontal cortex allows reflection, while the amygdala is designed for reaction, we can begin to understand the often irrational and overly emotional reactions of teens.”
Unfortunately, as the above quote points out, the amygdala is fully formed a few years before the thinking center of the brain, and as a result, we get the “high-strung” teen, who responds first with emotion, and later, with rational thought. That’s just how it works, folks. Without those emotional outbursts, the mental reorg can’t complete. Junior really isn’t purposely trying to test your patience or hurt your feelings. Even if it seems that way in the moment. As the adult in the room, you have the benefit of a fully mature prefrontal cortex, so use it. The next time your little darling screams at you for not predicting the weather accurately, or dissolves into a puddle of tears over your choice of dinner entrée, remind yourself that there is an artist at work inside that pretty little head, and chunks of clay are flying everywhere. But I know that’s easier said than done. Just ask my husband.
Read more here: The Adolescent Brain: A Work in Progress – Pat Wolfe – Mind Matters, Inc.