La Cañada Unified parenting workshop aims to demistify the teen brain

For parents mystified by changes they see brewing in their preteen, La Cañada Unified School District is offering a free six-week parenting workshop starting next Thursday intended to shed light on the inner workings of the teen brain.

“Talkin’ with Your Teens: Getting It Right Before the Going Gets Rough” is for parents of students ages 12 to 17 and is led by Leda Siskind, a La Cañada marriage and family therapist and mental health consultant for the district.

“I cover everything from why does your teenager have that brain to what happened to that nice person you used to know,” Siskind said of the seminars, sponsored by LCUSD’s Special Education district advisory council.

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On April 13 at 10 a.m., the first installment of the free six-week series begins with a primer on the adolescent brain and is followed each subsequent week by discussions on how to disagree without starting World War III, teen sex and dating, drugs, establishing house rules and life after high school.

Siskind says part of breaking down communication barriers between teens and adults is dispelling myths parents and guardians hold that may limit their understanding of this unique stage of human development. Below are three common misconceptions which, among other insights and tips, will be explored in the workshop.

1. Teen brains are not much different from adult brains. Thinking children’s brains are fully formed by age 5 often tricks adults into thinking teens should think and act like they do, according to Siskind.

Until around age 22, neural connections linking impulses to the brain’s center of logic are missing, causing some teens to act impulsively first and only later understand why that action may have been inappropriate.

“There is a physical difference between your kid’s teenage brain and yours, not so much in terms of capacity but in terms of connection,” Siskind explained.

2. When a teen can’t explain why they did something, they’re being evasive. Because of the delay between emotions and rationality, sometimes teens honestly cannot explain a feeling or behavior right away, according to Siskind.

“When you ask a kid, ‘What were you thinking?’ and they say, ‘I don’t know,’ that’s the right answer,” the therapist said. “They don’t know because knowing involves cognitive alignment. They are feeling first and thinking later.”

Instead of assuming they’re lying, Siskind suggests parents give kids time to process the thoughts and motivations behind their actions and have a follow-up discussion.

3. Being my teen’s friend lets me keep closer tabs on them. This common misconception can put kids at risk, Siskind says. Instead, the therapist advises parents not to relinquish their authority by setting clear and, if need be, non-negotiable rules that focus on reasonable consequences for bad actions over random punishment.

“It’s not a democracy, it’s a monarchy — you are the king and queen and they are the peasants,” Siskind quipped. “It needs to be that way, because kids are trying to grow up in a very scary world and they need structure.”

If You Go

What: “Talkin’ with your teens”

When: Thursdays from April 13 through May 18, from 10 to 11 a.m.

Where: La Cañada Unified School District, 4490 Cornishon Ave.

Information: RSVP to Frinna DelaCruz by April 10 at (818) 952-8397 or fdelacruz@lcusd.net.

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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