Understanding Teen Brain Development, with Marcilie Smith Boyle

Casey: Welcome to the Parenting Teens with Positive Discipline audio summit, I am your host, Casey O'Roarty, certified positive discipline trainer, coach and founder of Joyful Courage. This audio summit is designed to dig into the principles of holding the foundation of positive discipline while navigating the very real and messy experience of being a guide for our teenagers.


Special thank you to Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott, authors of Positive Discipline for Teenagers and the Positive Discipline Association whose mission it is to create a peaceful world by teaching Adlerian social and emotional life skills for respectful relationships. All the guests you will hear on this audio summit have extensive knowledge in positive discipline and have or are currently raising teenagers themselves. Thank you for listening and be sure to join us in the Joyful Courage Parents of Teens Facebook group for more discussion about this particular interview.


My guest today is Marcilie Smith-Boyle. Marcilie coaches high achieving parents and professionals towards authentic success so they can live, work and parent with more peace, purpose and joy. A certified positive discipline parenting trainer and career and leadership coach, Marcilie leverages her previous 6 year consulting and marketing career to ensure her clients get return on their coaching investment.  Marcilie earned her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, B.A. from Dartmouth and CPPCC from the Coaches Training Institute. Her services include career transition coaching, leadership coaching and parenting coaching for individuals and groups as well as parenting with positive discipline classes and speaking events both in the San Francisco Bay Area and online. She loves living in Oakland, California and is mother to three children ages 18, 16 and 11. Hi Marcilie, welcome to the parenting teens with P.D. audio summit.


Marcilie: Thank you, I'm happy to be here.


Casey: Can you tell the listeners a little bit more about your experience with teens and positive discipline?


Marcilie: So sure as you just mentioned I have 2 teens and one tween so I'm really in the thick of it and have been for quite some time. So my oldest has just started his freshman year in college and I have a 16 year old working up the hours to get her driver's license and then I have an 11 year old who's in 6th grade. So lots of experience with positive discipline and also lots of experience failing at it and trying again. Ah yes, I'm sure we can all relate, yeah?


Casey: How long have you been doing positive discipline?


Marcilie: Since 2012. Actually in your introduction.


Casey: Did I say that out loud?


Marcilie: Say what?


Casey: How long? Sorry. In my introduction? Yes.


Marcilie: No, no, no in your introduction you said I had transitioned to coaching after 6 years in the business world but it's actually 16. So I did management consulting and I was in marketing at the Clark's company for 10 years before I made this transition in 2012. So I started in 2012 teaching positive discipline and coaching and I fell in love with it especially as I was doing my coaching certification and training within our Neuroleadership Institute at the same time and I saw so many parallels between great leadership in the home and great leadership in organizations it was very inspiring, so super committed to positive discipline and I apply it in all sorts of contexts.


Casey: Nice. I love the word leadership. Whether it's, I think, there are so many opportunities in life to step into leadership and I love the reframe that happens when we start to look at ourselves as leaders, whether we're talking to parents or classroom teachers, right, leadership and what that can look like, so thanks for that.


Marcilie: Yeah, that is what what it is.


Casey: Yeah and we're going to talk about brain development in this interview  and I'm so glad. I feel like the more, I know from my experience, speaking for myself, the more that I understand about the brain the more likely it becomes to shift to, the more likely I am able to shift out of taking things personally. What is your experience with learning about brain development?


Marcilie: Yes, I agree this has been definitely been the case for me when I understand anything about my kids better, it makes it easier for me to show up with compassion and not take it personally like you said. So an interesting quote from Francis Jensen, she's the author of The Teenage Brain, she says "Almost all teens apparent recklessness, rudeness and cluelessness is neurologically, psychologically and physiologically explainable.'


It's not entirely their fault, it's just really confusing because teens look so much like adults we often expect them to act that way too and the truth is also that a lot of teen brain research is new, it's relatively recent so this information really hasn't been available for very long. Casey: Yeah and as positive discipline trainers I think there's a lot of, I'm glad that you're bringing in other names I know, that many of us lean on the work of Dan Siegel, Dr. Dan Siegel and his work around the brain and something that I love about him and his super brainy science-y conversation is that he also pulls in mindfulness and personal growth and development into the conversation and that is something that I think is, you know, often, I think, people hold mindfulness over here and then brain science on the other end and really, those two things go together so well.


Marcilie: Right and that is something that's unique about Dan Siegel is that he has this, I don't know what you call it, consortium and organization at U.C.L.A. which is all about bringing the squishy stuff like empathy and compassion and bringing the science to that kind of squishy stuff, that's his whole area of expertise so he's a really great resource for understanding the science of what I call, you know, touchy feely stuff.


Casey: Yes, yes.


Marcilie: Because I love that.


Casey: Yes, me too. So let's start with the basics on the brain development stuff, especially for teens. Can you talk a little bit about what happens during the time before adolescence versus what happens during adolescence?


Marcilie: So sure and let me just say up front, I am not a neuroscientist, this is not my background but I have done a lot of reading and a lot of studying and coaching training in areas related to neuroscience so a lot of what I'm going to be saying to the end this interview is based on Brainstorm, the book by Daniel Siegel, The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain and also The Teenage Brain by Francis Jensen, she is a neuroscientist and raised two teenage boys by herself so those are my sources as well as the training I've gotten from the Neuroleadership Institute so with that as background, let me answer your question about brain development.


So with babies, babies are born with more neurons in their brains than they will ever have again, so we are maxed out at birth and that's why children are so capable of learning because they have so many neurons but it is experience that allows the neurons to connect and it's frequency of experience that makes those connections strong and solid and as we grow and age, the neurons that are not utilized get pruned.


They get cut and discarded, so to speak, so that the brain can become more efficient and focused. "Use it or lose it" is the term that Dan Siegel and other brain scientists will use, so if you focus on something, you practice it, you do it over and over again, you continue to focus on it, those connections in your brain get stronger and they stay, whereas things that you don't focus on or that you don't use, the brain's comes to the conclusion that "I don't need that, I need to get rid of it" and during adolescence, the brain goes through a kind of remodeling in two major ways.


One is that the pruning peaks during this period. So it's a time of life where the brain is looking around saying "I don't use that, I don't need that, get rid of it so that I can be more focused and efficient." So the overall number of neurons and the connections goes way down in adolescence and like I said, experience shapes which circuits will stay and which will go. This is one reason why I want my teens to get outside to do a sport, to play board games, even go to College Avenue and hang out with their friends rather than play League of Legends all day. Those connections are pretty strong already and Fortnight, right?


Casey: Yeah.


Marcilie: Yeah, so that's the 1st remodeling, kind of remodeling, that intense pruning. The second kind of remodeling in the teen brain that happens is that the brain is laying down myelin. Myelin is a sheath covering the membranes along interlinked neurons and this coding, this sheath allows neurons to communicate more quickly and in a more coordinated way.


So step one during adolescent brain remodeling is pruning of unneeded neural connections and neurons and step two is laying down myelin to make those connections quicker, more coordinated and more effective, like greased lightning. And these two changes help the brain become more integrated, left hemisphere integrated with right, higher brain communicated with lower and even brain communicating and integrating with the body and integration, the ultimate goal according to Dan Siegel, allows the brain to develop just thinking.


This is the ability to make good decisions and choices because we can see the big picture and we can tap into our own intuition and guide our decisions based on positive longer term values, things that are good for us long term, all these things help us reduce thinking and that's what integration allows us to have. A very handy skill.


Casey: Yeah.


Marcilie: Well and I love that there's a purpose to the way, I mean, of course there is, but it's fun to remember that there is purpose to the way that the teen brain develops and I've heard Dr Siegel say if it weren't for adolescents we never would have left the cave. As far as that, like, increase in thrill seeking and or not increase in thrill-seeking but that part of the brain developing quicker than risk assessment is perhaps what got us out of the cave.


Marcilie: Right and it's interesting too, there is research around all sorts of other mammals who have the same kind of brain remodelling during their adolescent years as well so there's something potentially evolutionary about these changes that allow the teen to leave the nest and do so successfully.


Casey: And in Brainstorm Dr Siegel talks about four qualities of mind that are set out by the brain changes of the teen years. One is novelty seeking, two is social engagement, three is increased emotional intensity and four, creative exploration. Now, some of this overlaps with the conversations that have come up in the summit about and that will come up in the summit around individuation but I would love to break these down a bit for listeners in a practical way. So let's start with novelty seeking, what exactly is novelty seeking?


Marcilie: So novelty seeking is searching for new stuff, new experiences, new adventures that one has never had before and due to the teens' unique wiring processes and brain composition, their brains crave new rewarding experiences more than adults do. So these new experiences and all experiences can be exhilarating and exciting and that's why the teen brain wants them. These kinds of experiences are rewards, you know, just like chocolate cake or video games or likes on Facebook or Instagram, new experiences give the brain a dopamine hit and it's rewarding. It feels great.


So since since healthy teens will ultimately leave the home, you know, these novel experiences are a good thing for them to crave because the home is something they know and leaving home is something they don't know, so having a healthy excitement for novel experiences is a good thing in that light.


Casey: Well and coupling this app with what Dan calls hyper-rationality around "probably everything will turn out fine" so I'm noticing your use of the word "healthy novelty-seeking" and wondering because we all think about, I mean, it's easy, that's kind of the typical teenage, you think about the teenager and they want to drive real fast and they take risks and there is a continuum on what is like healthy and normal and great brain development versus "No, don't do that, that is not what you should be doing right now."


Marcilie: Right, yeah, right, well and teens, teens, it's interesting too, you know, what you're just talking about this hyper rationality that is the concept that teens see the benefit of a potential situation but they don't fully measure or weigh the downsides and that's their brain, that's their brain that's having them disproportionately weigh the pros versus the cons.


And that has to do with dopamine as well. Dopamine is this special neurotransmitter that can both inhibit and excite. It's what gets released when, like I said, you think about getting something rewarding, having a novel experience or you actually do get that something rewarding or have that experience. So like when your kid makes it to level 10 in the video game, boom,  dopamine is released. When you even think about, like, if you're doing your homework and like, "Oh my gosh, when I'm done with this I'm going to be able to hit level 10 in my video game," even thinking about it releases dopamine for me so and it's interesting too because a lot of people will say "Well teens are like they have raging hormones."


Teens actually don't have more dopamine than adults, in fact, they have lower baseline levels but what they do have is different wiring connections that allow more dopamine to get released in response to an experience or the promise of an experience. So good things look really good and are especially enticing. So that's, it's magnetic, right, these novel experiences, driving fast, going to a party can be especially enticing but because their brain has them put more weight on the potential upsides due to hyperrationality, they don't see the downsides quite as much.


Casey: So how do we help them develop that skill? How do we help them? Well, so I mean, they learn through experience, right, so part of it is simply like, "Well, I made a mistake and hopefully it's, you know, not a life or death mistake, right?"


Marcilie: Right, well what I think one of the things that we have to recognize is that we can do what we can, we can provide the information, we can listen, we can be open to their experience and ask questions and help them examine or explore the downsides, help them become more aware of them but that's a, you know, there are limits to what we can do and part of it is that we just hope that we can create a relationship and some healthy values and limits so that they maximize their odds of not doing really dangerous risks. They're gonna take risks.


So how do we allow that to happen in a healthy way and I think it is all a lot about the relationship and dialogue and keeping that connection open, I mean, I actually like gave the teenage brain book, the chapter on pot and risk seeking to my teens and I asked them to read it.  Just, I want them to have the information, I just, you know, I just want you to have the information. How you use it is up to you but this is what I've got for you.


Casey: I think that's such a huge lesson. Oh my gosh and one that I keep learning over and over is that that illusion of control, as if, and that attachment outcome that we have and I'm recognizing, like, this is, we're on parallel journeys, we're not on the same road and that they get to navigate the road. We get to love them, you know, and cross our fingers and focus on relationship and offer information but ultimately, they're out there making decisions and then coupling that with the next bit, which is social engagement, you know, they want to be with their peers more and you know, starting to think about a room full of teenagers ready for some novelty seeking and you know, that's a little terrifying but-


Marcilie: Yeah.


Casey: Is it true that the more teens there are, the more chance of risky behavior?


Marcilie: Definitely true, this is backed up by research in experiments, for example, that measured how teens do when driving on a simulated automobile program when alone versus with friends. Risky behaviors increased significantly when they're with friends and I bet we all have our own personal examples, like, my own example when I was, like, a tween, my best friend who I just thought was amazing dared me to shoplift and had I been alone, never ever would I have done that but with her egging me on and then she did it too, first, I did it. Not proud of that moment and I know I would not have done that if she hadn't been there.


Casey: Oh yeah, I have that same story.


Marcilie: I bet we all had stories like that.


Casey: I was a little bit older but yeah. There's, I'm thinking about all the stupid things that I did. Did I ever do them alone? No.


Marcilie: Right. You could have because  there's all these other things that are happening in your brain too, novelty seeking and increased risk taking, you could have done it alone, too. I did some stupid stuff alone, I gotta say.


Casey: Yeah, maybe I am giving myself a little bit too much credit. And it's important. I mean and on the same note I think that we often put, like, risk taking into this "it's bad", you know, we think about all the bad risks, right. All the really scary things but it's an important part of development that our kids do step out of their comfort zone and having solid relationships with other teens, with their cohort, their friends, it supports them in making some of those big life moves, right?


Marcilie: Right and this is part of the evolutionary rationale for why these things are happening in the brain is because taking risks is, there's an upside to that, if they didn't take risks they wouldn't learn anything new and the teen brain is super primed for learning. If they didn't take risks they wouldn't try out for the play, they wouldn't come out as gay, they wouldn't tell someone that they need help and all those things have positives for sure and as for peer pressure, it's not always bad.


Now, I know myself I had some really, really great friends who were there for me when I needed them and helped me through some tough times and I know my daughter who's 11, she peer pressured her friend into doing cross country with her and the friend's mother was elated, she was super happy about that, so it is definitely not always bad and the peer network helps the child or the adolescent feel secure that they can make connections, that they do have a support system outside the home, making it easier for them again to chart an independent life.


Casey:Yeah and it's no wonder that we go grey when we're raising teenagers. Every day, I'm like, look I don't have to color my hair anymore because it looks like I have highlights. And yes, so is there anything else, what else is useful for parents to consider about social engagements and brain development?


Marcilie: Well, you know, I've had many parents come to me saying "I don't like who my kid is hanging out with, you know, this person is a bad influence and I want them out of my child's life" and what I say to that is there are some things that you can do but we really do, again, have limited control over who our friends associate with so I think the most important thing for parents to think about is our own relationship with our teen, our own social engagements because when that relationship is strong the more my teen feels connected to me, the more they feel understood and loved unconditionally by me, the more open they are to my influence, including my values and my boundaries and when our values are aligned and kids internalize those, then they tend to choose people to hang out with who have similar values.


So that's, I don't have evidence that that's true but I bet I could find some if I did and I also really love the idea that I get from Gordon Neufeld of bringing your kids' friends and even the parents of your kids' friends to your house for events, so like hosting a barbecue with your kid's friends and their parents or just having the kids' friends over at your house for, you know, cookies and milk or something so that the friends feel comfortable in your presence and you have a personal relationship with the friends as well.


Casey: Oh I love that. I love that. I definitely subscribe to that. It was interesting I was listening to a Facebook live with Rosalind Wiseman who wrote Queen Bees and Wannabes A Mastermind in Wingmen and I really appreciate her work and she was talking about, which I thought was really powerful is, you know, we, because I'm very quick to invite my kids' friends over, you know, I love having conversations with them and she was pointing out that, you know, not every kid has someone at home who's, like, teaching them how to give a good handshake and look you in the eye and be in conversation with adults and this becomes a really lovely place where we get to be models for that for all teens, not just our own and to really check our judgment as well because you know, there's all sorts of little touch points that we all have, either consciously or unconsciously, about what we think about someone based on, you know, how they show up and those first impressions and so I really appreciated her pointing out, like, this is an opportunity for us to perhaps be an adult that is inviting them into that kind of experience so that they can then, you know, move forward from a place of experience, like, "Oh that's how you do it"


Marcilie: Yeah and that parent is not a dingbat all the time, you know, they actually have some interesting things to say, you know. One of my best lessons I ever learned was from my teenage friend's mom, so Jaylene Chandler, if you're listening, thank you for teaching me to take a compliment. Like in my family this did not happen and it was Jaylene who was just like, "Marcy, knock it off, you know, just say thank you." Like, God, that's a great point.


Casey: Yeah, I've had kids say "Wow!" you know, because, just because of topics of conversation around the dinner table. I've had friends of my kid say, "Gosh we don't talk about this stuff at my house and this is really cool." So I'm glad, I'm glad to be that person. So, OK, what about increased emotional intensity? I think all of the parents are listening going like "Uh, yeah, whoa, what is happening there, why, why, why?"


Marcilie: Right, yes. And yet this is another predictable way the teen brain manifests due to its development and remodeling. So the defensiveness, the blow ups, the running up stairs and slamming the door, all of this tends to happen with more frequency in the teenage years and there's a reason for that, too. So this has to do with the brain maturation.


So many of us may, I didn't know before I read the teenage brain, is that the brain matures back to front. So the back part of the brain, like on top of your neck, these are the oldest, most primitive parts. So it's the brain stem which controls automatic systems like reading and heart beating, the hippocampus, the amygdala, the emotional limbic centers of the brain, these parts mature first and so the fight or flight, all of that emotional stuff, that's very mature in the teen brain. The front of the brain though, behind the forehead, this is the part of the brain matures last.


And it's usually not complete until around 25 or so and this part of the brain, the frontal lobes and specifically the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for all sorts of fantastic skills like moral reasoning, empathy, creative problem solving, impulse control, balancing your emotions, all of these wonderful skills are in this frontal lobe part of the brain which in teens has not fully developed yet. In fact, it's only 80 percent of the way to maturity.


So the frontal lobes are the least mature and the least connected in adolescence compared with other brain regions and then so, they just don't have the same ability to manage emotions, to control impulses, to see various creative options in a situation or show empathy, all of these things are still getting connected and then, what, to make things worse, in addition to the not yet developed frontal lobe, study show that the teens amygdala, the reptile brain, the fight or flight instincts, this part of the brain is more active in adolescents than in children or adults. So this means that emotions can rise and explode more frequently and quickly and yet the frontal lobe which would tamp down or inhibit those explosions isn't fully developed so you get a double whammy in adolescence.


Casey: Oh yeah, I mean, as I'm listening to you speak I'm thinking about, again, something you said early on is we're looking at them and they look so much older and so the expectation is, like, we've already lived through the terrible twos, we've already lived through tantrums, why? What is happening right now, you should have, you know, "should" have more skills and yet what I'm hearing you say is they're getting there and just as they're getting there or closer, they're having this whole, I mean, I'm thinking of like the amygdala kind of swelling. Don't leave me behind! Don't forget about me I'm still here! And really, really kind of guiding them as we are like, "What is your problem, right?


Marcilie: and their problem is that their brain is taken over.


Casey: And I know that many people listening are familiar with brain in the palm of the hand but as a refresher, will you walk us through it?


Marcilie: Sure, so this comes from Daniel Siegel And Mary Hartsell in originally, I think, in the book Parenting from the Inside Out. Or maybe Whole Brain Child, it's in a number of their books and Dan's books including Brainstorm and it's just a way for people to see what's going on inside of their brain, a way to be aware of that by looking at your hand as a model of the brain. So I'll ask people to do this with us if you're willing, all listeners do this with us if you're willing, take your hand and make a fist and if you open up your fist and look at your hand or as your hand is in a fist, this is a handy model of your brain. So might your wrist is your wa-wa-wa, this is Dan Siegel's word, handy model.


Casey: Yes, so good.


Marcilie: So your wrist is your brain stem that connects your brain to your spinal cord and then if you open up your hand, your palm is your mid and lower brain, this is your limbic area and parts of the brain that I mentioned before, hippocampus and your amygdala, hippocampus stores a lot of those long term memories that get you triggered when you're not even conscious of them. The amygdala, like I said, fight or flight response and among other things, this is gross simplification but that's the midbrain. And folding your thumb over, that's part of the midbrain as well.


And then if you fold your fingernails over your thumb, your fingers over your thumb, your fingers represent the cortex, that's the outer layer of the brain, that's the part of the brain that evolved last and behind your fingernails is the prefrontal cortex, the prefrontal cortex is the part of the frontal lobe that has a lot of those executive functions I talked about before, emotional control, impulse control, creative problem solving, moral reasoning, empathy, all that good stuff and what happens and it also serves as you see if your fingernails, they touch your thumb and it's the inside of your hand, they are connecting, they integrate all of these parts of the brain together and what happens is when people get really angry or really frustrated or triggered, they flip their lid, now open up your fingernails, open up your four fingers and what do you see, what's exposed there?


Casey: The midbrain.


Marcilie: Yup. All the emotional center, the amygdala, reptile brain. And so in this state, when your lid is flipped, you've lost it, you're super angry or even just super tired, when you flip your lid, that's what's in control now, the emotional part of the brain and you literally don't have access to your fingernails, all the parts that help you be empathetic, creative, all of those good things that you need when you have a problem in front of you. Yeah, in fact, there's fascinating research by Matthew Lieberman and his wife Naomi, can't remember her last name that shows, oh no, this was actually research from The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome, I can remember that right now but in that book, they cite research that shows that when you're in a state, when an adult is experiencing anger, they lose up to 60 points of I.Q..


Casey: Wow


Marcilie: So the average adult I.Q. is about 100 so you get a lot dumber when your lid is flipped. Under when an adult is experiencing anxiety, they can lose up to 30 points of I.Q. So when your lid is flipped, you are literally dumber. So your number one priority when your lid is flipped or when your teen's lid is flipped is to do whatever you need to do to get back down, calm down. And that's sometimes hard to do. But that's very often when our lid is flipped, we are so angry that our teen has come home drunk that we lose it, right there in front of them and when we do that, because of me or neurons they might lose it too and it's very unlikely that anything productive is going to happen in a double lid flip situation.


Casey: Oh yeah because everyone's just mad and-


Marcilie: Well, they're dumber.


Casey: Yeah, they're dumber Oh my gosh and even as I'm like holding my fists so my thumbs and there my fingers are over my thumb and I'm thinking about what you said about was it the amygdala that is overactive in the, so I'm like literally, like that amygdala  is pushing against that prefrontal cortex so as to say like "Wait a minute, I got something to say right here"


Marcilie: Right.


Casey: And how quickly I'm guessing, I don't need to guess because I have a teenager. How quickly like everything is so fine until it's not right?


Marcilie: Right it can happen fast.


Casey: And I have to remind myself often that this is short term, like this lid flipping when they get moody or angsty, that they eventually will come out of it and really for me and I know others as well, it's about, "OK, they've flipped their lid again, I don't need to take this personally. I don't need to dig in right now to the fact that they slammed their door or they rolled their eyes or even that they said something, you know, that was unkind or hurtful in this moment. I just got to wait and let them work it out and then come back to 'Hey, so I noticed'."


Marcilie: And that can be really hard to do because in those moments as parents we think we need to do something now and fast and that isn't always the case and in fact, very often the best thing to do is not do.


Casey: And if our mirror neurons are working overtime and we flip, we don't always remember to back off and you know, I always, I like to remember, you know, I want to say too,  I think sometimes we lose it, we flip our lids, maybe we say one thing or maybe we head in that direction, it's never too late to catch yourself and decide "Ooh, you know what, I did start to talk but actually I'm going to, I'm going to walk away, I'm going to go take care of myself."


Marcilie: Yeah well I mean that sometimes I have to say, like, you wrote a great blog about the emotional freight train, you know, that I could really relate to which is like once you get on that freight train it is really, really hard to slow down. It's almost impossible to get off when it's rolling, so the trick for me when I can is to catch it before it starts speeding up, to catch it before I'm fully, fully flipped, recognize "Ooh, my mind lid is on 75 percent the way there, maybe now is the time to go sit in my own bedroom and journal for a bit."  Hard, hard to do.


Casey: Well and good news, I turned that blog into an entire book that will be available later this spring. Thanks for the promo opportunity.


Marcilie: Awesome, congratulations! I can't wait to read it. It was a great blog so I can't wait for the book.


Casey. Thank you. What would you say are some tips or tools for the parents and I think you've mentioned a couple but for working through our teens' emotional intensity?


Marcilie: Yeah, so, Francis Jensen, again, of the Teenage Brain has this advice, count to 10 and what she means by that is what we just said, like, pause. Stop yourself, resist the urge to moralize or speak or lecture or yell or whatever in that moment and when you count to 10, maybe what you can do, what she means is think through what you want to achieve.


Casey: Oh I love that.


Marcilie: And what you want to say before you say it and I'll ask this all the time to my clients, like, what did you want the outcome to be in the situation? What did you want? And they'll say "Well, I wanted my child to say sorry and pick up their toys."  "OK, if that's what you want, what's the most effective way to get that outcome?" You know and it usually isn't yelling or screaming or taking away their iPad. So thinking through what you want to achieve. what do you want to say and that may mean that you go away for awhile and you write down what I want to say. And maybe come back. So that that's a hard thing to do but it can make such a huge difference when you pause first, you then give yourself a chance or increase the odds that you're going to be helpful, rather than hurtful or reactive. You also increase the odds that you will model the kind of calm, creativity, maturity and compassion that you want your child to have in that moment.


Casey: And while it can be challenging, we can also practice, like, I just, I'm always telling parents and myself, like practice the pause when the stakes are low, like just make it, even when it's not some high intensity moment, you know, where are there opportunities to just simply practice that pause, right.


Marcilie: Yeah and to be to be a witness. It's OK to be a witness because when you're a witness you can just notice, maybe be more observant of what your child, what skills your child might be lacking and then maybe help them learn those in another time. I mean, I noticed once when my tween, she had a full-on temper tantrum, it was bizarre, she was like 12 years old, 12 years old, we hadn't packed her bag that she wanted on our way to Lake Tahoe, she wanted us to drive 3 hours back and get it and we weren't going to do it. She had a massive, full on temper tantrum, which I didn't understand at the time, but of course, now that I've read these books I do and but the only thing that my husband I could do at that moment was silent empathy, just be there with her with compassion in our face and let her have her feelings. And that's what we did and I think that that is something else that's hard for parents to do is just let your teenager have their feelings. Because eventually the feelings, they dissipate, they get smaller even if you do nothing.


Casey: Right and when one thing that has been useful for me, because it's really hard for me to "do nothing" is to visual, like you said, silent empathy is literally visualizing my energy pouring out of my body and wrapping my child up, like my daughter had a contrasting M.R.I. that she had to do recently and she worked herself up into an unbelievable frenzy just simply in the, just the unknown was too much. And I knew there was nothing that I could say mostly because I tried it and so it just became like all I really could do was like pour energy, like something I can't see, I don't really know if it's actually doing anything but it let me feel like I was in contribution to her, simply because I was pouring out my energetic empathy and imagining that she was being wrapped up in it and so if anyone out there has the-


Marcilie: That's a beautiful image.


Casey: Thank you.


Marcilie: And I'm sure just imagining and visualizing that helped you feel better.


Casey: Yes, exactly. It helped me let me let go of the idea that I had to have the perfect thing to say. And just let me be with her and let her feel me attuning to her, but yeah, wow, it's no easy thing when they are freaking out.


Marcilie: I love that, I'm totally going to try that.


Casey: Okay, good, thank you.And then finally the fourth of these qualities of the mind is creative exploration. So what does creative exploration mean and what can it look like during the teen years?


Marcilie: So as the frontal lobes develop, they open up more abstract and conceptual thinking for teens. Metacognition thinking about thinking, this was not available to them before the prefrontal cortex could wire more. So they start thinking, asking these big questions, "What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What really matters?" These are the kind of metacognition thoughts that teens begin to have and while this kind of thinking can make teens push away and rebel from parents in order to carve out their own path, it can also open up original, new ways of problem solving. Like Dan Siegel says if you couple this with novelty seeking and the increased reward drive, you can get some very creative out of the box thinking as a result. It's his opinion that it's this group of adolescents that is going to come up with the innovations that will save the world.


Casey: Yes if only we gave them the environment to focus in on that right. I want to talk about that too and he's like "You know, what? We should just scrap everything we're doing with middle school and simply give them a world problem and say 'You've got 3 years.'"


Marcilie: Yeah and that they come up with something amazing.


Casey: So thinking about their thinking, all of a sudden I'm thinking to myself, like, the question of "What were you thinking?" And they don't always have an answer to that, right? So I feel like the way that we come at, you know, with curiosity and help them recognize that, I mean, do they know that they can think about what they're thinking?


Marcilie: Actually I'm not sure they do but what we do see in brain scans is that they do have rational thinking, logical thinking, they are able to logic through situations but the problem is that they don't fully weigh the possible downsides because of that hyper rationality.


Casey: Yeah, logical is subjective.


Marcilie: Yeah, the girl who planned up a huge party at her friend's house, her friend happened to be the daughter of the headmaster of the school, she planned it, she knew the risk was that she could be expelled but just the draw of having a rocking good time and having legendary status for years to come about the one who planned a party right under the headmaster's nose was enough to have her propel forward even though she did think through the downsides.


Casey: Yeah, yeah, so how can parents best support their teens in continuing to develop that conceptual and abstract thinking.


Marcilie: So this is, this is about helping our kids be observers of themself, or witness to themselves thinking about how they're thinking and Dan Siegel recommends that we help our kids SIFT through their experiences, you know, he's a master at acronyms. Sift through, help them sift through their experiences so that they can make their own sense of them, when we can make sense of our own experiences that helps the brain become integrated. So this means focusing, when your child comes home drunk, for example, focusing on what's going on inside of your child instead of the behavior that you just cannot comprehend. So SIFT stands for S is sensations. So help your child notice their body sensations. So what did you feel in your body when you were drinking all this alcohol? How did that feel? Let them connect with that.


The I in SIFT stands for images. What images did you see in your mind? What did you hear as this was happening? The F is feelings, how did you feel as this was happening? How do you feel now? And their thoughts, that's the T in SIFT. What thoughts went through your mind as you were taking the fifth beer or whatever? As you were walking home tonight? And in this way, as we help them sift through their experiences, children then can become more aware of their own thoughts and feelings, their own experiences and to help to develop their own internal compass and in positive discipline this sounds like curiosity questions, right, a lot of curiosity questions helping the child explore the consequences of their decisions and that helps them develop that conceptual abstract meta-cognitive thinking.


Casey: Yeah, over time


Marcilie: Over time, exactly.


Casey: Right.


Marcilie: It's going to take a lot of mess up.


Casey: Yeah, and a lot of sifting.


Marcilie: Exactly.


Casey: What I think too about when we teach positive discipline, so anybody that's listened to has been through a live positive discipline class, we, you know, the activities, the processing of the activities really sounds like what are you feeling, what are you thinking, what are you deciding, so it's, we also recognize that and I'm just going to speak into this, like as adults, you know, many of us and coaches, we have a job because, you know, humans haven't necessarily developed this outside observer and so this is, you know, not just for our kids but also for us, right, for us, as we find ourselves like irate because here they are stumbling home drunk, what a great opportunity for us to do a little sifting, right, what a great opportunity for us to do some self-regulation, so you know we're talking about teens, but really we're talking about humans too.


Marcilie: Right, right and it is really a lot easier to show up for our teens as a safe place if we've done that sifting ourselves.


Casey: Yeah.


Marcilie: Which I, you know, I think is a lifelong process.


Casey: Oh yeah. Yeah, a lifelong process for sure and so messy, right, so messy. I just want to acknowledge that I could talk to you for like 5 more hours about this topic and that being said, is there anything else you want to share with listeners before we wrap this up?


Marcilie: So the the one thing I think, I've read so many books, the Teenage Brain, too, it scared me because it talks about how all of these changes in the brain makes it's so much easier for a teenager to become addicted to any sorts of things so I feel kind of scared when I read that kind of thing and I want to know "Well, what can I do?" And so I appreciated Dan Siegel's advice in his book Brainstorm, again, he said "If I had to summarize in one word all of the research on what kind of parenting helps create the best conditions for a child's adolescence growth and development it would be the term "presence". Presence.


So what does that mean? He says presence means being open to what is, being aware of what's happening as it's happening, attuning to the child's mind and inner world and being receptive and aware of your own triggers and fears. It means helping the child, this is his term, feel felt, that feeling you get when someone really understands you, really gets you, doesn't judge you and loves you no matter what. That's step one, help them feel felt first, before you move in to fixing mode and it's very hard for us with teenagers or anybody any age of child not to move into fixing mode. So that's what I want to leave myself and all of our listeners is that's a first step, help them feel felt, be present to their experience and frankly, and then we can turn to setting limits and boundaries based on this deep understanding, rather than based on fear and/or based on someone else's values, it's kind of like connection before correction in positive discipline. You know, that connection first, but we got to linger there longer for adolescents before we then can turn to the questions of "Well, what do you want to do next time? What should we do now?"


Casey: Thank you for that. Thank you so much for that. It's such a privilege to be in conversation with you, thanks for contributing to the summit.


Marcilie: You're welcome, it's my honor to be here and it gave me an opportunity to refresh my understanding of the teen brain. I've got 3 of them so it's a win win, thank you.


Casey:  If there are parents listening who want to get in touch with you or follow your work where can they find?


Marcilie: My website is workingparenting.com, I've got a blog there and upcoming classes all the time or on Facebook you could find me at Coach Marcilie.


Casey: Awesome. Yay! Thank you so much.


Marcilie: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.