Adults correctly name facial expressions in a photograph almost 100% of the time. Studies show that teens get them wrong up to 50% of the time. Why the discrepancy and what does it mean for our teen daughters? And what can you do as a parent? A lot, actually.
Teens use the limbic region of the brain to make decisions. That’s due to the fact that the “CEO” of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, the part responsible for logical reasoning, future planning, organizing and higher thinking is not fully matured until the late 20′s. The limbic system on the other hand, is responsible for what scientists call the four Fs. It’s responsible for fighting, fleeing, feeding and sexual reproduction. You can fill in that F. (Honestly, that’s how the science journals write it up!) The limbic region is all about survival and survival of the species. The limbic system is not a great reader of facial expressions in others.
Another reason teens don’t do as well as adults may be tied to their use of technology. Some researchers feel that looking at a computer screen for long periods of time is actually eroding the ability to read facial expressions. That is not good news. Reading facial expressions in others is how we feel empathy and connect on meaningful levels with others. The way our brains scan for information on a computer screen is called Continuous Partial Attention, CPA for short. CPA may be responsible for our weakening ability to read other’s faces. The technology designed to connect us, may be disconnecting us as human beings.
What does all this mean for our daughters? More drama in their lives. Imagine if your daughter looks at someone and she thinks they are angry when really they are sad or frustrated. She will most likely have an inappropriate reaction to the information before her. That causes a lot of drama in our daughters’ social lives. (The limbic system as steering wheel causes other problems…. I’ll post them in the future.) According to some researchers, CPA is also responsible for our teens dwindling attention span. That too causes problems in many areas.
As a parent, you can help your daughter by explaining the way her teen brain works. Simply understanding that you don’t have all the tools needed to navigate the world properly helps you feel less stressed when you take a wrong turn so to speak. Parents can also help by listening compassionately when their daughter has drama in her social life. It’s best to listen as a neutral observer instead of giving unasked for advice, telling your daughter she shouldn’t feel the way she does, or in any other way make her wrong, or put her down. Ask her what she needs from you and do your best to provide the emotional support she needs.
Parents can also limit technology use. (I know, you are all rolling your eyes!) Put cell phones and computers away for the night. Invite more friends over to have face to face interactions and take the cell phones and computers away. Find ways for your daughter to play, laugh, have fun, and connect with her friends. The teen trend of multi-tasking, that is texting others when they are with friends, does not help them connect with others on a meaningful level.
As technology makes a tighter clutch on all of our lives, parents need to find ways to bring the humanness back into their daughter’s life. If you don’t know how to help engage your daughter in people oriented fun, email me for some free tips.
Play, by the way, helps your daughter’s brain grow up in a healthy way!