Communicating With Your Teenager

Improving the channel of communication between yourself and your teenager is essential to a respectable and loving parent-child relationship. Just as a radio channel signal must to be clear in order for listeners to hear and understand the voices communication between a parent and their teenager must be clear. There are some essential communication tools that can improve the quality of Communication With Teenagers;

1. Listen

2. Set boundaries that reflect your values and provide appropriate punishment

3. Ask and value their opinions

4. Give them privacy

5. Develop an interest in their life

6. Let them know you believe in their potential as a human being and that they are of precious value to you and to the world

Listen

Listening is different to hearing. Often people are having a conversation that consists of them sharing their opinion and then while the other person speaks they are thinking about what they are going to respond without listening. Listening is not a natural quality a lot of people posses rather it is cultivated and developed through constant effort. Listening means that when someone else is talking you are listening to their words, focused on their countenance and sensitive to their emotions. When a person truly listens to another they pick up signals the other person is sending out such as body language. Body language is a huge tool to help one understand the feelings of another. By focusing on another person that person will feel important and therefore are more likely to respect your opinion.

With your teenager they might use phrases such as, “you just don’t understand” or “fine, whatever.” These phrases are closed and basically say “you don’t care about my opinion so I’m not going to listen to you.” If you teenager is constantly repeating “you just don’t understand” then ask her to explain what is so important to her and listen. Now just because you listen and focus all you attentions on your teenager doesn’t mean that you need to agree with then. But it will provide them with an opportunity to evaluate their own feelings and values. Teenagers don’t think that their parents were ever teenagers. Sometimes sharing appropriate stories of being a teenager and making decisions can make you more tangible and real to you teenager.

Boundaries

Purely being your teenager’s best friend will do them no favors. Teenagers Need Structure. Without rules and consequences they will never be prepared for the wide world which awaits them. With this said there must be a balance. Too many rules and not enough freedom will only cause your teenager to rebel. Decide what is must important to you, what do you value must about life. Avoid giving them set rules and provide them with principles. A principle is an accepted code of conduct that may apply in many facets of life. Here are some examples:

Don’t yell – Be respectful

Don’t make a mess – Take care of your possessions

You must clean your room – cleanliness of next to Godliness

Use your manners – Acknowledge your blessings through an attitude of gratitude

The only way that your teenagers will integrate these principles into their life is if they see them exemplified through your actions.

When deciding an appropriate consequence to bad behavior involves your teenager. Have family discussions and ask them what they think would be an appropriate consequence. This way when they are disobedient they can not moan about the consequence because they helped create it. Also involving your teenager in the discipline process is a manifestation that you care about what they think and that elevates them with a sense of maturity.

Ask

Teenagers are developing their ideas and opinions about the world in which they live and although those with evolve throughout their life they thrive on sharing their present thoughts. Ask you teenager what they think about smoking, teenage pregnancy, sex, underage drinking, higher education, work ethics etc… By asking then the questions they will be thinking about those topics and will be more likely to make logical and smart choices.

Privacy

Everyone enjoys some privacy especially teenagers who’s body is changing with soaring hormones. The emotional rollercoaster that accompanies the teen years often calls for some well need privacy.

Be interested

If your teenager knows you are interested in their life and their hobbies they will feel more comfortable in sharing things with you.

Importance

If you can try to always discipline with love your teenagers will soon learn that you do all you do because you love them. Tell them that they have great potential because of who they are rather than because they were captain of the football team or received an “A” in an exam. This doesn’t that these things are not accomplishments but make sure you are praising your teenagers for the choices they make and person they are becoming.

By: R. Kapoor

Scientists Show Blue Light Can Help Reset Sleep Cycle

TROYTeenagers’ morning drowsiness is often caused by out-of-tune body clocks, in a condition known as “delayed sleep phase syndrome.” Scientists now say that timing exposure to blue light — avoiding it during the first two hours of being wake, then getting a good dose of it — can help restore the sleep cycle, so teens feel sleepy earlier at night and are more awake in the morning.

Teenagers are notorious for staying up late, hitting the snooze button and always running late. Now, however, new research shows they can adjust to a schedule simply by sitting in front of a light.

Erin Chesky knows just how hard it is to get up because she battled getting to sleep. “I would just stare at the ceiling, and then I would have to wake up at 5:30 or 5 o’clock to go to school, and I would be tired,” she says.

The 16-year-old was diagnosed with delayed sleep phase syndrome. That means Erin‘s internal clock didn’t match what was her alarm clock was saying.

Mariana Figueiro, from the Lighting Research Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., says, “When your watch says it’s 7 o’clock in the morning, you want your internal clock to also say it is 7 o’clock in the morning.”

Lighting scientists have found a quick fix to the internal and external alarm clock miscommunication — a blue light. “If you apply the light after your minimum core body temperature, you’re going to advance the clock so you’re going to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier the next cycle,” Figueiro says. The minimum core body temperature is reached about two hours before a person naturally wakes up.

“When you get the teenager up, outdoors, waiting for the school bus at 7 o’clock in the morning, they may be getting light at the wrong phase,” Figueiro says. This exposes teens to natural blue light too early. By wearing the goggles when teens wake up, blue light is blocked out. Then, later in the morning — after their minimum core body temperature is reached — teens can reset their internal clocks by being out in the light.

Blue light exposure worked quickly for Erin. She’s now able to fall asleep by 10:30.

An easy way schools can help is by giving students a quick mid-morning break to go outside or put blue LEDs around computer screens in classrooms. By getting enough blue light at the right time, sleep patterns can not only be changed in teens, but also in the elderly and shift workers.

BACKGROUND: Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are studying how light — especially blue light — affects our body’s daily rhythms. By getting enough blue light at the right time and blocking it out at others, it is possible to correct distorted sleep patters for the elderly (who tend to wake up too early), teenagers (whose internal clock is usually set for late nights and sleep-in mornings), and shift workers.

HOW BODY RYHTHMS WORK: Circadian rhythms are biological cycles in the body that repeat approximately every 24 hours, including the sleep/wake cycle, along with body temperature, hormone levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and pain threshold. The brain has its own internal “pacemaker” that determines when nerve cells fire to set the body’s rhythms, although scientists can’t precisely explain how it does so.

The colors of the light spectrum can affect the body’s rhythm differently, particularly when it comes to sleep patterns. For instance, daylight is dominated by short, visible wavelengths of light that provides a blue visual sensation, like the blue sky. But l how bright the light is, how far away, how long you’re exposed and when you’re exposed to light also have to be considered. Also, we are more likely to sleep soundly in the wee hours of the morning, when our body temperature is lowest, and most likely to awaken when our body temperature starts to rise, usually between 6 AM and 8 AM. As we age, the brain’s “pacemaker” loses cells, changing circadian rhythms, especially sleep patterns. The elderly may nap more frequently, have disrupted sleep, or awaken earlier.

RESETTING THE CLOCK: The RPI researchers developed a method for resetting the internal “master clock” in studies of both teens and the elderly. The scheme removes blue light at certain times (depending on how one wants to “reset the clock”) by wearing orange glasses, followed by exposure to blue light and darkness at nighttime. The key is a distinct, repeated pattern of light and dark.

SLEEP STAGES: Stage 1: drowsiness. Stage 2: light sleep. Stages 3 and 4: deep sleep. Stage 5: Rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. REM is when people dream, perhaps because the brain is more active and the muscles are relaxed. These five stages occur cyclically; a person may complete five cycles in a typical night’s sleep.

Teen Internet Addicts More Apt to Self Harm

GUANGDONG –  Adolescents who are addicted to the internet are more likely than non-addicted teens to engage in self-injurious behaviors like hitting themselves, pulling their own hair, or pinching or burning themselves, according to a study released Thursday.

Researchers surveyed 1,618 adolescents between 13 and 18 years old from the Guangdong Province in Southeast China about their self-injurious behaviors and gave them a test designed to gauge internet addiction.

While only about 10 percent of the students surveyed were moderately addicted to the internet, and less than 1 percent were severely addicted, those students were 2.4 times more likely to have self-injured one to five times in the past 6 months than students with normal internet habits, Dr. Lawrence T. Lam from University of Notre Dame, Darlinghurst, New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues found.

Additionally, the moderately-to-severely internet-addicted students were almost five times more likely than non-addicted students to have self-injured six or more times in the past 6 months, they report in the journal Injury Prevention.

The link between internet addiction and self-injurious behavior in adolescence remained “strong and significant” after the researchers accounted for other variables that have been previously associated with self-injury, including depression, family dissatisfaction, or stressful life events, suggesting that internet addiction is an independent risk factor for self-injurious behavior.

Since the mid 1990s, internet addiction has been classified as a mental health problem with symptoms similar to other addictions. Experts interpret internet addiction, among other things, as feelings of depression/nervousness/moodiness when not online, which only go away when the addict gets back online. Fantasizing or being preoccupied about being online are other signs of internet addiction.

Lam urges parents to be on the look out for signs of internet addiction. Internet addiction, Lam told Reuters Health, may not simply be a matter of time spent in front of a computer screen.

“To assess whether a young person is using the internet excessively,” Lam noted, “we still have to look into other signs and symptoms. For example, if someone feels an urge to get online to check the email or visit any sites, knowing that he or she has just checked the mail two minutes ago, then I would say that exhibits an addictive symptom.”

While acknowledging that self-injurious behavior is linked to borderline personality disorder, Lam and colleagues seem to favor the idea that internet addiction and self-injury are both manifestations of impulse control disorders.

Source: Injury Prevention

Teen-Age Good at Reasoning but Lack Emotional Maturity

WASHINGTON – A 16-year-old might be quite capable of making an informed decision about ending a pregnancy, in consultation with an adult. But the same teenager may lack the maturity to be held to adult levels of responsibility if she commits a violent crime, according to new research.

“Adolescents likely possess the necessary intellectual skills to make informed choices about terminating a pregnancy but may lack the social and emotional maturity to control impulses,” said Laurence Steinberg, who led the study.

Steinberg, professor of developmental psychology at Temple University, added: “This immaturity mitigates their criminal responsibility.”

“It is very difficult for a 16-year-old to resist peer pressure in a heated, volatile situation,” Steinberg said. “Most times, there is no time to talk to an adult to inject some reason and reality to the situation. Many crimes committed by adolescents are done in groups with other teenagers and are not premeditated.”

Steinberg and co-authors recruited 935 participants (age group 10-30) to examine age differences in a variety of cognitive and psychosocial capacities.

The participants took different tests measuring psychosocial (emotional) maturity and cognitive ability to examine age patterns in numerous factors that affect judgment and decision-making.

The maturity measures included tests of impulse control, sensation-seeking, resistance to peer influence, future orientation and risk perception. The cognitive battery included measures of basic intellectual abilities.

There were no differences among the youngest four age groups (10-11, 12-13, 14-15 and 16-17) on the measures of psychosocial maturity.

But significant differences in maturity, favouring adults, were found between the 16- to 17-year-olds and those 22 years and older, and between the 18- to 21-year-olds and those 26 and older. Results were the same for males and females, the authors said.

In contrast, differences in cognitive capacity measures increased from ages 11 to 16 and then showed no improvements after age 16 – exactly the opposite of the pattern found in the psychosocial measures.

The findings appeared in the October issue of American Psychologist.

Health Canada Warns of Health Risks Posed by Rating Raw Bean Sprouts

OTTAWA – Cook those bean sprouts well, advises Health Canada, if you want to reduce the risk of exposure to food borne illness.

“Children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to these bacteria and should not eat any raw sprouts at all,” Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Wednesday.

“They should also avoid eating cooked sprouts unless they can be sure the sprouts have been thoroughly cooked.”

The agencies note that sprouts from alfalfa and mung beans are a popular choice for Canadians as a low-calorie, healthy ingredient for many meals. Onion, radish, mustard and broccoli sprouts, not to be confused with the actual plant or vegetable, are also options.

But they may carry harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, which can lead to serious illness.

The largest recent outbreak in Canada linked to sprouts was in the fall of 2005, when more than 648 cases of salmonella were reported in Ontario.

Healthy adults who choose to eat sprouts are urged to ensure they buy crisp ones that have been refrigerated and avoid those that appear dark or smell musty. They should also use tongs or a glove to place the sprouts in a plastic bag.

Symptoms from salmonella usually occur 12 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, while symptoms from E. coli can occur within two to 10 days.

Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. People who experience these symptoms should contact a doctor immediately. In extreme cases, E. coli can lead to acute kidney failure or even death.

Memory Test Spots Pre-Dementia

LONDON – Memory and language tests can reliably reveal “hidden” early dementia, say UK experts.

Most dementias are missed for years as the symptoms can be elusive until considerable brain tissue is lost.

But doctors from Oxford found they were able to spot very early warning signs when they looked closely enough.

The findings in Neurology could help doctors diagnose dementia sooner, which is crucial since treatment is most effective when given early.

Over a span of 20 years, the researchers studied a group of 241 healthy elderly volunteers, giving them regular tests designed to measure their thinking or cognitive powers.

Being able to spot and measure the initial stages of dementia is a crucial challenge if we are to improve drug testing and lay the groundwork for prevention trials

When they scrutinized the test results, the doctors found subtle clues that, in retrospect, hinted at ensuing impairment.

Specifically, the patients who went on to develop mild cognitive impairment or pre-dementia stumbled on tasks involving language expression, learning and recall.

For example, they had greater difficulty remembering the name for common objects or animals and explaining the meaning of a given word.

And those who were older and who scored lower on the language or memory tests tended to deteriorate more quickly.

Professor David Smith and his team say their findings fit with what we already know about dementia.

Experts have noted that the early stages of dementia are associated with linguistic problems, such as word-finding difficulties.

Early literary works by authors who have later been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s show similar changes in language use – simpler narratives and a smaller vocabulary.

 

Rebecca Wood of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said: “This significant long-term study shows how subtle, but measurable, problems with language or memory can predict when a healthy elderly person is likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, which frequently develops into dementia.

“Early intervention will be crucial for future dementia treatments. Being able to spot and measure the initial stages of dementia is a crucial challenge if we are to improve drug testing and lay the groundwork for prevention trials.”

Latest work in Archives of General Psychiatry adds weight to the evidence that Alzheimer’s dementia is at least partly inherited, and that being healthy in mid-life could help lower your risk of the disease.

Dutch researchers found that people with a parental history of Alzheimer’s had higher blood pressure and indicators of arterial disease as well as different amounts of inflammatory proteins in their blood compared with those without a parental history of Alzheimer’s.

What Does Anti-Aging Mean?

Like it or not, “anti-aging” now has a number of quite different common meanings and connotations. Each is championed by a particular group or loose coalition of interests, but advocates for these groups have a way of diving into the fray without defining their terms. This makes reading about anti-aging techniques, technologies, medicine, products, and debates very confusing for the newcomer.

For the scientific community, anti-aging research refers exclusively to slowing, preventing, or reversing the aging process. There is no medical technology that allows this to be done – although the jury is still out on calorie restriction in humans. Nor is there any currently available method (short of waiting for people to die) to accurately measure the effects of an alleged anti-aging therapy.

In the medical and more reputable business community, anti-aging medicine means early detection, prevention, and reversal of age-related diseases. This is quite different from tackling the aging process itself, and a wide array of strategies and therapies are currently available. Calorie restriction, for example, is a demonstrated way to lower risk for a wide range of age-related degenerative conditions.

The wider business community – including a great many fraudulent and frivolous ventures – views “anti-aging” as a valuable brand and a demonstrated way to increase sales. At the worse end of the scale, this leads to snake oil salesmen, “anti-aging” cremes that may or may not make your skin look younger, and infomercials that tout the “anti-aging” benefits of exercise machines. Broadly, and very charitably, we can look at these varied definitions of anti-aging as meaning “to look and feel younger in some way” – which has no bearing on how long you live or how healthy you actually are.

The confusion of most interest is between the first two definitions. Many interventions lengthen life span for individuals by preventing or curing specific age-related diseases that would otherwise prove fatal. For example, ask yourself whether preventing heart disease or diabetes is anti-aging medicine. This would have no effect on the aging process, but it would help many people to live longer, healthier lives. Is this anti-aging research? Scientists say no, some medical and business groups say yes.

Having a Pet Can Help You Stay Healthy

KANSAS CITY – Having a pet in your life can help you stay hale and hearty, say researchers.

Owning a four-legged, furry pet would help lower blood pressure, encourage exercise and also improve psychological health.

“Pets are of great importance to people, especially during hard economic times,” said Rebecca Johnson, associate professor from University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI).

“Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance and may be part of answers to societal problems, such as inactivity and obesity,” she added.

In a study sponsored by ReCHAI, ‘Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound and Stay Fit for Seniors’, a group of older adults were matched with shelter dogs, while another group of older adults were partnered with a human walk buddy.

For 12 weeks, participants were encouraged to walk on an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week.

“The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent,” said Johnson.

“They had more confidence walking on the trail, and they increased their speed.

“The older people who walked with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities.

“The human walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the weather being too hot,” she added.

The researchers will explore the many ways animals benefit people of all ages during the International Society for Anthrozoology and Human-Animal Interaction Conference in Kansas City, Mo., on Oct. 20-25.

“Research in this field is providing new evidence on the positive impact pets have in our lives,” said Johnson.

 “This conference will provide a unique opportunity to connect international experts working in human-animal interaction research with those already working in the health and veterinary medicine fields.

“A wonderful array of presentations will show how beneficial animals can be in the lives of children, families and older adults,” she added.

People Having Social Groups Stay Healthy

SYDNEY – If you are part of a social group, your are more likely to stay away from conditions like stroke, dementia and even the common cold.

Well, new research by researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Queensland, Australia, suggests that membership of social groups has a positive impact on health and well-being.

The researchers highlights the importance of belonging to a range of social groups, of hanging onto social groups, and of building new social groups in dealing with life changes such as having a stroke and being diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers reviewed a number of previous studies, which identified a link between group membership, and physical and mental health.

Commenting on the latest work, Professor Alex Haslam, of the University of Exeter, said: “We are social animals who live and have evolved to live in social groups. Membership of groups, from football teams to book clubs and voluntary societies, gives us a sense of social identity. This is an indispensable part of who we are and what we need to be in order to lead rich and fulfilling lives. For this reason groups are central to mental functioning, health and well-being.”

The researchers said that a 2008 study showed that being able to maintain valued group memberships played as important a role in positive recovery as an ability to overcome cognitive difficulties (e.g., problems with memory and language).

A 2009 study showed that those who participated as a group in decisions related to the decoration of communal areas used those areas 57 percent more over the next month and were far happier as a result.

Another 2009 study found that a strong sense of identity associated with perceived membership of social groups, was a much better predictor of residents’ well-being than their level of dementia.

The study has been published in Scientific American Mind, and the findings were presented at the British Science Festival.

Men More Vulnerable to Mental Illness, Say Experts

NEW DELHI – Don’t reprimand your son for sobbing over a problem he is facing or tick him off for “behaving like a sissy”. It would only make him bottle up his emotions and lead to serious implications on his overall well being. Experts say men are more vulnerable to mental illness and depression than you would imagine.

Praveen Thapar, chairperson of the Sanjivni Centre for Mental Health, said while it’s true that women are more prone to depression, it’s equally true that women are better at sharing their emotions and problems than men – as a result most men keep their problems to themselves which has serious implications later.

In our society we co-relate the word man with power. From the time he is a child, a boy is told not to cry ‘like a sissy’ and be strong. Thus from an early stage he grows up with this learning that he should hide his emotions behind a serene face, Thapar told IANS ahead of World Mental Health Day Saturday.

This however can have serious implications later in life. This habit of bottling up one’s feelings and frustrations may lead to a breakdown later, she said.

Akhila Vasudev, a counselor, agreed.

“While women are more open about their problems and emotions, with men, even when they are with friends, the discussion rarely goes beyond the football match or finances. Often it’s because they have been molded that way.”

”A number of male patients that I have therefore admit that they feel much better after simply talking about their problems. It helps that I am a stranger, they say. Opening up in front of the family is harder,” said Vasudev.

Quoting an example, Thapar said at a post-retirement conference that she attended recently, all that was being discussed about was how to manage your finances.

Post-retirement phase is a different experiences altogether. You have more time on your hand, your expectations may increase, you may feel worthless and useless sitting around – but all that the men talked about was finances, she said.

According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), mental illness will be the biggest health risk in India by 2010.

 

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) further says that while 20 million Indians suffer from major mental ailments, 50 million suffer from milder forms.

Depression, anxiety, panic attacks and hysteria are all mild forms of mental illnesses which people often ignore, experts say.

According to R.C. Jiloha, head of the department of psychiatry at the Maulana Azad Medical College, among the most common form of mental disorders that men suffer from are anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Because of an increasing awareness on the issue, I have a lot of men coming to me for counselling. But the best way to tackle this is for the corrective measures to begin in the families itself,” Thapar said.

“Parents should interact more with their children and encourage them to be themselves. They should not have a different attitude towards their sons and daughters, she advised.

Binge Drinking Weakens Body’s Ability to Fight Infections

WASHINGTON – Binge drinking can weaken body’s ability to fight off infections for at least 24 hours afterwards, finds a new study.

Stephen Pruett, currently at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University, USA and Ruping Fan of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Centre, USA, focused their study on the effect of heavy drinking on toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), a protein that has an important role in immune system activation.

Previous research has shown that too much alcohol inhibits the body’s production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are signalling molecules that launch the inflammatory response to infection.

The new study conducted over mouse model has confirm that acute alcohol exposure prevents the body from producing certain key pro-inflammatory cytokines.

The researchers found that ethanol molecules suppress TLR4’s usual ability to send signals that would normally trigger the production of inflammatory cytokines.

Alcohol’s effects continue long after the party is over: some cytokines were still not on full duty guarding against infection 24 hours after the binge.

“The time frame during which the risk of infection is increased might be at least 24 hours,” said Pruett.

“A persistent effect of ethanol on cells is indicated, such that inhibition of the response of some cytokines occurs even after the ethanol is cleared,” he added.

The study is published in the open access journal BMC Immunology.

Teenage Hormones – Watch Out

Teenagers can be weird creatures. They slam doors, burst into tears at the drop of a hat and get spots just when they want to look their best. But considering all the hormones and chemicals surging through their bodies their behavior is actually quite restrained.

Are hormones to blame when you suffer from teen angst, get spots just before a big night out or even battle to get out of bed in the morning?

If you understand what’s going on in your body it may help you realize why you are the way you are. It could also help you cope with certain things – such as getting those dreaded spots.

You’re exposed to mankind’s unique hormonal magic potion for the first time between the ages of six and eight. That’s when the adrenal glands at the top of the kidneys start secreting androgens. Androgens are just the start of the flood of hormones you’ll be exposed to.

Together they form a complex, sensitive system in which one hormone’s level determines another’s or triggers the secretion of another. At the age of about 10 for girls and 12 for boys the androgens in your body reach a level high enough to produce underarm and pubic hair, make your skin oilier and cause acne.

They’re also responsible for that nasty teen-specific smelliness that happens when you perspire and don’t bathe regularly.

Hormone attack

Androgen is followed by gonadotropin, a hormone that stimulates the sexual glands. Over the next year or two the level of gonadotropin in the blood increases sharply. This leads to the secretion of further hormones by the pituitary gland in the brain, which switches on the ovaries (in girls) and testes (in boys).

At this point you’re not fully formed yet but you are knee-deep in puberty and as you get deeper even more hormones are released. Ovaries produce oestrogen and progesterone. Testes produce testosterone. A teenage boy’s testosterone levels increase quickly to adult levels – 50 timeshigher than before, which is an enormous hormonal explosion.

And then parents wonder why a boy of 13 or 14 sometimes behaves strangely. It’s oestrogen that causes girls’ breasts to grow. It also determines a young woman’s shape through the redistribution of body fat.

 Fat is now stored on girls’ hips.

Testosterone takes charge of boys’ body shape: baby fat gives way to muscle and hair appears in unexpected places for the first time.

Eventually girls experience their first menstruation and boys their first full erection and ejaculation. This is the point at which you sometimes fall head over heels in love and the slightest touch, or even just a wink, from that special person has your heart skipping a beat.

The hormone mystery

Professor Steven Hough, a specialist in endocrinology (the study of hormones) at the University of Stellenbosch’s health sciences faculty, says scientists are still puzzled by what triggers hormone secretion. It’s thought that the nervous system, social and psychological factors, as well as your diet, all play a role.

It’s generally accepted children today start puberty at an earlier age. In 1850 girls got their first period at 17. Today it’s happening at 12.

A better diet, general prosperity and better medical care could be reasons for this. Being overweight can also cause you to start developing earlier. Many people believe hormones have just as dramatic an effect on the behavior of teenagers as they do on their body shape.

Parents talk about “hormones on legs” and complain about their teen kids’ fickle moods, impulsive behavior and over-emotionality. It appears young people crave excitement and enjoy wild behavior.

Statistics bear this out, Vivienne Parry writes in her book The Truth About Hormones (Atlantic Books, 2005). Accidents and thrill-seeking cause over three quarters of teen fatalities. The sturm und drang years (years of storm and longing), some call them.

But whether hormones are to blame when you sneak out of the house at night to go to a party is open to debate.

In the past it was believed the brain was fully developed by adolescence but new research shows biological adulthood is reached only by the late teens and early twenties. During the teen years the nerve endings in the forebrain are “pruned” to make them more effective.

This explains why thought processes such as goal setting, establishing priorities, organization and impulse control develop only later on.

“Hormones can’t get all the blame for teenage behavior. It’s not just testosterone that’s responsible for dangerous behavior but also the inability of an immature brain to perceive and evaluate risky behavior,’’ Parry writes.

When it comes to sexual behavior she compares the immature brain to a speeding car without a driver. Adolescent girls have the hormones and figures of adult women, while testosterone causes an adolescent boy to think of sex every six seconds – and this while the brain’s reasoning ability is still under construction.

Sleep is essential

Hormones are the culprits when it comes to your sudden desire to sleep all the time, though. A subtle shift in your sleep patterns occurs during puberty – the accelerated growth phase you go through during adolescence apparently requires more sleep.

This is partially explained by an increase in levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone) in teens’ blood. When that alarm goes off at 7 am your body thinks it’s still four in the morning.

Many teenagers get too little sleep in the long term, which leaves them with the same symptoms as jet lag.

Young people need nine hours of sleep a night but if you’re like most teens you won’t feel tired until the early hours of the morning.

Researchers say this is normal: teens’ circadian rhythms cause them to become sleepy only at around 2 am and to want to sleep till 11 am.

Dr Steve Delport, an endocrinologist and the father of two sons who’ve already been through puberty, says there’s nothing unusual about it. “Puberty is a normal period of growth and should be treated as such.

Talk about puberty

Much of the teen behavior that makes parents want to climb the walls can be prevented if they give their children the correct facts about puberty and talk to them about it regularly.

“Parents wrongly think their children are now grown up and therefore entrust them with responsibilities they’re not ready for,” Dr Delport says. (It’s good to know your parents aren’t always right!) “Teenagers need their parents’ support and advice now more than ever to be able to cope with peer pressure and body changes.”

Your self-image changes along with your body during your teens. That’s why you spend hours in front of the mirror and often feel self-conscious. Your parents need to know it’s normal for you to want to be alone a lot during this time.

Dr Delport also points out the genders differ markedly when it comes to maturation markers. Teen girls’ fast-growth phase starts when they’re around 12 but with some girls it starts at 10 or even earlier.

In boys the fast growth phase starts around 14 and sometimes even later. When puberty is delayed it can be a serious phenomenon that may require medical help.

“In most cases a large dose of patience is all that’s required but sometimes children need medical attention,” Dr Delport says.