Understanding Adolescence

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Adolescence can be a trying time for many. Neither parents nor teens are really prepared for it. Oh, we know it is coming, and we have heard stories, maybe even read books, but emotionally, we are generally unprepared.

From the time the newborn arrives, parents begin projecting upon the child, ideas of what he or she will be like. It is almost as though there is a blueprint in mind. As long as the child grows and responds according to the blueprint, all is well. Young children really have no power, and, for the most part, want to please.

Parents become lulled into the belief that they are in control, and this is how it should remain. Then one day, it all seems to change. Suddenly, even if there is obedience, it is accompanied by sullenness or surliness. There may be argumentativeness, or outright defiance.

The assumption is that the young person has been afflicted with a disease called adolescence, or has morphed into an alien being called a teenager. Many parents search for an antidote—threats, punishment, withdrawal of love, or an ongoing campaign to return the child to his or her former compliant state. This only brings out more of the behavior they are trying to eliminate.

Truth is, the child is transforming, emerging from the cocoon of the parental design, into the butterfly of his or her own uniqueness. Some transitions are smoother than others. The child is developing the ability to reflect upon feelings, ideas and every aspect of life—even the behavior of his or her parents.

Adolescence is a time of passionate beliefs and strong feelings. Amidst all of the general uncertainty, adolescents have a strong sense of fairness and justice, albeit still fairly ego centered. They are learning to express themselves. This can feel threatening to parents and teachers.

Rather than reacting strongly and opposing them, it is important to validate their right to express themselves and think their own thoughts. Certainly, it is our job to help them learn to communicate with respect, and to teach them the difference between acceptable and unacceptable ways of speaking to us.

The best way to do this, of course, is to model it. If we get angry and yell at them, we should not be surprised if they communicate in the same way. If we remain calm and open to them, they are more likely to hear what we are saying. It must be a two way process though, for they need us to hear what they are saying as well.

It is a little like when they were first learning to make sounds and attempt words. We tried very hard to figure out what they were saying, what they were needing. We must do the same now, because with all the rapid growth, emotional turmoil and hormonal adjustments, sometimes they do not even know exactly what they want. Patience and love will get us closer to finding out, and helping them to articulate their needs.

Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.

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