Adolescence is the period when young people undergo radical changes in physiology, attitudes, and social relationships as they grow from childhood to adulthood. Adolescence begins when puberty sets in and ends in the early twenties when the person is reasonably independent from their parents.
For the adolescent, much is happening all at once. Physically, their is a period of accelerated growth second only to the first two years of life. Physical development brings changes in self-concept. Psychologically, they embark on the challenge of becoming independent and of establishing their own identity and also learns many of their capabilities and limitations. While trying to answer the questions of who they are, the adolescent must learn to establish close relationships with others, particularly those of the opposite sex outside of the family.
The changing emotions of adolescents is associated with rapid changes in their physiology. Heightened emotionality may be marked by a low tolerance for frustration, or by quarrelsomeness. Knowing this, adults should not overreact to teenage ”moods,” which can range from hysteria at a football game to total depression right afterward because a “special someone” did not notice them.
Adolescents are often susceptible to the influences of peers and of people they idealize, people who can interpret their feelings for them or interpret what is happening to them. Music frequently expresses feelings they can’t understand or otherwise explain. Adolescents often use information from peers to help them create an identity that differentiates them from their parents. As they explore various roles and life-styles, they become aware of and sensitive to others who give them responses about their behavior.
The adolescent’s self-concept, his perception of his body, attitudes, thoughts, emotions, and behavior, is fluctuating. New expectations, sexual feelings, and behavioral challenges are used by young people to redefine their self-concepts, modify their attitudes, and test previously held values in light of their changed circumstances.
With maturity, the adolescent’s need to identify with others diminishes, and his own ideas and values provide the framework for his identity. Since self-esteem or feelings of worth partially stem from daily social experiences, adolescents need encouragement, support, and approval. Although our culture promotes the idea that peer pressures and family commitments are opposing forces, the family can actually provide a foundation for a teenager’s success in the world outside the family.
Problems Related to Adolescence
Family conflicts often occur because adolescents must learn the relationship between freedom and authority. Conflicts typically occur when parents overreact to behavior that is actually quite normal. Part of the problem is that parents want to spare their children the anxieties they experienced as teenagers. Usually, however, adolescents cannot avoid such experiences.
Control is generally thought to be the central issue in the “letting go” process between parents and teens: what are the rules or limits and who gets to set them? The adolescent naturally wants more and more control over his life—more freedom to decide things for himself. Parents, on the other hand, often feel it is their responsibility to draw the line, even when the teenager thinks that this is imposing unfair demands.
The teenager may see his parents’ help as interference, their genuine concern as babying, and their advice as bossing. Parents may find themselves puzzled about how to help when their guidance is resented and rejected. The natural course when an adolescent rebels or deviates from the rules is to increase parental control. But such control usually promotes further resistance. By imposing more control, parents may create—or at least encourage—the very behavior they don’t want. The result is a power struggle over who is going to control whom. If parents mistakenly think that the issue is really control, then the power struggle will continue.
What should parents do? Having a change of heart toward our teens is infinitely more important than learning techniques and skills. This means, first of all, that parents must give up their controlling attitudes, and secondly, that they see themselves as teachers.
Seeing teenagers as capable of taking responsibility is an attitude that suggests we can teach them responsible living. When parents teach, they are taking responsibility. When parents perceive others compassionately, parents can influence their teens for good and create a better life for all their family members.
So a parent is to be compassionate and teach. What are they to teach? Even though our environments have powerful influences on us, we are still free to choose whether or not we will allow external forces to control our behavior. Our behavior is not so much a product of what happens to us as it is a product of what we do with what happens. How we perceive or interpret events suggests our actions. Teenagers deserve to be taught that they are not pushed around by forces beyond their control. Responsible living is possible. Parents who are compassionate teachers do not indulge or excuse teens, but act however love requires, whether firmly or forgivingly.
The counselor must be flexible in approach with the goal of helping to change attititudes and perceptions of parents and adolscents, thus changing their behavior.