What is Adolescence?
Adolescence is the time between childhood and adulthood - between the ages of 12 to 18 -- that is marked by dramatic growth and change, both physical and emotional.
Why is it so difficult?
The transition period that is adolescence brings up issues of independence and self-identity. In addition, the adolescent brain is going through drastic changes that impact many areas of a teens functioning. Not only is it producing an increased amount of hormones to trigger these physical changes, but it is also increasing its capacity to understand and manage emotions, as well as plan and problem solve. What this means is that developmental period involves a lot of trial and error in practicing these new skils.
What is considered normal behavior during adolescence?
The task of adolescence is to develop a self-identity that is independent of a teens family. This means most teens will engage in behavior that seperates them from their family. Many teens prefer to spend more time with peers/friends than they do with their family. Many teens will express a need for privacy whether that is regarding their personal space, or their online socializing, and may do this in a defensive way. Adolescents may experience an identity crises as your teenager tries to figure out who they are and who they want to become. They may try out different fashion statements, or hairstyles. You may observe them have awkward physical movements as your teen grows by leaps and bounds and learns to become situated in their body. It is quite common that your teen might engage in occassional sassiness as they realize you are not perfect and points out your faults.
Adolescents can behave in extremely self-centered ways, as they alternate between setting high goals or demeaning themselves. As teenagers grow and become curious about sexual matters, they might act out on desires and curiosities. In addition, adolescents can engage in risk-taking behavior like trying drugs or alcohol, or driving at high speeds as they lack the full capacity to consider consequences to risks.
What can a parent do?
Listen to and value your teen’s ideas and experiences. Do not necessarily always try to provide a solution to their problems. Just listen then let them work out their problems on their own. Stick to your rules but make sure your teenager understands the expectations and consequences from breaking rules. Pass along your ethics and values to show your teen what you think is important. Try to avoid confrontation. Never show hostility and work through your disagreements. And sometimes you will just have to agree on disagreeing. Deal with anything that threatens you or your teen’s safety.
When should a parent be concerned?
It can be difficult to tell the difference between symptoms of mental illness and normal problems that all teenagers experience from time to time.
You may notice that your teenager experiences episodes of sadness, anxiety, frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed. These episodes should not last more than a few days at most; if these feelings are continual and your teen is chronically anxious or sad, then you should speak to him or her about your concerns and consult a professional to see if there may be a more serious problem than normal teenage angst.
If you see that your teen is not engaging in other activities or with friends and is chronically disconnected, angry and sad, this is when the behavour becomes abnormal and requires intervention.
Some concerning behaviours to pay attention to:
• Decrease in enjoyment and time spent with friends and family
• Significant decrease in school performance
• Strong resistance to attending school or absenteeism
• Problems with memory, attention or concentration
• Big changes in energy levels, eating or sleeping patterns
• Physical symptoms (stomach aches, headaches, backaches)
• Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, crying often
• Frequent aggression, disobedience or lashing out verbally
• Excessive neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
• Substance abuse
• Dangerous or illegal thrill-seeking behaviour
• Is overly suspicious of others
• Sees or hears things that others do not