The Teen Years

The teen years pose some of the most difficult challenges for families. Teenagers, dealing with hormone changes and an ever-complex world, may feel that no one can understand their feelings, especially parents. As a result, the teen may feel angry, alone and confused while facing complicated issues about identity, peers, sexual behavior, drinking, and drugs.

Parents may be frustrated and angry that the teen seems to no longer respond to parental authority. Methods of discipline that worked well in earlier years may no longer have an effect. And, parents may feel frightened and helpless about the choices their teen is making. As a result, the teen years are ripe for producing conflict in the family. Typical areas of parent-teen conflict may include:

  • disputes over the teen’s curfew;
  • choice of friends;
  • spending time with the family versus with peers;
  • school and work performance;
  • cars and driving privileges;
  • dating and sexuality;
  • clothing, hairstyles, and makeup;
  • self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, drinking and using drugs.

Dealing with the issues of adolescence can be trying for all concerned. But families are generally successful at helping their children accomplish the developmental goals of the teen years — reducing dependence on parents while becoming increasingly responsible and independent.

However, there are a number of warning signs that things are not going well and that the family may want to seek outside help. These include aggressive behavior or violence by the teen, drug or alcohol abuse, promiscuity, school truancy, brushes with the law or runaway behavior. Likewise, if a parent is resorting to hitting or other violent behavior in an attempt to maintain discipline, this is a strong danger sign.

Using multi-disciplined psychotherapy helps others explore the interconnections of the mind, body, spirit, and community of each other. As a professional, I am often approached with questions via caring, compassionate and well-educated parents that have concerns and fears about their “changing adolescent.”

It is important as a parent to remember the physiological changes that are happening at this age.

Defining Adolescence

  • That awkward period between sexual maturation and the attainment of adult roles and responsibilities.
  • The transition from “child” status (requires adult monitoring) to “adult” status (self-responsibility for behavior).
  • The development interval that encompasses the body and brain changes of puberty. Begins with the domain of physical/biological changes related to puberty, but it ends in the domain of social roles.
  • Adolescence is much broader and longer than the teenage years alone. Adolescence now stretches across more than a decade, with pubertal onset often beginning by age 9-12 and adult roles delayed until mid-twenties (Worthman, 1995)
  • Research conducted by Martin, 2003, demonstrates a significant positive correlation between pubertal maturation and sensation seeking.

Critical Differences Between Adult and Adolescent Thinking ~ Disparities of  Adolescence

  • Adolescence is a TRANSITIONAL period during which a child is becoming, but is not yet, an adult
  • Adolescent brains are far less developed than we previously believed
  • Normal adolescent development includes conflict, facing insecurities, creating an identity, mood swings, self-absorption, etc.
  • Underdevelopment of the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex and the limbic system make adolescents more prone to “behave emotionally or with ‘gut’ reactions”
  • Adolescents tend to use an alternative part of the brain– the AMYGDALA (emotions) rather than the prefrontal cortex (reasoning) to process information
  • Amygdala and nucleus acumbens (limbic system within the prefrontal cortex) tend to dominate the prefrontal cortex functions– this results in a decrease in reasoned thinking and an increase in impulsiveness
  • Because of immature brains, adolescents do not handle social pressure, instinctual urges, and other stresses the way adults do
  • A major part of adolescence is learning how to assess risk and consequences — adolescents are not yet skilled at these tasks
  • Decision making in teens cannot be fully understood without considering the role of emotions and the interaction between thinking and feeling
  • Teen decisions are unlikely to emerge from a logical evaluation of the risk/benefits of a situation – rather decisions are the result of a complex set of competing feelings – desire to look cool, fear of being rejected, anxiety about being caught, the excitement of risk, etc.

I would like you to consider the relationship you have with your young adult. I ask you to consider applying spiritual growth to this relationship. It is important as a parent to remember the physiological changes that are happening at this age and ways to nurture this relationship.

Adolescent Brain Development

  • Adolescents are not very skilled at distinguishing the subtlety of facial expression (excitement, anger, fear, sadness, etc.)—results in a lot of miscues—leads to lack of communication and inappropriate behavior
  • Differences in processing, organization, and responding to information/events lead to misperceptions and misunderstanding verbal and non-verbal cues
  • To appreciate consequences of risky behavior, one has to have the ability to think through potential outcomes and understand the permanence of consequences, due to an immature prefrontal cortex, teens are not skilled at doing this
  • Teens do not take information, organize it, and understand it in the same way that adults do—they have to learn how to do this
  • Important to understand that teens often fail to heed common sense or adult warnings because they simply may not be able to understand and/or accept reasons that seem logical and reasonable to adults
  • NEVER assume that you and a teen are having the same understanding of a conversation

Programming and Policy Issues

  • Teens are not adults—Brain development is not complete
  • Teens are operating from the emotional/impulsive/reward oriented part of the brain
  • Communication is a complicated process
  • Technology is transforming the world
  • Disparities between knowing/feeling and understanding/behaving

With experience, teens are able to temper their instinctive ‘gut’ reaction with more rational, reasoned responses—they are able to “apply the brakes” to emotional responses. During this time of development, teens need adult mentors and role-models who demonstrate how to make good decisions and how to control emotions. Adolescence involves the maturation of self-regulation of behavior and emotions—teens need to learn how to navigate complex social situations under conditions of strong emotions – such as social anxieties, romantic relationships, academic pressures, desires for immediate gratification vs. long-term goals, moral dilemmas, and success/failure.

As a parent you can model patience, love and spiritual guidance during this most impressionable time of your adolescent in a few simple ways, but not limited to:

  • let them know you serve God with a joyful and uncomplaining attitude.
  • encourage them to serve God in substantive and regular ways that cause them to lean on Him for strength and courage.
  • avoid solving all their problems for them. Force them to turn to god to sort our relational conflicts and cultural dilemmas
  • permit your teenage to wrestle with the more perplexing problems of life, remaining calm while their faith is on trail
  • let them find you reading the Bible on a daily basis and acting on what you are learning.
    encourage them to team with other teenagers who believe in God and serve side by side with them (missions, trips, inner-city, outreaches, care for the unfortunate, etc.)

I hope this insight will provide each of you a better understanding of your adolescent. May the Lord bless and keep you all safe.

Lisa Blackwood

Author Lisa Blackwood

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