Teenagers can be hard to understand and sometimes impossible to get along with. The important thing all parents should acknowledge is that adolescence is a stressful transition period into adulthood. Teens have to figure out who they really are, what they want to be and all this is a pressure for someone who just got out of puberty.
Teens go through a lot of changes, including social, intellectual and physical changes that influence their behavior and cognition. A series of internal conflicts should be resolved in this period, otherwise they will interfere with decisions and relationships in the adulthood.
Adolescence is characterized by the increase of friends group’s importance and the decrease of parental authority. In this period teenagers seek their affirmation in groups of their age and are constantly trying to figure out where they truly belong. This is why adolescence is the period of intense socialization.
Parents pretty often cannot accept the changes in their kids and teens cannot agree with their parents, so they fight. But conflicts in this period are more than normal, they are necessary for the process of gaining partial independence of teens from their parents.
Let’s take a look at the 3 stages of social development in adolescents:
In the early adolescence, teens are still dependent on their family in both material and emotional way. The family provides comfort, protection and emotional support, but in this stage adolescents start to see their dependence differently. They perceive it as being less pleasant comparing to the previous developmental stages.
This is where the second stage of adolescence begins, the conflictual one. Teens develop an internal conflict between their love and appreciation for their parents and their growing need to be independent. Their internal conflict is manifested through frustration , anxiety, non-conformist behavior and constant disagreement with the close ones.
Trough conflicts, teenagers progressively move from the total dependence on parents to a relatively independent status, this is the last phase of social development for teenagers. A newly gained independence could be stressful for parents and their children, leading to even more conflicts, but parents need to accept it and make some space for personal affairs of their children.
Identity and Personality
During adolescence, the individual acquires a sense of identity for the first time, which will guide him later in the choices of adult life. At the same time, with this sense of identity comes it’s polarity. The teenager is caught in a fight between internal and external tendencies.
Erik Erikson defined this adolescent crisis: self-identity versus role confusion conflict. Teenagers have to define their identity, while being strongly influenced by family and social patterns. The need to find out where they truly belong motivates them to get involved in as many different activities as possible.
In the social jungle of human existence , there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.Erik Erikson
Self identity during adolescence can be shaped in three ways: positive, negative and uncertain and the criterion for evaluation is self-perception, the way teens perceive themselves in relation to society, family and group of friends. In other words, what matters the most in this period is gaining a sense of identity and finding a unique role in the society. Parents can only encourage their children to discover themselves and what makes them feel worthy, other ways, they will get stuck in confusion and self-doubt.
Besides social pressure, high expectations and forming of identity, teens experience significant changes in their bodies that affect their behavior.
Imaging studies revealed that adolescents lose nearly 1% of their grey matter every year until their twenties. This process is necessary for trimming those neural connections that were overproduced during childhood. Some significant brain structures are affected by this process, including the frontal lobe, the area that is involved in judgement, control of impulses and decision making. The lack of control in this area may lead to risky behaviors and irrational decisions.
The explosion of teenage hormones has an even bigger impact on their behavior. Hormones that are the most active in this period are sexual hormones, which change the way teens perceive pleasure and attraction. The activity of these hormones is strongly connected to limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. It explains why sensation seeking in teens is focused on sexual experiences and why the most emotional experiences are considered to be those related to romantic partners.
If you are a parent and want to support your teenager in the best way possible, here are some advices:
- Give them some space. Teenagers, from time to time, need to be alone with themselves, so they can figure out their own desires and beliefs. Adolescence is a critical period for defining the identity, so don’t take personally their need for alone time.
- Allow them to practice what they are passionate about. Parents tend to be overprotective and don’t even realize it. Worrying about your child is a normal thing, but restricting their access to their social life and limiting their hobbies could damage their socio-emotional development. It doesn’t mean you should allow them everything that comes into their minds, but giving them the possibility to manifest themselves and learn from their own mistakes is an essential part of their growth.
- Listen to them more. When you fight, let them verbalize their thoughts and pay attention to how they feel. Don’t try to convince them that they are wrong in their beliefs, let them figure out on their own how to behave in certain situations.