Understanding Your Teenager



Given the opportunity, would you choose to go back to high school and become a teenager again?  My guess is that your answer mirrors the sentiments of many people whom I asked this question: a resounding NO! What is it about adolescence that is so challenging?  Why is being a teenager so difficult?

According to Eric Erikson, one of the founders of psychology, adolescence is the age when a person is in search of their identity. An adolescent is looking inward and outward to figure out who and what she identifies with, what she wants to make a part of herself, what she will reject and how that may affect her future. Values, morals, and rules are no longer givens. An adolescent is asking questions and searching for the answers that resonate with her. She is testing the boundaries and limits of those in authority to help her identify her own boundaries and limits. She is not willing to take what is spoon-fed to her because she fears that it might taint the person she wishes to become. She is looking to her peers for approval and acceptance so that she can have the courage to accept herself.  Finding one’s identity is not an easy process.

To compound this challenge, according to research compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health, the brain of an adolescent is not yet fully developed. Brain scans have shown an increase in gray matter in early adolescence as compared to late childhood.  This change, researchers say, is the reason why teenagers take more risks, have poor impulse control, and fail to plan responsibly.

To add another variable to the mix, the adolescent body is undergoing many changes as it enters puberty. Through the release of hormones, children go through a tremendous growth spurt in a relatively short amount of time. Adolescents gain weight and grow taller as their masculinity or femininity becomes more pronounced. These rapid changes and the increased hormone levels cause mood swings and feelings of insecurity in one’s own skin. Thus, physiological factors add even more stress and uncertainty to the already complicated life of a teenager.

In the best case scenario, the teenage years can be difficult to navigate. When other stressors are present, adolescence can be even more challenging. If a child is struggling with bullying, academic performance, medical issues, instability at home, or any other challenge, that will certainly make the search for one’s identity even tougher.

Parents, if you are constantly asking yourself “Where has my sweet child gone?” and feel bewildered by thoughts of “No matter what I do, I am wrong in my son’s eyes,” you are not alone. For many generations, parents have been asking themselves these same questions. Your parents probably scratched their heads and were just as puzzled by you in your teenage years!  

Despite the challenges, there is hope.  Believe it or not, you can make the teen years tolerable –even enjoyable – for both you and your child. Just the awareness of what your child is going through during this time in their life – psychologically and physiologically – will allow you to put things into context and better understand where they are coming from. Below are a few more tips that may be helpful in creating a harmonious relationship with your teen.

Show your teen that you trust him. Give him the freedom to make decisions he is capable of.

Listen to her when she wants to talk. Show her you’re engaged and want to hear what she has to say.

Value his opinions and thoughts. Let him see that what he thinks is important to you.

Give her space. If you were always an involved parent, she knows you are there for her.  When she is ready to talk, she will come find you.

Set appropriate limits and boundaries. As much as teens want freedom, they need to know that someone cares about their safety, even if they make a show of “hating” you for it.

Show love, affection, and acceptance. Even though they push you away, teens need constant reminders that they are loved and accepted by you unconditionally.

While parenting an adolescent is challenging, it can also be rewarding. There will likely never be another opportunity to make such a strong impression on your child. Your teen is looking for answers; she is a blank slate waiting to be filled. Take advantage of this time when she is searching for role models to influence her. With the right guidance, she can make drastic, everlasting positive changes in her life.  When channeled correctly, these years can be the greatest gift for your child. I wish you much hatzlacha and nachas on this journey!

Chani Meyerowitz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in working with adolescents. She is available for consultation and can be reached at (443) 380-3025.


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