Walking with your child through adolescence
Where did my child, with all the snuggles, smiles and a need to be with me constantly, go?
Adolescence is a period of time when a young person develops from a child into an adult. This phase can start as early as nine years old and last well into their mid-20’s. Understanding the physical and mental changes that are happening during these years is important, particularly having awareness of how the teen brain develops will provide a bit more insight into their often unpredictable or seemingly scattered behavior.
The adolescent years are a time of change. Conflict with parents and caregivers is thought to be normal behavior in these transforming relationships. Youth may lash out at you one minute, immediately followed by tears and the need for a hug the next. Your child is trying to find their own identity, their place in society, and they want to feel a sense of belonging with peers.
According to many adolescents, this is a time when their parents clearly know nothing about what they are going through. This perception by youth is far from the truth. Not only did parents live through this tumultuous time themselves, in most cases, they are now thriving in adulthood. Technology may not have been as advanced “back then”, which leads to many other challenges today, but the core adolescent developmental process is the same today as it was years ago.
Adolescence is a time when experimentation begins with sex, drugs, and alcohol and when body image becomes increasingly important. So, how do you guide your adolescent to make smart choices and stay out of trouble, without having them completely turn against you? Your child will go through phases in the process of adolescent development, and we’ll explore how parents can engage throughout the early, middle, and late adolescence stages. In general, as children are growing and facing many emotions, parents and caregivers must also be flexible in their parenting styles to accommodate their youths unpredictable state and provide support for their emotional ups and downs.
Early Adolescence: This Isn’t So Bad!
Early adolescence is the perfect time to set boundaries and establish family values. This will ensure a clear understanding of parental expectations, while building a respectful relationship. Youth tend to more closely align to the values of those individuals they are closest to rather than adhere to conventional values or social norms. You want that to be you. It is also a time to be spending meaningful, intentional time together. If you don’t do so already, consider volunteering together as a family. This will allow you to build upon the family connection, live your values and gain a sense of overall personal satisfaction or fulfillment.
Parents must intentionally be involved and stay informed of their youths’ activities, behaviors, and relationships. Knowing where your child is and who they are with is critical information that you should require your child provide at this early adolescence stage. When a parent has a watchful eye over their youth, which is often referred to as parental monitoring, they can respond swiftly to negative behaviors and actions before they become a real concern. These proactive actions along with family bonding will begin to establish norms and provide a protective measure from delinquent behavior throughout adolescence.
Middle Adolescence: Whose Child is This?
During middle adolescence, or the middle-school to early high-school years, youth will begin to seek a level of independence, often called autonomy, in which they will spend less time with family and more time with friends or peer groups. This is a completely natural transition, and an opportunity to provide them with room to grow and to find their inner-self while providing a safe environment for them to experiment and explore. This could giveyouth more opportunities for unsupervised time and excessive freedom which, if not used wisely might put them at risk for negative outcomes such as experimentation with smoking, drugs, sex, and more. Adolescents may lean on peers who may or may not be the best resource to provide positive guidance.
Previously established values and open communication in early adolescence will hopefully have provided a solid foundation of behavioral expectations and a more natural opportunity for open dialogue and emotional support. You can fall back on your established values and now take the opportunity to go one step deeper in providing feedback or insight into the qualities you look for in peers, friends and specific behaviors. But tread lightly, too much emphasis on your “needs” or suggestions that you disapprove of their friends or activities may distance them from you or cause them to disengage.
Monitoring where your adolescent is and knowing who they are with is still important. In fact, during the middle adolescence stage, monitoring is critical to the prevention or deterrence of defiant or problem behavior. As long as you don’t put too much pressure on youth or ask too many questions! It may seem a bit like walking on egg shells but it is more about finding a balance of communication and involvement that works for your adolescent and family.
Late Adolescence: There is a Human Inside!
In late adolescence youth are beginning to regulate and may begin to understand the reasons for parental concerns. This is a time when an interaction method called consulting becomes more openly accepted by youth. Consulting allows parents to help adolescents think through actions or relationships with friends, and help adolescents manage friend conflict.
In later adolescence, parents suggesting disapproval of friends and activities is still acceptable but is really dependent on what behavioral path the adolescent is on. If they are already on a path of delinquency, unfortunately communicating disapproval could make it worse. The good news is if they are not already delinquent or headed in that direction, they might actually listen and better understand the concern from parents. Just remember, their adolescent brain is still developing, but they are able to make more rational decisions and begin to reason with adults.
Adolescence: That Wasn’t So Bad After All
The adolescent years are filled with change, transition and influences. Adolescence definitely requires a balance of parental and adolescent involvement to keep harmony through a healthy, thriving, positive youth development process. As adolescents venture into the world of friends, relationships, and community, they encounter a whole new set of experiences and individuals. Some of these will lift them up, while others could lead them down a dark path of misbehavior and poor behavioral functioning.
Research confirms that the role of the family and positive peer relationships, together can keep youth on a healthy and positive developmental path. Often adolescents who experience conflict at home, turn to peers, and as a result often engage in risky behaviors. This is why a strong, balanced family system is especially important during the adolescent years. To achieve the best positive adolescent development, a balance between peer and family support is necessary, including moderate levels of parental monitoring. Family values should be established early as well to prepare adolescents for positively responding to pressures or conflict in support of established values, when encountering different perspectives. Finally, peer management has proven to be a successful deterrent from risky relationships and delinquent behavior.
Let’s sum it up!
Combined, family values, parental monitoring and peer management create a more cohesive and balanced family, resulting in positive development outcomes. However, parents should approach with caution the amount of pressure they put on adolescents in terms of adhering to values, monitoring and management, as too much could cause youth to intentionally contradict parental and family expectations, negatively affecting their emotions, actions and overall development. Consider flexibility in parenting styles to align to the daily ups and downs of adolescence and remember, even though they look like adults, their brain is still developing, and they need your continued, unconditional loving support.
Arnett, J. J. (2013). Adolescence and emerging adulthood. A cultural approach. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
Brauer, J.R., & De Coster, S. (2015). Social relationships and delinquency: Revisiting parent and peer influence during adolescence. Youth & Society, 47(3) 374–394. doi:10.1177/0044118X12467655
Fosco, G. M., Stormshak, E. A., Dishion, T. J., & Winter, C. E. (2012). Family relationships and parental monitoring during middle school as predictors of early adolescent problem behavior. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 41(2), 202–213. doi:10.1080/15374416.2012.651989
Harold, R., Colarossi, L., & Mercier, L. (2007). Smooth sailing or stormy waters?: Family transitions through adolescence and their implications for practice and policy.Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Mounts, N.S (2004). Adolescents’ perceptions of parental management of peer relationships in an ethnically diverse sample. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19(4), 446-467. doi:10.1177/0743558403258854
Monitoring your teen’s activities: what parents and families should know (2012). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/pdf/parental_monitoring_factsheet.pdf
Teen brain: behavior, problem solving, and decision making (2016). American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 95. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/aacap/families_and_youth/facts_for_families/fff-guide/the-teen-brain-behavior-problem-solving-and-decision-making-095.aspx
Smetana, J.G., Campione-Barr, N., & Metzger, A. (2006). Adolescent development in interpersonal and societal contexts. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 255-284. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190124