When referring to adolescents, we talk a lot about their behaviors. If you’re an adult, you probably talk about the food they eat, the music they play, their drive to socialize, their unpredictability and the conflicts that you have with them. If you’re an adolescent, you probably talk about your peers and upsetting social dynamics, the hypocrisy of adults, and a desire to do more of a favorite activity because it feels so good. Underneath the surface of every adolescent, beyond the behaviors, many profound changes are happening. Recent brain research has documented that during adolescence, there are significant changes in a person’s brain: both areas of development and areas of paring back. This, added to what we already knew about the changes associated with body growth and hormonal influences, underscores the magnitude of the changes of adolescence.
This is, in a way, the springtime of life. It’s a time of life energy rising up, and passion unfolding. Because there is so much energy and change arising in these teens, there is great potential. For all adolescents, life can be overwhelming, scary, and/or confusing. It can be full of conflict, withdrawal, and/or avoidance. It can be really hard! While the impact of this unfolding looks very different for different people, three factors that seem to be common to a positive adolescence are having helpful, innate qualities, having a strong foundation in the family, and committing one’s self to a special interest.
When these factors aren’t there, it’s easy for the great potential to lead to difficulties. But with engagement and listening, to both parents and teens, teens can find a smoother passage through this time of life. Sometimes this requires helping the teen to find their voice, then helping them to get their voice heard. At other times, the work is in helping teens to anchor their passion in outer life activity, as commitments are vital for a healthy growth during this time. For others, it requires helping them to come to terms with the unique qualities that make them different and that sometimes make their lives harder. They can find harmony through acknowledging these qualities, understanding them, and accommodating for them. My work with young people has been inspiring, as I’ve seen them develop into lively, caring, and creative forces in the world.
The Teen Brain
Lives in The Balance — A National Organization Training People to Support Adolescents