Adolescence

So one of my passions is to work with youth! I just love their love for life, curiosity, and sense of adventure.

Whenever I’m working with parents, teachers, or anyone who works with a youth.  I like to start with an exercise called “the Adolescent Job Description.”  So imagine we are writing up an advertisement for Craigslist and we need to write up the job description of a teen!

What does being a teen entail? It involves…
-going to school
-possibly getting a first time job and therefore having their own money!
-getting a driver’s license
-having their first romantic relationship and exploring their sexuality
-developing relationships outside of the home like friendships, with teachers, with coaches etc.
-experimenting with their own identity as a person and exploring what that may or may not look like (I know we’ve all tested out some weird hairstyles, clothes, and make up hahah!)
-testing boundaries and limits with their caregivers as they transition closer to adulthood
-taking risks!
-exploring a relationship with substances, possibly experimenting with drugs and alcohol
-exploring what their future career interests might be?
-getting ready to go to post secondary
-achieving physical maturity, biological changes with their body
*The list can go on and on!  Then I like to have people step back from this and think wow ! So many changes and milestones happen in adolescence!  Being a teen is a hard! We have to give teens more credit for this!

Despite giving teens more credit, there happens to be a negative stereotype that persists about adolescence.  This stereotype is often referred to as “the Storm and Stress View of Adolescence.” The Storm and Stress View was developed by a psychologist G. Hall in 1904 which views adolescence as a period filled with conflict, emotional turmoil and risk taking behaviors (Hall, 1904).  You know that moody teenager that’s portrayed on TV with all these raging hormones? That’s the negative stereotype. Despite research disproving this theory and suggesting that the majority of adolescents are healthy and happy; this view is still maintained by many (Santrock, 2010).

And what are the implications of having this stereotype in our culture? Well this view may bias parents and teachers to expect storm and stress behaviors from adolescents, therefore creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for adolescents. Parents and teachers who possess the storm and stress view of adolescence are biased into expecting parent-adolescent conflict, emotional turmoil and risk taking behavior which in turn creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for adolescents to commit such behaviors.  If caregivers and teachers have these expectations of course an adolescent will resist!

I find many parents during the teen years will use the “Authoritarian Parenting” style “to control” their teens.  What is the authoritarian parenting style mean?  Authoritarian parenting refers to a restrictive, punitive style where the parent advises the adolescent to follow the parent’s directions, has firm limits and controls are placed on the adolescent with little verbal exchange (Santrock, 2010). A parent with this sort of style would most often use the “because I said so” phrase.  However research has shown the authotarian parenting style actually is not helpful at all.  It leads youth to feel more disconnected from their caregivers and that feeling of isolation and disconnection is actually a risk factor for a youth to have struggles with mental health and substance use.  So what works?  Research suggests the “Authoritative Parenting” style is what works.  In contrast, the authoritative parenting style is  defined as encouraging adolescents to be independent while still placing limits and controls on their actions; there is also extensive verbal give and take and parents are warm and nurturing towards their adolescent (Santrock, 2010).   Instead of just implementing a rule like in the authoritarian style without debate, they would explain why they are placing a limit.  Parents who exhibit an authoritative parenting style are the least prone to the storm and stress biases.  They are more likely to create socially competent adolescents and adults! Although there is some aspect of conflict, moodiness and risk taking during adolescence; research suggests that for the majority of adolescents it is trivial and they emerge from it and develop into socially competent adults.

Although Hall was correct there is some conflict between adolescents and parents as they fight for more independence while pushing boundaries, engage in more “risk taking behaviours,” and can have mood disruptions from the hormonal changes going on in their bodies. And as you can tell from doing the adolescence job description, a lot of change happens in adolescence! There’s a lot going on so it’s completely normal to experience conflict or moodiness with youth, what we can do as professionals working with youth is help to educate parents and people involved in a young person’s life is that this is all normal and apart of the process from transitioning to child to youth to an adult!

References

Hall, G. S. (1904). Adolescence: Its psychology and its relation to physiology, anthropology, sociology, sex, crime, religion, and education (Vols. I & II). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Santrock, J. (2010). Adolescence 13th edition. New York: McGraw Hill.

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