The Magic of Adolescence

December 30, 2017


Adolescence is an important time of growth for children. In healthy family systems, it is a metamorphosis of transition from dependence to interdependence to independence. Adolescence begins with loss because it starts with leaving childhood and dependence behind, and this is often just as hard on a parent as it is for the child. It is also necessary.


For some families, this is a transition met with deep anticipation and excitement. It is more common, however, for this time to be met with high emotions. Resentment, panic, fear, and control issues all tend to rear their heads on both sides. These are healthy; sometimes they're ugly. This can come from parental style and fear of loss of control (authoritarian parenting styles tend to have more difficulty with two-way conversations and negotiating dual-interest solutions than collaborative, authoritative parents). It also comes from teens feeling ready to be independent and having power clashes with parents, or conversely, from a lessening or even absence of family involvement or support.


Conflict is an opportunity to communicate, as well as opportunity for parent and teen to establish independence through stages similar to early childhood: separation, differentiation, and opposition. Unlike early childhood, however, adolescence is a time where your precious offspring starts to become aware of the roles of cooperation and consent. Think, "You're not the Boss of me!" or "You can't MAKE me do that!" Cooperation and consent require a mutual interest and a different kind of conversation where you take each other seriously and listen to the needs of the other.


It is the parent responsibility to maintain emotional equilibrium, which can be really hard, given how upsetting being the parent of a teen can be. The thing to remember here is that the adolescent brain is actually not completely developed and they do not have control over Executive Function. That means their Limbic system is running the show, the same function that operates Fight-or-Flight, the stress response. It is truly up to parents to re-think their positions using the full power of their Executive Function and all the emotional acuity they can muster, thus modeling what this looks like to their teen, even if that teen will not really be able to mirror that back using full faculties for another 10 years.


Research shows that getting both parents and teens moving more toward inter-dependence results in "reciprocally supportive and connected networks not just with family members, but also friends, partners, colleagues, and others" (Daniel, Wassell, & Gilligan, 1999). Parents' roles remain important in teens' lives, and familial protective factors such as providing a secure base, caring, connectedness, support, and belonging are linked to positive outcomes. Parental monitoring and limit-setting also are necessary components of parenting adolescents and have very closely correlated positive and negative outcomes with the level of parental involvement and the conflict involved in that monitoring and involvement. Negative outcomes are linked to anti-social behavior, substance abuse, and sexual risk-taking.


Here's the catch: Kids need parents involved, even in their teens, but decision-making and limits-setting conversations often provoke tensions. The simple act of the negotiation between teen and parent can provoke tension, but when an authoritarian parent tries to parent as they always have--with a "Because I said so!"--it can become explosively conflict-laden. The act of negotiating a new way of being with one another that includes a balance of parental authority and adolescent autonomy while maintaining close parent-child bonds is a balancing act.


Arguing to win or maintain control is not only associated with negative outcomes for adolescent well-being, it also contributes detrimentally to long-term parent-offspring relations, and also can lead to breakdowns within sibling-sibling relationships and parent-other offspring relationships. 


What kind of relationship do you want to have with your son or daughter when they are 25? 30? 50? 


What kind of relationship do you want to have with your mom or dad when you are 25? 30? 50?


The aims of Parenting Consultation are to teach parents the developmental trajectory of human growth and psychology, as well as to offer personal insights, feedback, and support for parents. 


The purpose of Parent-Adolescent Mediation is to mitigate problems in conversation break-downs, or to provide a neutral space to have difficult conversations about autonomy, authority, consent, and cooperation and to come to common objectives to find a common solution.




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