Adolescence: A Time of Growth & Change

Kwick/ November 19, 2013/ Special Features

By: Amanda Weigel, PsyD

Mention the word adolescence to many parents and the response is more often than not rich with worry and concern. Despite the challenges for both teens and parents during this developmental period, it can be easily navigated with knowledge, appropriate boundaries, and empathy. During this stage, adolescents are taxed with many important developmental tasks including developing a personal and social identity, making decisions about higher education, and making sense of physical changes. Today all these important milestones are set within the context of social media – a source of information that has altered how we relate with one another. In working with parents, a few guiding principals have helped families transverse commonly asked questions or concerns.

Appropriate Boundaries & Communication

During adolescence, teens naturally shift their focus from family to their peers and social group. A young teen’s relationships with peers often will absorb much time and energy. Parents are encouraged to foster their adolescent’s interest in relating, while ensuring appropriate boundaries are in place. Young adolescents need personal space and time to devote to themselves, school work, and peer relationships. Teens, although they may never admit to this, need boundaries and support from their parents during this time. It is through these boundaries and limitations (when necessary) that they are able to feel secure in exploring the social world. Staying connected with family is important during this time. As much as parents are processing the changes of their child as they grow into a teenager, so too is the young teen experiencing a host of emotions. As much as parents become accustomed to one word answers, it is important to continue to express interest, set appropriate boundaries, and know about what is occurring for your budding young adult.

Some helpful tips for parents and adolescents to keep communication lines open include:

  • Scheduling daily time to discuss school, upcoming events, etc. (e.g., at dinner, before going to sleep).
  • Scheduling monthly dates to be with your teen, engaging in something that is naturally interesting and enjoyable for your teen. Let your teen teach you something about what he or she enjoys doing.
  • Allow your teen to be involved in forming specific rules, responsibilities, etc. If they have a voice in a decision, they are more likely to follow that rule and it helps them learn important compromising skills.
  • Teens should not be in their room for the majority of their day. While they do need their space and time in their room, they should also be around family members. Discussing with your teen the importance of attending dinner and/or interacting with family members is encouraged. When working with teens, we often let them know that if they are involved at home, their parents are less likely to worry or “nag” them about spending time together.

Social Media

Today adolescents spend most of their time engaging on social media websites or texting. These outlets have both pros and cons to their use and their impact on relationships. Teens are able to be connected to friends outside of school more easily, however, miscommunication often occurs when a text’s intonation or timing is misinterpreted. Social media has also given birth to cyber bullying. In a longitudinal study conducted by Michele Ybarra, Ph.D., she found that 13% of 10–15 year olds had experienced harassment and bullying. However, Ybarra discussed that many (approximately 62%) escape cyber bullying each year. Parents are often left trying to figure out how much exposure they should allow their teen to have within these mediums and how to protect them from the pitfalls of virtual communication. Despite the pitfalls of social media, Ybarra described that it actually can promote a child’s mental, social, and physical well-being.  The following tips may be helpful in navigating technology together with your teen:

  • Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., in a 2008 study, cited parenting styles as a key variable to the impact of Facebook © on a child’s well-being. Rosen found that when parents used an authoritative (parenting) style, their children were able to regulate Internet use and showed less negative consequences. Thus, firm rules or limits should be placed around texting and being on the computer for social purposes. For example, completing homework in a distraction-free setting is encouraged rather than allowing teens to multitask (e.g., texting while completing homework). Remind your teen that focusing strictly on school work for a period of time will lead to the work being completed sooner.
  • Parents often take away cell phones or access to social media when providing consequences to their teen (for behavior, decline in grades, etc.). Given the importance of social relationships to adolescences, complete removal of access to friends is discouraged. Instead, think about decreasing the time they have on social media.
  • If your teen reports cyber bullying or school bullying, it is important that this is brought to the attention of the school.
  • For help navigating the school environment, Barb Resnick, RNBC’s School Liaison, can help to facilitate discussions with the school and present possible solutions. Please call 847–933-9339 to schedule an appointment.
  • Additional resources on bullying can be found at: 


Emotional Changes

During adolescence, young teens are experiencing physical, social, and psychological changes and growth. In the midst of the excitement about dances, friends, and preparing for college, some teens struggle with stress and mood changes. Some mild irritability is expected (sorry parents!). However, 3–5% of adolescents suffer from depression, and 10–15% display depressive symptoms. Thus, it is important to understand what depression is and know the warning signs. Any significant increase in sadness, agitation (e.g., unregulated, angry outburst), irritability, changes in weight, sleep disturbances, or increased anxiety should be closely monitored. In addition, any decrease in pro-social behaviors including socializing with friends, declines in grades or withdrawing from once enjoyed activities – are also signs of more significant difficulties.

The following are important things to keep in mind:

  • Parents should check in with their teen to monitor mood or any significant events that may be impacting her behavior.
  • If parents have concerns regarding their son or daughter’s emotional functioning, school based or outpatient individual psychotherapy can help support the teen and family. RNBC offers individual therapy to children and teens. If you have concerns about your teen’s mood and would like an evaluation and/or treatment, please call 847–933-9339 to schedule an appointment.

Adolescence is a period we all remember – the drama, the uncertainty, and the excitement. However, all teens are not alike, so each journey through adolescence will look and feel different. Despite the increasing independence, adolescents are still very much in need of their families to help guide this progression. Parents that continue to display empathy, patience, and openness to their young teen will provide an environment for a teen to be self-confident and assured.

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