Understanding Your Teen
By Georgia Smith-Lyle, LPC-S
Your sweet, compliant little girl is a teenager now and you need help understanding what happened to your child! You ask yourself what happened and how did they change overnight. Or your cute little boy becomes difficult to manage, with his own opinions and ideas on how life should be. For all the parents reading, take a deep breath. Hopefully, this article will shed understanding on what happened to your precious little darlings.
So much change happens in a teen from the ages of approximately 11 to age of adulthood, 18 to 21. The development of their brains is still growing, physically they change because of hormones, and their emotional/cognitive development is maturing. They begin to see the world from not only their parents’ perspective and upbringing, but also from their peers’ perspective.
In turn, they are developing individuation and becoming their own person, with their own unique ideas and opinions. There can be internal and external conflict in this stage of your teen’s life as they learn to be confident, independent, and their own person. The conflict internally can be tumultuous as they struggle to feel included, confident in who they are, and accepted. Parents who have maintained consistency in childrearing, structure but encouraged creativity, open communication, and the message “I believe in you,” will have teens who go through these years less combative––internally and externally. There is as much conflict going on in them internally as they may express externally. The process of change and growing up is not that easy. Ask any teen and that’s what they will say.
Erik Erikson’s theory of Psychosocial Development during the teen years is called Identity vs. Role Confusion. These developmental years are a time where their sexual identities, belief systems, moral developments, and confidence begin to take on more expression. Teenagers want to know they are important, included, accepted, heard, and understood. Comparison of their self to their peers is a major stumbling block. If they have grown up with confidence and know their strengths and weaknesses, they development a strong sense of “I can” instead of “I can’t, and I’ll probably not make it.” The fear of being rejected or failing can be overwhelming in a teenager and their actions may depict a conflict which they are not even fully aware of. Giving them a safe place to vent, process freely and express their thoughts, feelings, and opinions can help them make healthy decisions and increase confidence in the person they want to become.
The following are a few suggestions to help them through these difficult years:
- Be as good a role model for them as you possibly can (today’s young people like “real” and they are disillusioned with just words and not action)
- Let them know you believe in them, increasing their confidence
- Give them room to grow, which may include failing at a few things
- Teach them accountability for their own actions
- Try not to rescue them from every horrible situation (sometimes our worst mistakes are the ones we learn from the most)
- Make time for them (so important in today’s culture of electronics)
- Communicate by being a good listener and teach them the skill of healthy communication by demonstration
- Love them unconditionally (remember you only have them a short time and they are learning…what you see is not necessarily exactly what they will grow up to be…this is a developmental stage full of internal conflict…something to remember!)
I hope you have found this article helpful and encouraging. If you have a teen who seems to display depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, or other issues, finding a good therapist, mentor, etc., will be one of the best things you could do for them.
Georgia Smith-Lyle, LPC-S is in private practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas providing counseling for children, adolescents, adults, marriage, and family. She has authored two books and is a public speaker. Georgia may be reached at 469-855-0256 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org. counselingbygeorgia.com.