Adolescence: Tasks, Risks and Tips


February 16, 2014

Adolescence is a time of growth, but to grow we need to let go.

Hence, the first task of adolescence is to let go of childhood. Some teens struggle with their desire to continue to be dependant on their parents, while some want to break free and become adults as fast as possible. But generally, adolescents want to be treated as adults while at the same time want to be cared for as children.

The most important task during adolescence is developing an identity. Becoming our own self and defining who we are. It starts with a search for independence and intimacy. And progresses towards a feeling of omnipotence and autonomy, at this time they find identity in groups and belonging is very important. As they finish adolescence they separate from the group and define individual interests and traits.

Finding our identity is a huge and difficult task, and in this pursuit we might encounter many difficulties and obstacles. It is easy to get lost while trying to find yourself, providing many risks for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. Luckily, during adolescence we have our parents to help guide us and more importantly help guard us. Parents should keep their eyes open and know when not to intervene, when to offer their help and when to search for professional help.

Changes in sleeping and eating habits might be outward symbols of deeper troubles. Excessive eating and sleeping is as serious as weight loss and insomnia. Significant drops in academic performance and attendance are also red flags that frequently get noticed in schools. Physical health is also a good indicator of psychological health; changes in menstruation, increased physical complaints like headaches or stomachache are also signs to observe. Risky behaviour and dramatic changes in behaviour, personality and appearance might also be non-verbal messages signaling something is wrong.

Feelings of deep sadness, lasting irritability, anger or rage, changes in motivation and talk about suicide are signs that need to be attended by a professional. Adolescents might not speak with words, but they speak loudly with their behaviour and emotion and their parent’s job is to hear their message.

Although adolescents seem to want distance and are squeamish with affection, they need their parents to show they love them. The key word here is show, not say they love them but show it with their actions. As stated before, adolescents communicate through behaviour and not words. Spending time with teens away from the conflict areas and talking without judging is a good way to express love.

A key part of the parents work during adolescence is providing clear limits. These limits must be concise, specific and might need to be kept in writing, but they also need to be reasonable and parents should be ready to explain them. Limits help adolescents know what to expect and that there are consequences for their actions. Follow through is crucial, because if parents don’t keep their words, neither will their teens. As for consequences it is better to focus on rewards as according to research they work better than punishment. So, focus on what is working, focus on what you want to see more of.

The final, and probably the most important, tip for parents is to set a positive example. Teenagers will follow your actions, not your words. As you help them let go of their childhood you must also let them go and help them develop their independence. A difficult task, so recognise your own feelings and find someone to share your trials and accomplishments with.