Adolescence is a unique time during a young person’s life. It is a time of self-discovery and identity development but also a time when they are more susceptible to peer influence. This distinct period is also characterized by contradictions: teenagers seek individuality yet desire peer acceptance, they behave as if they know everything yet they lack life experiences; they feel invulnerable yet often times, feel self-conscious and insecure; some adolescents thrive on challenging authority whereas a few may even become self-destructive.
The teenage brain is biologically structured differently; it is still developing and as a result, processes input and information through different channels when compared to the fully developed adult brain. The frontal cortex region of the brain oversees the management of emotions, regulates inhibitions, and is the epicenter for reasoning and decision-making. However, this portion of the brain is being restructured during the formative teenage years as new synapses are continuously formed at an astonishing speed. The human brain, in its entirety, does not achieve complete maturity until around the mid-20’s. These biological changes in the adolescent brain can be manifested as impulsivity, rebelliousness, and cause social anxiety.
Encountering difficult individuals, whether they are students or children in our daily lives, can be a source of stress. However, there are strategies that provide structure and framing that fosters independence within a safe environment.
Adolescents Need to Feel Loved
Each teenager is a distinct individual, yet they all share one thing in common: they need to feel loved by adults and they need to be given attention. Regardless of how independent adolescents may appear, how emotionally withdrawn they may present themselves, or how troubled they may become, they still need to feel loved and cared for by the adults and the authority figures in their lives. This type of love equates to a form of validation for the student.
As some adolescents seek to gain more independence while carving out their self-identity, in the process, they may challenge adults and other authority figures by experimenting with the extent to which they can exert their power. By setting boundaries that are clearly and specifically defined, it will help to establish a constructive and more respectful relationship. The most successful boundaries are those that are fair, mutually respectful, rational, and applied consistently. We encourage parents to have meaningful conversations with their child specifically about boundaries.
Effective Communication and Empathy
Practice communicating in a firm and assertive manner to decrease opposition and conflict while increasing the opportunities for cooperation. If a teenager is challenging an adult in a comparatively mild situation, demonstrate empathy and understanding by not overreacting. When a teenager frustrates or angers an adult, the adult should create some distance and view the situation with lightheartedness or even humor. Responding with anger, irritation, or annoyance may exacerbate the situation. After all, your child’s response is reactionary and your response to the situation will only escalate the argument.
Listening to Adolescents
Many challenging teenagers act as they do because they do not believe the adults are truly interested in them or willing to listen to them. If an adolescent appears upset, concerned or troubled, provide them with the option to talk with you from time to time. This opens lines of communication when adults make themselves accessible without being overbearing. When the young person feels ready to open up, give him/her the time and space he/she needs to comfortably approach the adult. If during this dialogue, the adolescent speaks in a negative tone while complaining, criticizing, or blaming, do not take a stance of agreement or disagreement. Rather, listen with neutrality and communicate to him/her that you will consider what he/she has said. Wait until your child has finished speaking before reacting.
Difficult adolescents are, at times, frustrating to interact with but by using effective strategies and skills, adults and teenagers can establish better modes of communication. In doing so, it will decrease the occasions for defiance and resistance, while strengthening the relationship and building cooperation at the same time. By making the effort to understand growing teenagers and by finding approaches that strengthen levels of communication, adults and adolescents can grow more connected as they work together to conquer any potential problems. We hope your relationship with your child is one that is healthy and long-lasting.