Disrespect, silence, anger, attitude, bad language and the face of an angel. Perhaps this sounds like your teenager. Teenage problems are necessary, and families can learn how to navigate through the meaning of these problems while preserving the family. Teen issues can vary from mild to extreme, but all teens go through a transformation in order to arrive at the stage of development known as adulthood. Adolescence is the bridge between childhood and adulthood. How sturdy that bridge is depends on how well it was built in years past.
The Basic Developmental Stages
Adolescence is a developmental stage. Most parents do not know the developmental stages of life. It is little wonder that by the time your child reaches adolescence you are little more than confused, dazed and terrified.
There is more than one theory of development. A theory is something that cannot be proved or disproved. One theory of development was produced by Margaret Mahler. Her stages include: normal autism, symbiosis, hatching, practicing, separation individuation, oedipal, latency, adolescence, adulthood and late adulthood. She later adapted the theory placing early stages under the heading of separation individuation. The term "rapprochement" (re-approach) is often used instead of separation individuation.
Many child therapists believe that the stage known as separation-individuation is the most important. It is the stage that roughly lasts from 18 months to 2 1/2 years of age. Developmental stages are not exact on beginnings and endings. Separation Individuation is a stage most commonly known as the “terrible-twos.” It can be terrible because a good-natured toddler can turn on a dime, into a red-faced, screaming, demanding, little person who is out-of-control. Why does this happen and what can you do about it? The toddler has developed the beginning of a sense of self. Her struggle is how to be separate from and dependent on you at the same time. This is not an easy dilemma to solve. So, she practices her will and she sees what you are going to do about it. Are you going to throw her away and abandon her, as she may suspect, or are you going to be available to teach her that she can be who she is and you will still be there and love her?
Adolescent Developmental Task
Adolescence is a repeat stage of separation individuation. It is the second time that the child (now a teen child) will go through the dilemma of how to be separate from and dependent on you, the parent. This developmental task is necessary, and the will of the child is again exercised in small or abundantly loud ways. The teen is trying to figure out how to be who he is and to be close to you and separate enough from you in order to maintain a sense of autonomy. Just like when your child was 2, it is necessary to pause and remember why this is going on. Your child is looking to you for education on ways of being independent and dependent. Too often, teens take the path that is easiest and most available to them: They do what their friends are doing.
What Can Parents Do?
What can you do to help? Most of all it is important to be patient, curb your anger, avoid personalizing and try to model the behavior you want to see. We set limits with teens just like with 2-year-olds.
• Find ways to be together; encourage constructive ways to be apart.
• Speak with respect and ask questions that begin with “What” or “How” rather than “Why.”
• Eliminate “Why” from your interpersonal vocabulary.
• Engage in dialogue, not monologue.
• Don’t fight, yell or do battle. Remember this is your child.
• Learn from your teen, ask for her opinion, and complement him on his point of view or openness to seeking a point of view.
• Watch your fear. Your fear will lead you to acting in ways you will later regret.
Remember, adolescence is only a bridge to adulthood, where a young person is attempting to figure out what to take on that journey and what to leave behind in childhood.
If your teen is involved with drugs and alcohol, it is best to seek help from a professional. Many parents believe it is normal to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Teens in therapy quickly admit there are many emotional reasons for using substances. They are often glad to find a nonjudgmental adult to help them problem-solve. Sexual promiscuity, excessive anger, withdrawal from family and friends, loss of interest in usual activities, and problems with insomnia (not being able to sleep) or hypersomnia (too much sleep), overeating, undereating, a change in behavior and poor grades in school are all signs that a parent needs to note and seek the assistance of a psychologist or counselor.
- "The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant"; Mahler, Pine and Bergman; 1975
- "Entering Adulthood: Understanding Depression and Suicide"; Nanette Burton; 1990