Are you a parent of an adolescent who is wondering what types of changes are happening during this season of life? Below are some common questions that parents of adolescents have when they come in for therapy.
First, what is Adolescence?
Adolescence is the awkward time in a young person’s life that begins with puberty and ends when they become independent. Adolescents have a maturing physical body supported by a not-yet-mature brain. On top of it, adolescents experience social changes at school and changes within their family system. Knowing this, it makes sense why adolescents feel so weird! As a counselor (at my counseling private practice in Ann Arbor MI), I love helping adolescents navigate the complexities of this awkward season of life. If you’re looking for a counselor for your adolescent, feel free to reach out to my practice (IdentityAnnArbor.com).
If you’re a parent of an adolescent, you may have some of these common questions…
1. Why does my child seem different?
- Because your adolescent desires to be accepted socially
- Your child may have been a very nice kid growing up. You may have taught them well. However, during adolescence, your child’s primary concern will likely shift to social acceptance. Because of this, your adolescent will do anything necessary to make sure that they thrive socially. Or, at the very least, they will do whatever possible to make sure they aren’t getting made fun of. Sometimes this results in an apparent shift in personality. Fear not; the good news is that personality is relatively enduring throughout life, so that kind child is still in there somewhere. However, at this time in their life, they may present differently, and it’s important to remember that there is a reason for this and that it’s often socially motivated.
- Because your adolescent may be uncomfortable in their body
- Your adolescent’s body is changing like never before. Their body is beginning to transform from a child to an adult. The tough part of this is that their brain doesn’t mature as quickly and rapidly as the rest of their body. Some parts of their brain do, such as the Limbic System. This is the emotional center of their brain. However, their Cerebral Cortex and Frontal Lobes (the center for logical thinking and reason) won’t be fully mature until into their 20’s. Where does this leave your adolescent? Feeling uncomfortable and confused!
- There could be something deeper going on
- It’s impossible to cover all of the reasons why your adolescent may seem completely different. For this reason, if you feel concerned, I recommend reaching out to a trusting counselor or psychologist. Having your adolescent see a licensed counselor may help identify what might be going on beneath the surface. Another option is to have a psychological assessment completed, which will help you understand which area of functioning your adolescent struggles with and potentially why. Here is a link to the Psychological Assessments page at Identity Counseling Psychology in Ann Arbor MI.
2. Why can’t I connect with my adolescent?
- Because you may represent control
- You have worked for years to make sure that your adolescent remains safe. I often hear from parents that all they want to do is make sure they’re doing everything they can to help their child flourish. Because of this constant focus over several years, it can be extremely difficult for parents to accept that there may now be limits to how well they can protect their adolescent. Adolescents are engaging in a season of transformation. They are seeking independence, and though deep down they may love and appreciate you for what you’ve done, they may also perceive you as a barrier to their independence. It is important to allow the adolescent enough freedom to explore themselves while still doing what you can to keep them safe.
- Because adolescents may not feel comfortable talking about difficult issues
- Adolescents see everything. There may have been a time when your child didn’t pick up on certain things, but this stops with adolescence. As adolescents are challenged intellectually, socially, and morally, they begin to question things like they never have before. This questioning may lead to adolescents closing themselves off from their parents, because they haven’t quite figured out how to bring up certain topics. It is important to create an environment of openness to allow adolescents to feel comfortable bringing up hard issues. Having your adolescent see a trusted counselor or therapist can help them learn to feel more comfortable working through difficult issues.
3. What is going to happen to my adolescent next?
- They will develop their own beliefs
- It can be difficult for parents if their children begin to form beliefs and values that are different than theirs. It’s common to have thoughts like, “Did I do it all wrong this whole time?” or, “Why does my child think like this?” The reality is that adolescents today are growing up in a completely different world in comparison to 20-30 years ago. The availability of social media has allowed people to create an avatar that likely does not represent the complexity of the person that they truly are. When your adolescent scrolls through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, they are seeing many beautiful pictures posted by their friends. Your adolescent may begin to feel like their life doesn’t measure up, not fully grasping that the images they are seeing are only the good ones and none of the bad ones. This can impact your adolescent’s self-esteem in negative ways. Your adolescent also has access to a world of information at their fingertips and is likely engaging with a more diverse population of kids than you did when you were their age. For all of these reasons, your adolescent may develop drastically different beliefs and even a different worldview than you.
- They may try out many things
- Learning through experimentation is how humans have gotten to this point. Your adolescent is no different. They can be told how harmful something is all day long, but it generally isn’t until they make a few mistakes that they actually understand what you mean. This puts parents in a precarious position. You may be thinking to yourself, I want to protect my adolescent, or, I don’t want them to get into a situation that they can’t get out of. The good news is that there are a lot of ways that you can help your adolescent stay safe. The hard news is that it’s generally not through the same methods you employed when they were a kid. When they were younger, you could just tell them not to do things. Once they hit adolescence, they may demand you to explain the logic behind your rules and restrictions. It is important to facilitate an environment of openness and non-judgment in order for them to feel safe enough to open up and share things with you even when they get bad. This is the type of environment that I strive to create in therapy when I work with adolescents (at my counseling practice in Ann Arbor MI).
- They will likely be ok
- It’s not a guarantee, but odds are your adolescent will grow through these struggles and come out a more independent mature person. They may walk with a limp, but they will likely still be walking. It can often help adolescents to have a trusting working relationship with a counselor or therapist while they journey through this awkward stage of life.
About the author: Tim Wilkins, MA, is the owner of Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC, a counseling private practice in Ann Arbor, MI, where he works with adolescents on their journey toward self-discovery and independence. Tim also works with adults and parents of adolescents who struggle with anxiety. In addition to managing his counseling private practice, Tim teaches psychology courses in the behavior sciences department at Jackson College and is currently pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology through Fielding Graduate University.