What is the essence of adolescence? What are the unique behaviours that we associate with this period? Let’s break it down.
- Emotions. There is a noticeable increase in emotional depth (and expression) across the entire range of feelings, both positive and negative.
The bad bit = moodiness, hypersensitivity and emotions that often feel impossible to manage.
The good bit = when the feelings are good, they feel really good.
- Creativity. Yes, our teenagers are highly creative beings! They probe, they enquire. This is the way adolescents challenge those that have influence and dominance in their lives. Being inquisitive, and often critical, about why things are as they are, scrutinising the existing conditions and their place in them.
The bad bit = they can be argumentative and frustrated upon realising that the world can be a disheartening place.
The good bit = heightened imagination and innovation. A visioneering mindset pf potential and possibility.
- Trying stuff out. Adolescents are excited by exploration of new things and often risky experiences. Experimentation in the world around them.
The bad bit = risk-taking behaviour can sometimes have some serious consequences.
The good bit = testing new ideas fuelled by their heightened imagination and sense of innovation can produce deeply satisfying results or experiences.
- Peer validation. Adolescents now look to their peer group rather than their parents.
The bad bit= their peers don’t have a developed frontal lobe so they’re not always the best people to offer advice or support.
The good bit = lots of opportunities for social and emotional learning.
So, if they’re the main behaviours, what’s the point of all that? Why they do what they do? Starting in late primary or early high school, the overall point of adolescence is to transform a child physically, psychologically, and socially into a young adult.
This transformation can only happen when children begin breaking away, bit by bit, some of their childhood attachment to their parents.
To achieve this task of ‘becoming a young adult’ (the whole point!) they have to do two main things:
- Become independent. You know, like, fly the nest.
- Individuate. That’s the process of forming a personality and gain a self that is separate to our parents.
There are several stages of adolescence.
Stage 1 is Early Adolescence. This is between the ages of 9-13. The main aim here is to separate from childhood. What does this look like? What are the main characteristics?
We see quite a bit of personal disorganisation. This is because the systems that used to deal with the much simpler world of childhood are now insufficient to cope with the complex world of adolescence. Early adolescents can also be quite negative. They are resistant to being treated like a child (even though they’re quite yet ready to be treated like an adult) and see many of the rules and limits set by adults as annoying can get easily upset by them.
They also don’t find excitement from the things they used to love doing so boredom is a big part of being this age. We see this an increase in resistance in this age group. Our young people are starting to question authority, argue with the rules and can start to rebel. In testing the boundaries, we can also see some early signs of experimentation. Pushing the limits to see what they can get away with. At this point, many teens often place less value on school and academics.
At around 13, we move into Mid-Adolescence which lasts roughly until 15 years of age. It is characterised by Finding your Tribe. Remember the most essential job of an adolescent? To leave the family nest. But to do that successfully, they have to have somewhere to go…they need to find a tribe. They need to belong to something outside of the family nest. Being disconnected is risky!
This process can be challenging. Is it the right tribe? What are the unwritten rules of this tribe? Should I try more than one tribe? These are questions that require them to take a close look at their identity and their values. This often results in increased conflict with parents about social freedom with peers. Increased lying to break the rules and avoid the consequences. More self-consciousness as the body changes. More peer pressure to conform and belong. A lot of teasing, exclusion, and bullying happens in these years.
Privacy often kicks in during this mid phase. This is well known as a normal part of growing up. The stakes get higher, the issues more challenging and overall, they are figuring out what kind of person they are and want to be. Sometimes, this needs a room with a closed door!
And, finally, thinking skills are transforming. Concrete thinking was used up until this point and now they are developing ways to think abstractly and other new thinking skills. This often requires a little solitude. Gaining independence and autonomy naturally means a little less time in the family nest, again, this is the very point of adolescence!
Late Adolescence spans 15-18 years of age. You’ll see greater independence and the desire to do grown-up activities—part-time employment, driving a car, dating, and recreational substance use at social gatherings. It is illegal, but this is usually the age that teens start experimenting.
Blimey—there’s a lot going on! It pays to be gentle with your teen as they undergo this colossal developmental evolution.