An innovative approach to viewing adolescence
For a while now, adults have viewed adolescence as a “turbulent time” and that is one of the more positive descriptions of this important developmental period in the lives of our children. Words such as “rebellion,” “conflict,” and “survival” come to mind. I began wondering what effect this negative outlook on adolescents has on how teens see themselves. What if we reexamined the prospect of raising adolescents as a “trial,” something to not look forward to and adopted a more developmental perspective? Could we recognize this as an important opportunity to help build our teens’ futures?
Turns out, the UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent and the Frameworks Institute have been thinking along the same lines and have developed an innovative approach to viewing adolescence. Using research-based information, the project aspires to improve the way we understand, support, and establish policies that affect adolescents.
Adolescence is a time of remarkable opportunity and growth
The Frameworks Institute’s foundational statement that “adolescence is a time of remarkable opportunity and growth” sets the tone for the program. Instead of looking at managing conflict, risk-taking, and misbehavior, they talk about managing emotions, making decisions, and building resilience. What we know about adolescents’ developing brains explains a lot about their need to explore and take risks, their ability to process emotions, and their need to create close connections with their peers. If we understand the mechanisms behind teens’ behaviors, can we more effectively facilitate their growth and calm our anxieties about the future?
Experiences during this period, defined by a range of ages between 10 and 25 years play a large role in determining how the teens transition to adulthood. If we understand and help adolescents understand how to better manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we can help them look toward a better future. To do this successfully, we need to shift our perspective toward adolescence as an important time of “opportunity and growth.”
Reimagining parents’ roles
A big part of adolescence is finding a sense of one’s identity, refining social skills, and learning to identify and regulate emotions. This involves intense learning for teens and offers us a golden opportunity to shape adolescents’ views of themselves and their future. They are driven to explore the world around them to acquire the skills they need to be successful adults. Our responsibility is to assist them in safely and effectively expanding their environment to support them in becoming successful adults.
Of course, this influence begins at home and involves a somewhat reimagining of parents’ roles. Although much is said about the increasing importance of peer relationships, teens still need and depend on the guidance of parents and other important adults in their lives. The quality of the relationship parents have with their teens greatly affects their ability to benefit from this guidance. High quality relationships involve sharing responsibility for setting rules and consequences, spending time together, communicating effectively, being consistent, and reasonably monitoring adolescents’ activities. Teens that feel more connected to their parents engage in less risky behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol; they have fewer mental health issues and are more likely to ask for help when needed.
Express warmth and less criticism, control, and conflict
Effective parenting involves expressing warmth and less criticism, control, and conflict. Active listening and giving your teen 100% of your attention are critical in managing conflict and help us to understand them more fully. Understanding does not mean accepting whatever they are saying or approving of their views; it raises important awareness of the issues and opens the possibility for honest communication. However, experiencing conflict isn’t always negative; parents and teens often have very different views. It can provide the opportunity to demonstrate effective conflict resolution and develop problem-solving skills. Expressing negative emotions and being heard by a supportive parent goes a long way toward building trust. A parent that can provide a comforting presence by expressing understanding and validation of strong emotions without trying to talk them out of their feelings or to solve the problem reinforces the depth of the relationship. Effective communication is the key to a successful transition of the relationship as the adolescent becomes a young adult.
For more ways to reconnect with your teen go to:
Guy Diamond, Gary Diamond, & Suzanne Levy, Attachment-Based Family Therapy for Depressed Adolescents
Jared Cooney Horvath, PhD, Med, “A Tour Through the Teenage Brain” You Tube
Dan Siegel, Brainstorm; Parenting from the Inside Out
Judith Smetana, PhD, “Adolescent-Parent Relationships,” You Tube
UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent