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Adolescence Defined

Julia Murphy, LMFT

Adolescence has historically been characterized as a period of great turbulence and change in the lives of teens and parents. Media images of high profile stars like Justin Bieber and Lindsey Lohan careening off the rails with their involvement in drugs, alcohol and reckless behavior seem to support this portrait and strike fear in the hearts of many parents. Nonetheless, I like to look at this phase of development as a time of essential, vibrant growth and change that, at its most successful, can meaningfully prepare a teen for a rich and varied adult life. Research proves that the majority of teens make it through high school, are attached to their families, and escape serious involvement with violence or drug abuse. This optimism is not an attempt to discount the real risks involved in the adolescent years or to ignore those teens who feel isolated, lost, or out of control, but rather to promote the sort of guidance and support parents, professionals, and mentors can offer teens to give them the best chance for positive development.

It is our job as adults to create opportunities for teens to be exposed to relationships and environments that promote growth and minimize risk. The starting point is to preemptively improve the one-to-one relationships that are integral to a youth’s happiness, success, independence and security. The hope is that these improvements will have a ripple effect on larger systems like the family system, the school system, the criminal justice system or the social welfare system. One way to make a powerful difference is for adults in a teen’s life to understand and empathize with the amazing changes, risks, joys, aggravations, excitement and growing pains that happen during the teen years and the purpose they serve in a child’s life. According to The John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath publication on Adolescent Development, research supports that (1) adolescence is a time of opportunity; (2) normal, healthy development is uneven; (3) young people develop positive attributes through learning and experience; (4) the larger community plays a fundamental and essential role in helping young people move successfully toward adulthood.  TO BE CONTINUED

Teen Stressors

The teen years are typically filled with stress due to the rapid physical, cognitive and emotional changes adolescents undergo. What stresses teens is often different than what stresses adults.

Teen Stressors:

  • Social awkwardness
  • Being bullied
  • Academic pressures
  • Managing an overfilled schedule
  • Self consciousness about physical appearance
  • Peer pressure to use alcohol and drugs
  • Dramatic physical and cognitive changes
  • Family and peer conflict
  • College transition
  • Adapting to greater independence and responsibility

As a parent, you can help your teen manage stress. The best way to approach an anxious teen is to be as calm as possible. The first rule of thumb is to remember to contain your own anxiety. Be open and listen non-judgmentally. Listen more than you speak. Empathy and mirroring feelings can be very reassuring and will help your teen feel that his or her feelings are normal.

At a later time when your teen’s anxiety has passed, you might suggest some positive ways to manage stress like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, breaking down tasks into smaller steps, adequate sleep, exercise and a balanced diet, downtime, and enjoyable activities with friends. Help your teen find opportunities to build his or her unique strengths and deep interests, which will also reduce anxiety and lead to greater self confidence.

The ABCs of Learning Challenges (Part 2)

Academic Skill Deficits

1. Dyslexia, or reading difficulties, effects about 80% of children with learning challenges.

  • They may have difficulty decoding words, reading fluently, as well as comprehending text.
  • Writing may also be difficult, which includes organizing thoughts, putting ideas into sequence and using grammar, punctuation and spelling appropriately.

2. Dyscalculia, or difficulty with math, is also common among children with learning challenges.

  • This may include difficulty with mental math, transposing digits, failing to line up numbers properly in an equation or omitting steps in a math problem.

Fortunately, there are strategies and accommodations that will help your child cope with his or her learning challenges, including implementing the right modifications and accommodations at school to help him learn, supporting the development of his interests and strengths, helping him understand his challenges, and providing him with support and understanding.

Manage Negative Emotions About Parenting an LD Child

Parents cope with a wide range of difficult feelings about their child’s learning challenges. Will my son or daughter be accepted to a good middle school, high school or college? Will he be able to create a life for himself? Will she ever be able to make and keep friends? All these questions weigh heavily on your mind and increase stress. While you may love your child and want the bet for him or her, your feelings of disappointment, confusion, helplessness, shame and anger may not seem very loving. You might find yourself trying to deny that you have these feelings, or you may take them as a sign that you are failing as a parent. The difficulty with this guilty mindset is that it only intensifies already painful feelings. Here’s my message to you: When parenting any child, a range of feelings, both positive and negative, is natural and human. It may be counterintuitive, but this self acceptance is crucial to processing your emotions and maintaining the composure to be present for your child. From this place, you’ll be better able to implement effective parenting strategies. Being comfortable with a wide range of feelings also helps you develop a greater capacity to understand and accept the range of emotions and experiences your child will have.

Of course, if you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed or your anger is out of control, seek the help and support of a professional.

Parenting with Love and Imperfection

The patterns of relating that children demonstrate with important adults in their lives, as well as their peers, are dependent on early relational experiences with parents or caretakers. If a child has had his or her needs met most of the time, they come to trust that others will also respond to them consistently.

As a parent, you do not have to be perfectly responsive for your child to develop a sense of trust in the world. In fact, it may come as a relief that if you were perfectly responsive to her needs, you would actually hinder her emotional growth!

Misunderstandings, disappointments and other types of ruptures are inevitable in all relationships. When misunderstandings do occur with your child, they become an opportunity for you to help your child process and resolve the experience. These ruptures and repairs actually facilitate emotional growth. Saying “I’m sorry” to your child now and then goes a long way.

8 Important Parenting Practices

With the busy schedules parents juggle, few of us can find the time to read an entire parenting book. Sometimes biting off just a little bit of wisdom is enough to start navigating your family’s day with more mindful ease.

1. LISTEN. Be an attentive audience. Take the time to listen to your child’s concerns, ideas and stories.

2. ENCOURAGE. Be sure to praise your child in response to her good efforts. Try to have praise outweigh corrections or discipline.

3. OPEN UP. Share information about yourself to help normalize your child’s experiences.

4. PLAY. Find time to bond over activities you both enjoy. Finding something you like, too, increases the likelihood that you will make time for your child.

5. APOLOGIZE. Admit mistakes and say you’re sorry now and then. Children are quick to forgive and will respect you for it.

6. AVOID COMPARISONS. Resist the temptation to compare your child to siblings or peers. Instead of motivating your child, comparisons tend to be shaming and undermine your child’s growth and happiness.

7. REFLECT. Learn to monitor your responses to problem behavior, rather than reacting quickly and punitively. Resisting an anxious response gives you the emotional space to gauge how serious a problem is and to solve it in cooperation with your child.

8. CONSIDER YOUR LIMITS. When prioritizing expectations and deciding with your child how to get them met, carefully consider what you can handle. Do you have the time or emotional resources to help your child follow through or to enforce consequences if he doesn’t?