Adolescence:  Danger or Opportunity?    In truth, a bit of both. 2/2/2022

The past several years of pandemic and of social and political unrest have, of course, been uniquely challenging for teens (and their families), adding a layer of complexity that has compounded an already challenging phase of life.  During recent times, greater levels of anxiety and depression have been evident in lots of teens and there is no doubt that the stressors felt by all will continue to have some negative consequences that may continue to persist and/or emerge over the coming months and years.

This said, the following discussion of the ‘ordinary’ challenges of the adolescent phase of development may offer some hope about their intrinsic resiliency— while the risks and dangers have been seriously elevated, teens’ intrinsic adaptability can be expected to assist most of them in handling risks and dangers safely and, with that, there is reason for hope that they can and will find opportunities for growth even in the face of adversity.

No phase of parenting evokes as much consternation and concern as the adolescent years of transitions, and this is with good cause. It is a time of dramatic change for the teen — there are enormous challenges to deal with: body changes, increased and complex social pressures, changes in mood and thinking, changing sexual awareness, and an adult world that may be seem and even be more distressed or confounded as the teens themselves may be, about how to handle all the transition and new concerns.

All these changes and the multiple challenges of growing up come with risk and vulnerability, and as a society, there is and also has been a widely-held view that “adolescence” equals “trouble”.   Fortunately, this view is more myth than fact, as the vast majority (albeit not all) of teens manage their adolescent transitions relatively smoothly and progress into young adulthood without permanent damage or harm to themselves or to others.  Keeping this in mind can assist parents and others position themselves to better support healthy outcomes for their teens and young adults.

For sure, the dangers and risks are great and many: drinking, smoking, reckless driving, injury from risky sports, drugs (illegal and legal), pregnancy, STDs, school failures, runaways, antisocial behaviors, and on and on and on. Teens with pre-existing problems and those with families in distress are particularly vulnerable.  But, again, most teens—through good fortune, attentive and balanced parenting, and/or support from peers, teachers and other adults in the community, go through their growing pains and development safely.

Taking risks is an essential part of the adolescent process, even as it may take the breath away and test the patience of the best of parents and providers.   It can be exquisitely challenging for parents, teachers and other adults to provide a balance of support and corrective guidance so that teens make wiser choices at they push into new areas of living and experimentation.  An appreciation for most young persons’ judgment and resilience can be helpful in finding a helpful posture in relating to them and helping them in their growth and development.   Fear driven and negative approaches with teens most often fail, while positive Involvement, encouragement, and engagement between an adolescent and his/her parent(s) and other adults is one of the best preventive tools.

When in doubt or in the face of persistent problems, consultation with a mental health professional is a wise intervention.  For those seeking further information the following references may be of benefit.

References:

“Your Adolescent: Emotional, Behavioral, and Cognitive Development from Early Adolescence Through the Teen Years – David Pruitt, MD & the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Harper Collins Press, 2000

“The Romance of Risk: Why Teens Do the Things They Do”, Lynn Ponton, M.D.; Basic Books, 1998

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