THE ADOLESCENT CHALLENGE: IDENTITY AND AUTONOMY
By Joyce Parker, Ph.D.
Adolescence is a time of rapid change and development. We are learning that there are significant changes in the structure of the brain during this period. Changes also occur in the areas of biological, psychosocial, sexual, moral and cognitive development. Most adolescents do not have a significant amount of storm and stress in spite of these changes. Rebellious behavior usually occurs during early adolescence and is manifested by chronic disagreements with parents over matters of dress, household chores and curfew hours. These problems do not involve delinquent acts or great emotional upheaval for most teens. What they did do was initiate the emancipation process. There were some transient feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt and shame. But most kids had good relationships with their parents and social institutions.
Douvan and Adelson, two researchers in adolescence, provide an eloquent description of the difficult nature of the task facing parents and their adolescent children:
The family must take on the tasks of socialization more subtle than they have met before; at the same time it must know how to yield gracefully to such competing socializers as the peer group. It must accommodate itself to the implications and dangers of the child’s sexual maturity; it must adjust to his or her extraordinary, nerve-wrenching ambivalence; it must face and respond to his or her clamor for autonomy, distinguishing those demand which are real and must be granted from those which are token and are used to test the parents or to bargain with them. Above all, the family must allow the child to abandon it, without allowing him or her to feel that her or she is abandoned or an abandoner.
These researcher found that there are four aspects of parent-adolescent relationships which favored the development of autonomy:
Parents who do not exhibit affection too strongly relate better to their teens. It is desirable to exhibit a sincere but not smothering interest. Too much intense emotion feels infantilizing or overwhelming to the teens. Perhaps this has something to do with the developing adolescent brain. But, whatever the reason, many parents have to learn very different ways of relating to their adolescent child.
The author of this article, and founder of the Therapyinla.com website, Joyce Parker, passed away in 2011. To honor her we are keeping her articles posted at this website.
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