The emotional development of adolescents seems ever more complex in a changing and challenging world.
With new ways of communicating with one and another and the ability to remain in close touch with parents, or to “turn parents off,” adolescents pose a challenge to themselves and those who care about them.
Nonetheless, by the end of the teenage years, most adolescents have turned into lovely young men and women.
The Work of Adolescence
The most important task of adolescence is for each teen to answer the question “who am I?” While teens don’t go around actually asking that question, their behavior frequently indicates that they are trying to sort it all out. They need to decide which family values they are going to integrate into their own set of beliefs and values, and which they are going to reject. They are trying to figure out where they fit in the world.
In addition to learning to know themselves, adolescents also need to move from childhood, when their parents controlled most of their behavior, to adulthood, where they will be responsible for themselves. To do so, they need to be able to make their own decisions and face the consequences. It is during this struggle for identity and autonomy that many teenagers and their parents experience increased conflict.
Intimacy isn’t necessarily about sex, but rather the ability to engage in a meaningful relationship with another person outside of the family. For adolescents, this intimacy first develops with same-sex close friendships. The close friendships formed in the teen years are no longer based on the same interests or activities as they may have been earlier. Instead, teens develop their social skills, including trust and honesty, with their friends and then move on to more intimate romantic relationships. At this stage of development, parents are no longer the close confidants they once may have been and the teen’s world becomes more private. Friends become very important, as does the adolescent’s concerns about what friends think of them and how they fit in.
Most teens are physically able to reproduce long before they are cognitively and emotionally ready to become parents. In a society where teens receive mixed messages about sexuality and teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are rampant, it is important for adolescents to be educated and comfortable with their sexuality.
With so many changes taking place in their brains and bodies, teens are often on an emotional roller coaster. Happy one minute, totally despondent the next, moody and tired, taking risks and challenging authority, suddenly wise beyond their years, teens are merely evolving and seeking to find out who they are. At the end of this turbulent experience for both the teen and his parents, parents become people in their child’s eye and the adolescent becomes a young adult.