The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines adolescence as the period between puberty and adulthood. Biologically, it can cover ages 10 to 24 years old. However, adolescence is commonly associated with the teenage years. Not only are teens' bodies changing, but their relationships with their parents are changing, too. Psychotherapists have identified three main shifts in the parent-child dynamic during adolescence.
Mom and dad still bring home the bacon, but a teen is perfectly capable of cooking it herself. As teens see their parents as people rather than idealized super-beings, the result can be conflict. As sons grow taller than their fathers and daughters develop the look of full-grown women, parents might view their children through the filter of the adorable toddlers they were. Conversely, teens might disregard their parents' feelings, beliefs and attitudes as they attempt to establish their identities.
As adolescents break away from their families, they turn to peer groups for validation and approval. Kathleen A. Whitmire of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association notes that the term "clique" dates back to the 1960s as a group of two or more emotionally close-knit friends who might become surrogate families for teens. "Cliques become substitute sources of psychological dependence while adolescents strive for autonomy from their parents," she said. Later in adolescence, the clique might be supplanted by romantic relationships. For parents, it can be difficult to allow their child to be part of a group that, not only doesn't include them, but might also disdain and reject their values. However, licensed clinical social workers, including Barbara S. Frazier, the editor of "The Successful Parent," stress that teens needs parents to be parents, not hip fringe members of their social circle.
As adolescents reconcile their relationships with parents and peers, they synthesize their own identity. They aren't just someone's child or someone's best friend, they are their own being, capable of independent thought and action. Most parents would agree this is their goal and reward of years of dedication and frustration. First seriously studied in the 1960s, Canadian developmental psychologist James Marcia posited that this stage of adolescence can produce four identity states: foreclosure, moratorium, diffusion and identity achieved. The last is the healthy outcome that parents want. In identity achieved, "a person has undergone explorations of possible selves and come to some level of commitment as a result of those explorations," Marcia said.
Parents can facilitate development of "identity achieved" by understanding some key concepts. First, parents shouldn't take the apparent rejection of their values personally. Teens rebel and explore. However, well-adjusted teens will grow into adults who have "individually interpreted and internalized [those values] as their own." Second, be available. Whitmire notes teens with strong families continue to communicate and seek advice from their parents. Third, set reasonable limits with room for negotiation. Teens need both rules and some room to make mistakes and learn from them.
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