Understanding stages in adolescence is very important to parents when they want to comprehend what their teens are going through. Their chronological age may not correspond to their developmental age so perceptions may be different than what is expected.
Early adolescence is a time when kids begin to separate from their parents internally and physically. This creates a kind of loss for kids who may be despondent without knowing why. To find realistic disappointments in parents who have seemed so influential and authoritative is a shift in the teen’s understanding of themselves in relation to their parents. Reality sets in. Parents aren’t perfect and powerful. It’s important for parents to recognize the change without feeling badly about it but in fact learning to collaborate more with their child in solving problems.
This is a time when kids seek more autonomy and independence but aren’t sure how to do it. Their identity is shifting. They want to be more independent but still need help making good decisions and choices. So, they are torn between going it on their own and still asking for help. The sensitive parent recognizes this quandary and can be helpful but not overbearing. If you’ve been a helicopter parent with all your good intentions, now’s the time to pull back.
This is time when your teen is preoccupied with his social circumstances whether he is gregarious or more of a follower. He wants to make friends and share his confidences with them, no longer with his parents. Parents feel left out of the loop so it’s good to know your child is progressing developmentally not insulting you. He may become more withdrawn verbally and stay in his room more frequently for longer periods of time communicating online with his peers. This is to be expected not a time when you try to pull your teen out of their room for more family time. Their identity is shifting even more as they seek to find their sense of self and want to be confident with healthy self-esteem. Break-ups are shattering and feeling outside the circle of friends the teen wants to be part of can feel devastating even leading to episodes of depression. Moods may fluctuate with feeling a part of a friendship group or on the outside. But the main thrust of this stage is social. Nothing seems more important. This does not mean academics suffer but studying may be done in small groups and a great deal of online communication is to be expected.
While you may expect this stage to begin when your child is a senior in high school, he may be delayed in middle adolescence for quite some time. Due to the preoccupation with social events, applying to colleges may be a source of parental angst when it seems your teen is procrastinating with his applications. It’s okay to lend a helping hand as long as you aren’t too authoritative and demanding about getting the applications in on time. Empathize with your teen that they have a lot on their plate with academics, applications and wanting a full social life all at once. Your understanding of these pulls will go a long way in your ability to communicate together.
If your teen is in late adolescence proper, they will be interested in their futures and less preoccupied with constant social activity. Of course. they are still involved with their friends, but aspirations for the future are now also coming into play. They may worry about college acceptances, approval from teachers and parents, and feel overcome with competition for advanced placement courses and getting into the best schools possible. Your understanding of this is most important rather than giving added pressures. This is not the time to focus on getting chores done. Applying to schools, planning for the future, picking college roommates, choosing dorms to live in preoccupy their minds.
Once in college late adolescents who bloom, tend to enjoy their course work and become inspired by teachers and their assistants. Those still in the middle adolescent phase will be recognized because the social life dominates the academic life. Nature has to take it’s course. Each teen progresses at their own rate.
When Should Parents Worry?
At any stage it’s important to monitor your child’s moods. If there seem to be too many highs and lows, keep an eye out for anxiety and depression that may be creeping in. It’s a great time for psychotherapy to help the maturation of identity if it is needed. Many kids are accustomed to their friends having therapists. It’s no longer a taboo, though it’s still private. If you fear your child is despondent or overanxious, don’t be afraid to bring the subject up because your teen will be relieved that you recognize what they are going through and will feel less alone. This will strengthen you parent-teen bond and encourage the teen to accept your help.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is releasing three new books in 2020: The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Exhaustion in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way; The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Technology with Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way and Unmasking the Narcissistic Man.