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The Benefits and Challenges of Adolescence

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The essential changes and growth that happen during adolescence are related to the natural and healthy development of the brain. Some of the major changes that occur during adolescence affect the way we think, reason, focus our attention, make decisions, and relate to others.

“During this timeframe, there is a burst of growth and maturation”.

Understanding these changes as parents and explaining them to our children will help us lead healthier and more successful lives. It is most important to encourage our children’s development instead of hindering it with avoidance or ignorance. This is not to say that these adolescent years won’t be challenging, but honing in on the changes that happen during this period can help create a more stable, and well-rounded individual. This is to say, as parents, how we relate and help our child through their adolescence will shape them into who they will be as adults.

Dr. Siegel, in his book Brainstorm, discusses four different qualities of our mind during adolescence: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration. These changes affect how teens seek rewards in trying new things, connecting with their peers, and experiencing intense emotions and push back on the existing ways of doing things. This allows them the opportunity to create a new way of being in the world. These changes, while confusing and frustrating, are necessary for the development of your child’s sense of self.

By looking more closely at each facet of development, we can observe both the upsides and downsides of these changes.

1- Novelty Seeking.

This is an increased drive for reward, pleasure and instant gratification. One adolescent desire may be to feel life more fully and create a more engaging environment for themselves.

  • Downside: When teens decide that isolating from adults is the only way to peer relationship development, it can lead to increased risk-taking behaviors.
  • Upside: Resiliency can be built when your child is willing and able to transition and try new things. Being continually fascinated by life can create a sense of adventure and continuous learning.

2- Social Engagement

Adolescence is a time for relationship building with peers and anyone outside the home unit.

  • Downside: When teens decide that isolating from adults is the only way to peer relationship development, it can lead to increased risk-taking behaviors.
  • Upside: We are all social creatures and having your child find supportive relationships outside the household is a predictor of well-being, longevity, and happiness throughout life.

3- Increased emotional intensity.

This can improve and strengthen emotional intelligence.

  • Downside: the continuation of intense emotions may lead to moody teenagers who can become impulsive and extreme.
  • Upside: Living with emotional intensity can create a life full of energy, drive and an increased zest for being alive.

4- Creative Exploration.

Adolescents’ concept of self and others greatly increases during this time. They begin to have abstract thoughts and question the status quo. Innovation and out of the box thinking flourish.

  • Downside: As adults we constantly contemplate the meaning of life and it can lead to overwhelming and uncomfortable thinking. As a teen, these thoughts could initiate an identity crisis, vulnerability to peer pressure, and or a lack of direction or purpose.
  • Upside: Continuing to have an imaginative and creative spark can guide your adolescent into a successful and happy life. Being able to cultivate and persevere through life’s obstacles with desire and hope can create limitless possibilities.

“The brain changes of an adolescent offer both risk and opportunity”. It is how parents and other parental figures in a child’s life respond to this development that can create lasting positive effects.

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