From child to adult…the social and emotional changes affecting our teenagers

“People spend their childhood learning to be like their parents and their adolescence learning who they are and how they are different from their parents”   Miriam Kaufman

This quote pretty much sums up the effect of the emotional and social changes that take place when a child makes the transition from pre-pubescent ball of wonder and adoration to a teenager who is often moody, unpredictable and no longer showering you with affection and adulation. What happened in the blink of an eye? Where is that little inquisitive creature  who would be constantly asking advice and seeking approval?

In a previous post we looked at the changes that we now know are taking place within the brain of teenager. We now know that there is reason behind some of the frustrasting and often ‘out of character’ behaviours.  We also know that there are many factors that determine how those changes effect our youth, such as genes, personality, environment, family, friends and community.  Whilst the changes can be very different for each individual, there are certainly some common elements. Below I have outlined some of the major social and emotional changes that take place just to show you that you are not alone. This is also relevant for those of you like me who are not quite at this stage but are wanting to prepare oneself for the onslaught (or who on reflection think there are certainly elements of teenage behaviour in their barely out of nappies offspring).

Social Changes Experienced By The Teenager:

A search for identity- children entering their teen years begin to want to know ‘who they are and what they stand for’. They begin to question right from wrong and are keen to develop their own set of beliefs and morals. It is also during this time that they may start making decisions on these new found beliefs such as swearing off meat, looking into different forms of spirituality, tying themselves to a tree or  jumping aboard a Greenpeace boat. Sometimes these forays can be shortlived as they get wrapped up in the waves of  belief and belonging or they may begin to make up a set of beliefs that stick with them and are further developed through adulthood.

A quest for independence- Whilst it seems to be happening earlier and earlier, there is a definite sense of not needing others, particularly parents, as the often invincible teenager believes they have all the skills they need to take on the world. Whilst independence is a great and essential skill and one that should certainly be encouraged, it should also be noted that sometimes the decision making and judgement areas of the brain have not yet caught up to the part of the brain that seeks reward and pleasure. We must ensure therefore, that we maintain certain control over some of the decision-making in order to keep our ‘bulletproof’ teenagers safe.

A desire to experiment -As we have seen previously this is also a time when the adolescent hunts out new experiences, participates in risk-taking behaviours and begins to explore their sexual identity. They are also greatly influenced by the antics of friends and peers…most of whom are at a similar stage of brain development!

A change in Communication- With the explosion of social media, mobile phones and 24 hour access to communicable devices, the way our teenagers begin to socialise takes on many changes at this time (although for some they are well and truly versed in the modern means of communication by the time they reach their teens). And aside from the changes to the way they communicate with their friends and peers, there is also a noted change in the way they communicate with their parents…some would say a complete lack thereof!

Emotional Changes Experienced By The Teenager:

Expressing strong feelings - accompanying the many developmental and physical changes may be a tendency for unpredictable mood swings and  fluctuating degrees of emotion. Teenagers are still learning to express themselves and control their emotions in a more grown up fashion.  Couple this with the new found teenage hormones and you may find yourself struggling to understand the changing moods, the increasing arguments and the unpredictable nature of communication.

Become Sensitive or self-conscious – As the teenage body goes through many physical changes this can also be a time for body image issues as they begin to compare themselves with those around them. As their friends and peers now play such an important role, teenage self-esteem can often be connected to the way they look (be it real or perceived).

Bulletproof and Invincible- Whilst seemingly having the world at their feet, the teenager embarks on many behaviours often without having had the luxury of age and wisdom to foresee all the possible outcomes for their actions. That teenage brain is still refining its skills in the art of consequences!

You may notice therefore that your child now wants to spend less time with you, makes rash decisions, is argumentative and difficult to communicate with, or you may be one of the lucky ones who sails through the teenage years relatively unscathed. Whatever the experience, it is important to note that as long as you have done the early groundwork and are thus able to maintain some control and respect, then you are likely to come out the other end with your relationship intact and as strong as ever.

And to help this journey remain as smooth as possible there are some other things we as parents can do to help maintain our connection with our children, to help them make  good decisions, to keep them safe as they take risks and explore and most importantly to keep them healthy and happy. So stay tuned for future posts as we explore more ways to help children cope with the social, emotional and physical changes that come about as they develop  from cute kid into complex teenager and finally into happy, confident and resilient young adult.

My 11 year old son loves having dinner together as a family. It doesn’t get to happen every night  but we certainly aim for as many as we can. I started thinking the other day about how I will feel when he no longer has that same excitement about the prospect of a family gathering around the dinner table where we can all exchange anecdotes from our busy day. On reflection I will remind myself to hang tight and know that whatever changes take place, if we remain supportive and strong and know that we have put in all the groundwork….then he will always come back for a family dinner.

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26 Responses to From child to adult…the social and emotional changes affecting our teenagers

  1. Glowless May 15, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    “no longer showering you with affection and adulation” could actually just be “no longer showering” and it would still be appropriate for this post.
    I keep telling people I was an awful teenager, but now that I think about it, I was pretty good. Yes I was moody and bitchy, but I never touched drugs, I still got great grades and never snuck out like a lot of my friends did. I see teenagers today and I shudder.
    Thanks for linking up, always good to see you on the list :)

    • Martine May 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Too funny…no longer showering! And it sounds like you were a pretty good teenager and from your writing I know your a great mum!

  2. Vanessa Monaghan May 15, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    LOL at Glowless’s comment.This post is really timely for me. My daughter has just turned 12 so this is really close to home. I know it’s coming, but I don’t want to believe that my little girl is about to go through all these changes. What I want more than anything is for her to come through the other end a healthy, happy and confident young woman. Thanks for the insight into the teenage mind. I’m sure it’ll help in the coming years :)

    • Martine May 19, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

      I am sure you will both come out the other end beautifully!

  3. Susan, the Book Chook May 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    It often seems like we parents need the wisdom of Solomon, doesn’t it? One minute our teen is a young man, next he’s a boy and back to young man in a blink. It would be great if they came with labels.

    I remember reading an article about the teenager’s brain and need for sleep – my son became a person who wanted to sleep in the day and be awake at night and I just thought he was becoming a vampire. Luckily I discovered it was quite common and down to neurophysiology rather than vampiric tendencies!

    • Martine May 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

      Thanks Susan…and you’re right, some sort of manual would be great that helps out with all the different personalities! And you are right about the sleep, I was actually thinking of doing a post on sleep, as there are some definate neurological changes that take place during adolescent years.

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