Preparing for Adolescence

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Parenting can be the most rewarding work of adult life.  Nothing brings more joy and pride than a happy, productive, and loving child.  Each age and stage of a child's development has specific goals and tasks.  For infants, it is to eat, sleep, and explore their world.  For adolescents, it is to become their own person with their own group of friends. 

Adolescents need many skills in order to successfully achieve their goal of increased independence and some adolescents do not make this transition smoothly.  Their movement toward independence can cause stress and grief for parents.  Some aspects of this rough transition are normal and, while stressful, should not alarm parents.

Parents are often worried or confused by changes in their teenagers. Each teenager is an individual with a unique personality and special interests likes and dislikes. However, there are also numerous developmental issues that everyone faces during the adolescent years.

Helping parents understand this phase of development, the normal feelings and behaviors of the middle school and early high school adolescent are described below:

1. Movement towards Independence

  • Struggle with sense of identity
  • Feeling awkward or strange about one's self and one's body
  • Focus on self, alternating between high expectations and poor self-esteem
  • Interests and clothing style influenced by peer group
  • Moodiness
  • Improved ability to use speech to express one's self
  • Realization that parents are not perfect; identification of their faults
  • Less overt affection shown to parents, with occasional rudeness
  • Complaints that parents interfere with independence
  • Tendency to return to childish behavior, particularly when stressed

2. Future Interests and Cognitive Changes

  • Mostly interested in present, with limited thoughts of the future
  • Intellectual interests expand and gain in importance
  • Greater ability to do work (physical, mental, emotional)

3. Sexuality

  • Display shyness, blushing, and modesty
  • Girls develop physically sooner than boys
  • Concerns regarding physical and sexual attractiveness to others
  • Frequently changing relationships
  • Worries about being normal

4. Morals, Values, and Self-Direction

  • Rule and limit testing
  • Capacity for abstract thought
  • Development of ideals and selection of role models


The normal feelings and behaviors of the late high school adolescent are described below:

1. Movement towards Independence

  • Increased independent functioning
  • Firmer and more cohesive sense of identity
  • Examination of inner experiences
  • Ability to think ideas through
  • Conflict with parents begins to decrease
  • Increased ability for delayed gratification and compromise
  • Increased emotional stability
  • Increased concern for others
  • Increased self-reliance
  • Peer relationships remain important and take an appropriate place among other interests

2. Future Interests and Cognitive Changes

  • Work habits become more defined
  • Increased concern for the future
  • More importance is placed on one's role in life

3. Sexuality

  • Feelings of love and passion
  • Development of more serious relationships
  • Increased capacity for tender and sensual love


4. Morals, Values, and Self-Direction

  • Greater capacity for setting goals
  • Interest in moral reasoning
  • Capacity to use insight
  • Increased emphasis on personal dignity and self-esteem
  • Social and cultural traditions regain some of their previous importance

Parents can prepare themselves and their child for a smoother transition and greater success in achieving the tasks of adolescent development as follows:

  • Providing a safe and loving home environment
  • Creating an atmosphere of honesty, mutual trust, and respect
  • Allowing age appropriate independence and assertiveness
  • Developing a relationship that encourages your child to talk to you
  • Teaching responsibility for their belongings and yours
  • Teaching basic responsibility for household chores
  • Teaching the importance of accepting limits
  • Teaching the importance of thinking before acting

These are complex processes which occur gradually and start during infancy and a teenager's adolescent years will be less stressful when parents and child have worked together on these tasks throughout the child's earlier development.

The ability to talk openly about problems is one of the most important aspects of the parent and child relationship. Developing this relationship and open communication takes time, persistence, and understanding.  The relationship develops gradually by spending time with the child.  Meal times, story telling, reading, playing games, outings, vacations, and celebrations are important opportunities for parents to spend time with their child. 

Parents should also try to spend some individual time with each child, particularly when talking about difficult or upsetting things.  This relationship creates the foundation for talking with the child when struggles and conflicts emerge during adolescence.

A parent-child relationship which is very stressful or troubled during the preadolescent years can be a strong signal that professional help may be needed. 


Starting early is the best way for parents to prepare for their child's adolescence and parents investment of time and energy in the child's early years can prevent small problems of childhood from becoming larger problems of adolescence!!



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