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Understanding your Teenager

During adolescence (the teenage years), as the result of hormonal changes, teens experience tremendous growth in their bodies, minds and thinking abilities.

They develop very powerful needs for more freedom (independence), the need to be recognised and respected as a person who can make his or her own decisions, the need for acceptance (especially from peers), but also from parents and other adults and the need to understand and come to terms with their emotions (self-image and self- esteem) and sexuality.

Self-image and self-esteem play an enormous part in their expectations and behaviour. The self-image can be simply defined as that which we see and think when we look in the mirror. In other words, who or what we think we are in terms of our looks and personality, whether we see ourselves as too fat or too thin and either attractive or unattractive to others, as well as our thoughts about our families economic status and position in the community.

Self-image also includes what we represent to ourselves in terms of our beliefs and values (moral/religious). I will deal more with self-image in a later discussion, but it will suffice at this point to say that our self-image is very vulnerable and teens will also go to great lengths to try to maintain a positive self-image to others.

If, however, their self-image breaks down as the result of feeling humiliated or inadequate, it will drastically affect their behaviour and relationships with others, including their parents, as it is related to their sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. 

Self-esteem is related to self-image, but is concerned more with emotions and the way the teenager feels about himself or herself. In other words, his or her sense of self-worth. Teens quickly develop an intense emotional life and ride a roller coaster of good and bad feelings. If things go well they feel good and if things go bad they can easily become very angry, frustrated and depressed.

They have not yet developed the skills to process the ups and downs of everyday life smoothly. This makes them very open to mood swings and they are often ruled by their emotions. As I said before, being frustrated in their needs can easily make them aggressive and rebellious, especially if this is coupled to earlier emotional pain and frustration experienced as a young child.

The most important problem appears to be unpleasant relationships with parents or friends. Many teens enter puberty with underlying resentments, distrust or a general lack of respect for the feelings of parents or other people. This can be due to unresolved issues and emotional problems from early childhood or merely because of an assertive personality or trying to build a macho or strong self-image.

It is normal for a teen to try and challenge old ways and assert themselves as an independent person. They are still in the process of what we call, social learning, and need to discover their new place in the social scheme of things. However, ego-driven or selfish behaviour does not lend itself to building good relationships and this is where conflict between parents and teenagers occurs most.

Secondly, conflict often results from the teenager making bad decisions with regard to money, spending or staying out late. Spending problems are usually due to a general lack of responsibility and common sense, which only comes later from life experience. It can also result from the need to build their self-image by "showing off" to his or her friends, which can be costly. The question of coming home late relates once again to the need for independence and self-assertiveness. 

Thirdly, we may find a teen who displays immature behaviour, or is withdrawn or has very few coping skills. This could be due to him or her having inherited some or other personality trait of a parent or just as the result of a lack of early guidance and support from parents or role models.

Unfavourable circumstances such as being poor or being affected by past experiences with violence, abuse or neglect in the home, would usually reflect in a low self-image and self-esteem and a lack of confidence resulting in immaturity or social withdrawal. Such a teen longs for acceptance and is extremely open to the dangers of peer pressure.

Finally, we have the problem of low performance at school or behavioural problems (lack of discipline or drug or alcohol abuse). This can result from many factors, including personality, a lack of early guidance and discipline as well as peer pressure and the teenagers desperate need for acceptance and respect.

In the next issue we will look at positive ways of assisting our teens to be more competent and responsible people and at ways of dealing with so-called "problem teenagers".

Dealing with Teenagers...>

JP Henderson - author and speakerJimmy Henderson a well-known counsellor, metaphysical teacher, philosopher and regular radio talk show guest. He is the author of a number of articles as well as a self-help book entitled ‘Multi-Dimensional Thinking’ which is available at most bookshops.

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