Adolescence in American and Western European cultures is a time of enormous emotional as well as physical changes. Although each child is an individual and grows and develops in his or her own unique way, there are some predictable stages. When parents know what to expect, they can provide better help and support as their child moves through this often emotionally tumultuous time.
No Longer a Child
Changes in the parent-child relationship are normal and necessary during the teen years. The child’s “declaration of independence” and its realization result in a pulling away from parents. This can be accompanied by a rather predictable and usually short-lived depression as the child experiences sadness from the loss of the old tie to parents and a new separateness becomes established. As both the child and the parents struggle with this transition, the teenager often becomes difficult for the parent to control. He or she rejects family routines and parental authority and often withdraws from the family to incubate a new adolescent identity. It’s not uncommon for the formerly affectionate child to object to touch, to walk at a distance from parents when at the mall, or to spend long hours alone in his or her room while the rest of the family enjoys time together.
The Emergence of Peers
The emptiness created by separating from parents often is masked by an allegiance to peers and to adolescent culture. The walls of the adolescent’s room are covered with posters of this year’s teen cultural icons. Toys and games are replaced with CDs, TVs, telephones, computers, and cell phones. Girls hang out together, and so do the guys — in school, at parties, at hotspots, on the phone, and now online. An evolving identity is expressed through clothing, slang, gestures, and new cultural heroes.
The adolescent peer group experience is stressful. The ease of childhood relationships is replaced by anxiety about how to “fit in.” There is constant tension around “being left out” or “not being good enough.” Predictable and recurring problems include: handling new situations and temptations; meeting the need for constant communication with peers; learning how to deal with new feelings in this new set of relationships; competition around status and possessions; and the need for money to fund this new lifestyle. In addition, there is the continuing pressure of schoolwork, conflicts with family, and the somewhat abstract challenge of preparing for an uncertain future.