Can you tell us what changes we should expect as our child goes through puberty and enters adolescence – and how we should deal with them? I realize that this is likely to be a challenging time in our son's life. I'm also assuming that my spouse and I will have to bear a large part of the burden of his insecurity and anxiety as he navigates this delicate transition. Do you have some tried-and-true strategies for weathering the storm?
The transition from childhood to adulthood is difficult for everyone – kids and parents alike, girls as well as boys. Rapid physical growth begins in early adolescence, typically between the ages of nine and thirteen. It's also during this time that a child's thought processes start to take on adult characteristics. Many youngsters find these changes distressing because they don't fully understand what's happening to them. You can put a lot of the fear and anxiety to rest simply by keeping the lines of communication open and preparing for the changes before they actually occur.
Here's a list of some of the major issues you and your child can expect to confront during puberty and adolescence:
- Low self-esteem. A child's sense of self-worth is particularly fragile during adolescence. Teenagers often struggle with an overwhelming sense that nobody likes them, that they're not as good as other people, that they are failures, losers, ugly or unintelligent.
- Physical Changes. Some form of bodily dissatisfaction is common among pre-teens. If this dissatisfaction is too great, it may cause them to become shy or very easily embarrassed. But be aware that some individuals may have the exact opposite reaction-that is, they may assume a loud and angry persona in an effort to compensate for feelings of self-consciousness and inferiority. As alarming as these bodily changes can be, adolescents may find it equally distressing if they don't experience them at the same time as their peers. Early or late maturation can also cause feelings of inferiority and awkwardness.
- Emotional turbulence. Kids feel more strongly about everything during adolescence. Every experience appears king-sized. Fears become more frightening, pleasures become more exciting, irritations become more distressing and frustrations become more intolerable. Some youngsters may become seriously depressed. They may even engage in self-destructive behavior. Deep-rooted shifts in attitude and behavior may be the first clues that a teen needs professional help. As a parent, you should be alert to the following warning signs of personality change:
- Repeated school absences
- Slumping grades
- Use of alcohol or illegal substances
- Hostile or dangerous behavior
- Extreme withdrawal and reclusiveness
- Peer pressure and conformity
Remember, too, that adolescents are under tremendous pressure to conform to the standards of their peers. This pressure toward conformity can be dangerous in that it applies not only to clothing and hairstyles; it may lead them to do things that they know are wrong.
- Emerging independence and search for identity. Adolescence marks a period of increasing independence. This often translates into conflict between teenagers and parents. Tensions of this kind are part of growing up. For parents, they're also a normal part of the letting-go process. The search for identity is often accompanied by growing confusion about personal values and beliefs. This time of questioning is important in that it gives young people a chance to examine the values they have been taught and begin to embrace their own beliefs. Though they may (and often do) end up adopting the same beliefs as their parents, it's crucial that they go through this experience of discovering them on their own. This enables kids to develop a sense of integrity.
- Interest in the opposite sex. As everybody knows, adolescence is marked by a new interest in the opposite sex. Boys usually find themselves struggling with a strong physical desire for sex. Girls, on the other hand, face a more emotional desire for closeness and intimacy. Although these powerful feelings present challenges for young people and their parents, awareness and communication can help pave the way for a smooth transition into this exciting phase of life.
If you need help figuring out exactly how to discuss these issues and challenges with your son, feel free to get in touch with Focus on the Family's Counseling department. Our trained counselors would be more than happy to speak with you over the phone and assist you in any way they can.
Helping Your Child Flourish Through the Middle School Years: Joe White equips parents with effective strategies for helping their child survive the challenges of adolescence.
Preparing for Adolescence