By Julian Jooste

The period of adolescence is a tumultuous time where teens are faced with diverse and complex tasks. On one hand they are in the process of separating from the dependence of childhood, on the other hand they are moving towards adulthood. It is a time where emotions often run high, and where their boundaries with the family change. The adolescent is in the process of developing their identity.  In this article some of the most important challenges facing teens are identified.

  1. They develop and need to apply abstract thinking skills. The teen starts to think of future possibilities, test out ideas, and construct their philosophies on life.
  2. They develop new coping skills in areas such as problem solving and conflict resolution. They are facing their world a little more independently and start to engage in more sophisticated strategies to deal with challenges. They need to learn to moderate risk taking to serve their goals rather than jeopardize them.
  3. They identify meaningful values and belief systems. Typically the teen will start questioning their beliefs from childhood, and develop more personally meaningful values, religious views, and belief systems.
  4. They understand and express more complex emotional experiences. They are typically also able to better understand the emotions of others in a more sophisticated way in comparison to how they would have done during childhood.
  5. They develop friendships that are mutually close and supportive. Although friendships did exist in childhood, peer relationships play a much more influential role in the teenage years. Parents often struggle with the teenager not sharing emotions with them. It is normal, though, for the teen, to confide almost exclusively in their friends.
  6. They form some of the key aspects of their identity. Although the development of someone’s identity is a process spanning a life, some of the most crucial aspects are forged during the teenage years. Their sense of individuality is experienced as  they seek their personal experiences of the world.
  7. They are faced with adjusting to their sexually maturing bodies and feelings. Bodies acquire sexual characteristics, and the teens need to establish both their sexual identity as well as develop the skills required for romantic relationships.
  8. They renegotiate the relationships with adults in parenting roles. Although many of the challenges facing teens involve separating from parents, it is important for the adult and teen to work together to negotiate changes that balance autonomy and ongoing connection.

These are only some of the crucial challenges and tasks facing adolescents. There are undoubtedly many more. It is crucial to consider approaches and ideas to help your teen cope with these challenges in constructive, useful ways. Fundamentally, the quality of the family experience is based on certain aspects. These include creating a space where the teen feels emotionally understood by the parents, are able to have fun with the family, have rules (where some are negotiable), and understand the roles and structures in the family.

Useful Resources:
Cawood, Anne (2008). Teenagers Need Boundaries
Chapman, Gary (2000). The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers
De Klerk, R. & Le Roux, R (2006). Emotional Intelligence for Children and Teens
Gouws, E.; Kruger, S. & Burger, S (2008). The Adolescent