Psychological and Emotional Aspects of Adolescence - Part 2
by Dr. Leela Francisco
Always of concern to us as parents is whether our children will be successful and happy in life. Every adolescent too wants to be successful and gain an identity for his/herself. But what constitutes the difference between one adolescent and another in adjustment and conflict resolution?
Understanding teenage emotional and psychological development can best be achieved by first dividing it into two major age groups. Below is a summarizing of a study of normal adolescent behaviour done in the US1 that makes use of this division to illustrate the issue. These groups have differing challenges due to the difference in the stages of development, both physical and emotional.
Ages 13 to 16 years
Throughout adolescence, girls remain about two years ahead of boys in their level of maturity. Some teens bloom early and some bloom late, each with a different psychological challenge.
Early bloomers may be expected to perform with individuals of their size, where as late bloomers suffer from problems of self-esteem that result from looking more immature than their peers.
Adolescents of this age group may experience a great deal of ambivalence and conflict, often blaming the outside world for their discomfort. As they struggle to develop their own identity, dependence upon parents gives way to a new dependence upon peers. The adolescent struggles to avoid dependence and may belittle or devalue their parents and past attachments. These early teens often find a new ego ideal that leads to idealization of sports figures or entertainers. Adolescents at this stage are particularly vulnerable to people they would love to emulate.
An emerging self-concept
The development of a self-concept is crucial at this stage. The adolescent must explore his or her own morals and values, questioning the accepted ways of society and family in an effort to gain a sense of self. They make up their own mind about who they are and what they believe in. They must reassess the facts that were accepted during childhood and accept, reject, or modify these societal norms as their own. The here and now thinking of earlier childhood gives way to a new capacity for abstract thought. These adolescents may spend long periods abstractly contemplating the "meaning of life" and "Who am I?"
Ages 16-19 years
In most cultures, a gradual development of independence and identity is expected by the age of 19. The physical manifestations of approaching adulthood require numerous psychological changes, particularly the development of how one views oneself in relation to others.
Self-certainty and confidence
The vast majority of adolescents attain their adult size and physical characteristics by the age of 18 and the earlier differences between early and late bloomers are no longer evident. The development in the ability to think abstractly changes along with physical development, becoming more refined. Late adolescents are less bound by concrete thinking. A sense of time emerges when the individual can recognize the difference between past, present, and future. They can adopt a future orientation that leads to the capacity to delay gratification.
The individual develops a sense of equality with adults. Self-certainty and an internal structure develop while teens experiment with different roles. By age 19, most adolescents are considering occupational choices and have begun to develop intimate relationships.
When conflicts are left unresolved
Grasping the psychological basis (as explained above) of normal adolescent behaviour in these two stages helps us understand what we can do that would be helpful in preventing emotional conflicts from deteriorating into more serious problems like addictions, substance abuse, drug dependency and anti-social behaviour. Issues that these teens face are deep emotional scars of rejection, abuse (emotional or sexual) as children, lack of love, abandonment, absence of balanced role models (in parents), lack of moral guidance, etc. It is not surprising then to have abnormal social behaviour arising out of these situations.
We need to realize that reaching the point of such seriousness results from not having recognized signs of maladjustment and conflicts, those that manifested themselves much earlier. A person who has reached this point requires a great deal of therapy and counseling to get back to being a well-balanced adult.
A well known psychologist2 identifies three categories of adolescent problems he deals with in his practice:
The teen shows symptoms of emotional distress, which may include fearfulness, social withdrawal, depression low self-esteem, anxiety, low frustration tolerance, a lack of self-confidence, poor social skills, school avoidance or poor academic performance. The teen may complain that no one likes him or her and may cry or become upset easily.
There is excessive conflict, anger, resentment, rebelliousness and poor communication in the parent-teen relationship. In this case the normal desire of the teen to assert his or her individuality has taken on a distorted and conflict-ridden form.
In being responsible for the control, discipline and education of their children, parents "may often frustrate the child's desires and impulses which may lead to anger or resentment in the child. Sometimes these feelings can be handled successfully by the family but there are many complicating factors which may prevent a successful resolution of these problems. The temperaments and personalities of the parents as well as the child, the parents' own upbringing, the child's relationships with brothers and sisters, the quality of the marriage, the impact of divorce and the influence of our changing social environment are some of the complicating factors to be examined."2
Chemical abuse and addictions:
The third category of problems involves alcohol or other drug abuse. In this case the problems discussed above are complicated by the destructive effects of alcohol or drug dependency or addiction. The substance abuse problem must first be addressed in order to then deal with the other problems.
What can we do, therefore to seek help while conflicts within us are still developing? Talking things over with our parents is the best! Whether it is related to physical development and appearance, whether it is related to making friends and being accepted socially or whether it is in developing and finding ones identity. A good parent-child relationship is invaluable, as parents understand their children most intimately in terms of talents, strengths and weaknesses and would provide the guiding light to propel them into adulthood. Parents would also take the responsibility of finding appropriate alternative help when required.
I remember knowing very well within me throughout my adolescent years, that though my parents were not perfect, they loved me very much and prayed for me constantly to make the right decisions for my future. This was much before I personally experienced God's love for me, and long before I grew in my faith in Him.
My parents were always there when I asked for guidance in important decisions I had to make, with my career, with my marriage, etc. I remember at one point during my education when I was being influenced by so much of the outside world, it was my parents who remained vigilant, praying constantly for me to keep my faith as a Catholic and were supportive during difficult times. That is what kept me focused in the right direction in the long term, despite all the big mistakes I made during that period! They were an example for me, of what I wanted to be as a Christian woman in the world of today.
Seeking the help of a doctor/psychologist/counselor or a priest who is specially trained to help in counseling these issues, is the other alternative when parental guidance cannot be depended on. This would be necessary especially when there is a breakdown in parent-child communication, or when the teen is from a broken family background. It is often these situations that lead the teen into more serious social and psychological problems.
The Word of God
How does the Word of God guide us through these conflicts? It is important for us to understand in our minds and believe in our hearts that the Bible IS the Word of God. It is one of the best means God has to speak to us directly. His written word is powerful, " the sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17). The Word of God is food for our spirit; spiritual food that has the power to bring about not only emotional and spiritual healing, but physical healing as well.
Jesus bore every pain, problem, hurt, physical disease we have had and could ever face, when He died for us on the cross (Isaiah: 53: 4-5). He already took it all away from us and healed us that day on the Cross. And after He rose from the dead, He gave His Holy Spirit to all who would receive Him. This is the same power that raised Him from the dead (Eph 1: 19-20) and what we carry within us as Baptised and Confirmed Catholics. This is the Grace we receive through our Sacraments.
Anything we ask of God in faith, that is in accordance with His will, He will grant us through the power of His Holy Spirit (Eph 3:20). Our God is a loving God. He longs that we, His creation in His image, will love Him in return. It is in experiencing His unconditional love for us that we are able to grow to love Him, and then follow His commandments.
When we believe all this in the humility of our hearts, we can then allow God to help us with any and every problem we experience. We read His Word in the Scripture that relates to our specific problems, and His Grace enters into our lives. We often find solace in the Book of Psalms or in Jesus' words in the New Testament. As we allow His Word to influence our heart, soul and mind what earlier seemed like insurmountable problems simply dissolve and solutions appear like miracles! It is in experiencing this power of His Grace, that our faith is enlivened and develops even further into maturity.
No problem is impossible for God. No situation is too difficult for Him to work out in us and for us. All He needs is that we choose to let Him help, and we trust like little children that He will, because He loves us so abundantly. Hebrews 11: 1-3 explains that Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. This is the same Faith with which we understand that God ordered the universe to come into being from nothing! It is the same Faith that causes miraculous healings. Jesus said, ALL that we have asked for in prayer, believe that we will receive it (without doubt in our hearts) and it shall be ours. (Mark 11:24).
Yes, Jesus is the answer to every emotional conflict, psychological problem or physical disease. Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28-29, Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
1Offer and Offer, 1975, 1986; Offer, Ostrov, & Howard, 1981; Csikszentmihalyi and Larson, 1984).
2Marvin S. Beitner, Ph.D. 2003
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© 2004 Dr. Leela Francisco. All rights reserved.