The Process of Adolescence

Any parent or caregiver in relationship with a teenager realizes that teens possess unique characteristics  that are difficult–sometimes seemingly impossible–to understand.  

Picture Building a Bridge 

Today’s research acknowledges that, at so many levels, adolescents experience high degrees of change that tremendously impact nearly every aspect of their growth and development.  Therefore, because of constant change, their world is full of disequilibrium. Not only does that cause them intense angst, but their lack of “balance” also distresses those responsible for their care

Teen girlfriends
Teens may have a lot of angst

It is probably most helpful to think of this phase of life as more of a process than an event.   

In fact, many images have been used to describe this process.  One is a caterpillar emerging as a butterfly without a protective cocoon, where everything is exposed to the outside world.  

But the image I like most is the bridge from childhood to adulthood.  This bridge is constructed in such a way that the journey to adulthood is guided, guarded and undergirded by the strength of continual construction.  Caregivers and parents are facilitators of that essential bridge-building process of a teen’s passage from one life’s phase to another. 

Hang on for the Ride 

Yet, even with this understanding, the journey frequently feels unpredictable, like a rollercoaster of scary emotions, outbursts and events.  Navigating the ride takes courage and urges a “hold-on” perspective–often leaving parents and caregivers worried or in a heightened state. 

  • One truth we know is that our teenagers need stable relationships during this very critical phase. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are sending all kinds of messages to them that may be life-changing depending on how those messages are delivered and received.  It is vital that relationships with our teens stay intact during this vulnerable time of life. That is just not easy!  

Despite perceptions, teenagers are attuned to and aware of their developmental changes and social angst. They need the stabilizing love and support of those close to them. 

So, what can help you survive this phase?

For those struggling in the world of adolescence, it is healthy to read, increase your awareness and understanding of issues in the development of your teenagers.  

Talk to others who can support you in the process.  It is a time where we can feel impotent and out-of-control over all the changes that we navigate with our teenagers. Yet, it can be one of the most dynamic and impactful times of life, where we discover exciting aspects of our teens and ourselves as we journey across the bridge, where they land in a place of potential, ready for success and independence. 

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network 

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