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Adolescence years serve as a bridge between childhood to adulthood. Although in reality it involves just a few years, it could potentially encompass the most turbulent, confusing, and chaotic phase in our development!
This is the stage where so much has to be figured out and incorporated into our personality. The changes occur on every level from physical, cognitive, emotional, to social and behavioral; each area becoming highly complex and interconnected. Significant and somewhat difficult tasks of social role configuration, cognitive maturity, independence, peer relations, perspective taking, complicated emotional experiences, and identity formation are all on the table. To make it even more difficult, add to this the increasing responsibilities and expectations put on the adolescent by the family, school, and society at large. “You are not a kid anymore” is a loaded phrase they hear quite often and if the right level of support, understanding, care and guidance is not provided, the teenager might feel like an individual drawning in an ocean of uncertainty one minute and being thrown everywhere in a unrelenting storm the next.
Mentally, what most teens experience is new, exciting and confusing. It can also be quite dangerous. Teens during adolescence phase experience impulsivity, moodiness, and a sense of invulnerability. Additionally, at this stage the focus shifts from parents and family to peers, and towards behaviors that are risky and thrilling. This is also the stage that teens would push boundaries more than ever before in search of stimulating experiences, but also autonomy and independence.
With the recent advances on brain imaging so much is learned about the teen’s brain and its development. Scientific discoveries have shown that the teen’s prefrontal cortex is not fully developed for some years into early adulthood. As a result, some functions like decision making, planning, and controlling of the impulses are difficult for a developing brain of a teenager. It is fascinating how during those years of adolescence only what the teens focus on will be imprinted on the brain cells. Consequently, after those critical years are passed, learning other functions will be very difficult, if not impossible. For example, if the teen is spending time on academics and sports, and not music and video games, academics and sports would be hard wired into the blue print of the brain and other functions will be lost. By the same token those teens who spend their time watching TV or using drugs will lose precious brain cells to those destructive functions and not what is essential for their success in the future.
Dr. Jay Giedd (NIMH) and his colleagues found that in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, the brain appeared to be growing more just before puberty. The prefrontal cortex sits just behind the forehead. It is particularly interesting to scientists because it acts as the CEO of the brain, controlling planning, working memory, organization, and modulating mood. As the prefrontal cortex matures, teenagers can reason better, develop more control over impulses and make judgments better. In fact, this part of the brain has been dubbed “the area of sober second thought.”
That is just one reason why having clear guidance and positive good role models is absolutely essential for developing teens. Other vital requirements are establishing warm, compassionate and trusting relationship with your teens, so they can come to you and discuss their concerns without fear of judgment, criticism or punishment.
So when should a parent or a concerning adult seek professional help regarding a teenager?
You may want to scan through the following list of questions to see if your teenager needs to be assessed by a professional in the mental health field:
- Are you concerned about your teens eating habits like eating too much or too little?
- Does your teenager struggle with self-esteem issues?
- Is your teen ager dealing with family changes like separation and divorce?
- Is he/she struggling with conditions like ADHD/ADD?
- Is he/she dealing with unresolved issues surrounding a loss?
- Does he/she have self-harm behaviors like cutting?
- Is he/she displaying impulsive behaviors?
- Are you concerned about additive behaviors in your teen?
- Is the teenager feeling sad, angry, irritable, anxious, withdrawn, or tense?
- Is he/she around and over exposed to alcohol and drugs in the home?
- Is your teen struggling with unexplained mood/emotional ups and downs?
- Is he/she having trouble making and keeping friends?
Give us a call to discuss your concerns over the phone or to make an appointment to talk in person. Like most conditions, the earlier you start treatment, the better and longer lasting results you will achieve. Treatment can also improve your relationship with your teen in addition to providing you and your teen with valuable life skills for the future.
Give us a call to see if we can help.