Growing up in the UK today is not without its challenges, and many teenagers struggle at some point during their adolescent years. Parents may find it difficult to handle their offspring at this time and professionals such as teachers and therapists, who work with young people on a daily basis, know the hazards to be faced on the path through puberty, from childhood to adulthood.
troubled teenagersWe do not go to bed one night a child and wake up the next morning as an adult, rather it is a gradual process. Generally, girls mature at an earlier age than boys. They may begin to menstruate as early as eight or nine years old, forming breasts and changing in body shape in the ensuing years. From about the age of twelve years, boys start to broaden at the shoulders and their voices break. By the time both genders reach the teenage years they are at the mercy of their hormones. This may mean mood changes, greater self-consciousness and increasing sexual awareness. Communication, whether with parents, teachers or other adults, may become tricky, as a lack of self-understanding about their emotions makes expressing how they are feeling seemingly impossible. They tend to gravitate for guidance towards people of a similar age, with whom they feel they have more in common.
External influences shape us from an early age and we learn from those we spend time with. During the teenage years, the amount of time spent with parents reduces, as that spent with peers increases. Becoming an adult involves taking decisions about what is right and wrong. Young people are not only influenced by their peers but also by the media. They may look to celebrities with admiration. This can be a time of uncertainty and difficulty, particularly as changes in behaviour can lead to conflict with adults, not least their parents, and boundaries become blurred. Finding their moral compass can be confusing for teenagers who lack the skills necessary to cope during these years of enormous change.
Some teenagers try to trying to get through this period in their lives as quickly as possible. They begin to emulate what they perceive as adult behaviours such as drinking alcohol, smoking or using illegal substances and becoming sexually active. They are hostile to parental attempts to manage their behaviour, or, as they see it, control them. For some, this situation worsen and the risky behaviour may become dangerous.
Young people with an unsafe lifestyle can be difficult to help. If an adult, such as a psychotherapist, is going to come alongside them and support them effectively through these difficult years, then a working relationship needs to be established. This requires skill and understanding, and, above all, a channel of communication. Building and maintaining a trusting relationship is crucial in order to combat any resistance to what may be construed as interference by an adult. A bridge needs to be built and suspicions allayed.
Teenagers need positive unconditional regard, and they will recognise when it is genuine. An experienced psychotherapist will be able to offer this and, through effective communication, will endeavour to help the teenager navigate their passage through their teenage years to a hopefully happy adulthood, equipped with appropriate coping strategies they can draw on for the rest of their life.