“Understanding Adolescent Behavior” continued...
The lure of spending more time with friends is compelling during adolescence. Having friends helps an adolescent in a number of important ways. First, it helps him to experience more independence. Friendships provide the setting necessary for him to practice social skills and discover himself apart from his parents. Second, friends contribute to helping him shape his personal identity. Friends do not mold him, rather they are a forum in which he can try out his emerging values and ideas with less fear
of being criticized or ridiculed. Third, as he becomes less emotionally dependent on his parents, he will rely on the emotional support of friends. Since they are going through the same things he is they can understand his feelings and relate to his needs. For this reason he feels comfortable turning to his friends for support and advice. It is important to point out that adolescents become “less emotionally dependent” not totally removed from their parents’ emotional support. Friends, however, can become the only source of support when an adolescent has been rejected by his parents. Lastly, friendships provide a setting for learning about intimacy. Unfortunately many teens equate intimacy with sex and need parental guidance in understanding the difference. Intimacy is a close relationship based upon mutual caring and trust between people. It is through having contact with his peers that a teenager socializes and develops skills for intimacy.
In addition to having friends, teens are also attracted to larger circles of peers known as peer groups or “crowds.” Different peer groups can co-
Adolescents who fail to make adequate academic achievement or fail to develop mastery of a socially respected skill will find each other and become their own group. Typically these teens exhibit discipline problems and defiance toward authority, and have an increased risk of becoming substance abusers. For them a fleeting sense of mastery is being achieved through non-
As parents we want our teenager to make good choices. Some of his choices may worry us. How we react to such concerns will stimulate either cooperation or rebellion. When we say to him, “ You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd,” or “I don’t like the music you listen to,” we are criticizing him, we are tearing down his personal identity. If we follow this approach we will only drive him further away from us. How we intervene is crucial. An effective way is to express concern without being judgmental and to always leave the door open for friendly communication. Sometimes we may need to work out an agreeable compromise with him. But we should only express concern when we recognize that his choices are harmful or lacking in responsibility. A good rule to follow is to ask the question: “Who is it harming?” Is having a different hairstyle harming someone? It may be a source of embarrassment, but is it really harmful? Keep in mind that a normal teenager needs to rebel in at least some areas of life in order to separate and develop independence. For this reason it is better to avoid criticizing his choices in clothing, hairstyle, music, friends, room decor, and use of free time. Fighting over these choices will create bitterness and rebellion. Allowing him to make these choices will prevent him from testing us in other more serious areas, such as experimentation with drugs or stealing. Typically, a teenager will not make poor choices in many of these areas when we have maintained a positive healthy parent-
Because peer acceptance is all-
Typically, even though most teens pay attention to the opinions of their friends, they tend to conform to the ideas of their parents when it comes to decisions about the big values in life—religion, education, and long-
Moodiness is another characteristic of adolescence. In the course of a typical week there will be times when an adolescent is cheerful, relaxed, and willing to be engaged by his parent. At other times a mere word can bring an irritable response. These changes in mood seem to happen for no apparent reason. Some would assume that raging hormones are the culprits, however it is much more likely that teenage moodiness is due to stress. A common source of stress for a teenager is worrying about being normal. “I’m not growing as fast as my friends” “I’m worried that my nose is too big.” “I don’t have the same interests as other kids. Am I normal?” And there are plenty other sources of stress for him—taking on more control of his life brings not only new responsibilities, but also added stress, figuring out who he is and what his goals are, increased academic demands in school, peer problems, boyfriend-