Remember those days when you were 15-16? I certainly do. Teenage years are often not a lot of fun. There are some good times but overall, few of us would do it over again.
When I first became interested in adolescent health, I read a lot about Erik Erikson who was a psychoanalyst who lived in the 20th century. A contemporary of Freud and Piaget, Erikson differed in his theories of psychosocial development in that he recognised adolescence as its own unique stage, which he called “Identity vs. confusion”. Erikson recognised that teenagers and adolescents are often faced with the challenge of ‘finding themselves’, which can manifest in various behaviours that the rest of us see as moody or withdrawn.
Think about it. I know when I was 8-years-old, I did what I was told to do (most of the time). If a teacher asked me to do something, I would do it without question. As an 8 year old, adults seemed like they had all the answers. By the time I was 15, however, I looked at it differently. When someone would ask me to do something that seemed pointless, I would question it. For example, our school had a strict uniform and hair policy. Hair had to be worn a certain way, body piercings were not allowed, and uniform had to be worn in strict accordance with policy. I remember when we were 16, one of my mates grew his hair and was told he had to cut it. He challenged the teacher – why? The teacher wouldn’t respond and so he kept pushing. “Why does my hair affect you or the school?” After a few minutes, he received detention and was told to stay home until his hair was cut.
I’m not condoning an argument, but in fact it is quite normal (and healthy) for teenagers to push boundaries for answers. We enter adolescence as a child, theoretically we should leave it as a responsible adult. That gives us approximately 12 years to mature, gain life experience and ultimately independence.
It may seem easier to deal with argumentative behaviour by refusing to engage in discussion or threatening a punishment, but where does this leave our teenagers? They are questioning things for a reason. They are learning. So, why not instead try to shape that learning by modelling healthy and constructive discussion. By all means, set boundaries – for example, “I’m happy to discuss this but not while you’re angry. We can sit down later and talk about it over a cuppa.”
Teenagers are not scary. In fact, “moody teenagers” are some of my favourite patients to see. When you engage them in a down to earth conversation, the raw honesty and insightfulness is actually very refreshing.
Links to previous blogs in this series:
#1 – Introduction to series
#2 – Why do dogs wag their tails?
#3 – The developing newborn: What is normal?
#4 – Does my child have autism?
#5 – Toddlers, tantrums (and training!!)
#6 – Sigmund Freud: Who was he?
#7 – Do I have depression or am I just sad?