Adolescence has always been a topic of interest for both parents and adolescents as well as for psychologists. We are all familiar with those age-specific behaviours that can easily cause discomfort to both those living in this period of life and their parents. While it may seem that adolescence is in itself a mystery of sudden change and instability, we will discuss in this article why it is normal for adolescence to get tumultuous and when to rise questions and ask for professional help.
We must first understand that adolescence is the most complex stage of human development on the way to maturity, towards adulthood, a stage that marks the stabilization of the personality that is constantly developing from birth to this moment. Even the name marks this maturity, the word being derived from the Latin “adolescence” which means “grow”, “mature.” We are talking about adolescence from the age of 14-15 years to the age of 18-20.
It is a transition period, in which inside of the child occurs a renunciation of the childhood life as it has been perceived by the child and in the same time, an adherence to another “way of being”, which is painful in terms of renunciation, loss of childhood, but also is pleasant as it’s beginning to manifest the desire to explore the world in a much more independent and personal way. If until then it was okay for the parents to have control, from this stage onwards, the child is metaphorically detached from the parental arms and wants to put his fingerprint in his life more than the parent and to gain the sense of control. Though it might be a stormy start, this manifestation is absolutely normal and a negotiation of the measure in which, the parent and adolescent, can hold control, established by mutual agreement, can bring peace to the family.
Biologically, the body tends to balance and adopts a conformation similar to the adult’s one. From a hormonal point of view, there are a number of changes that increase the state of internal tension, but this is a stage that can cause discomfort at first, but the trend is a stabilization one. Despite many beliefs, changes in the psychological sphere are only in a small degree explained by the hormonal oscillations of that period. What, however, brings great problems is the adolescent’s habituation with the new body, accepting the transition from a known body to a constantly changing one. Studies have shown that in the teen’s mind appear the fear of losing body permanence and many of them make use to tattoos, piercings and other permanent marking methods in an attempt to combat a perceived loss. Adolescents are fascinated and scared in the same time by what happens to them at the physical level, and they are not always aware of these antagonistic experiences, which makes them act and react chaotically. Once accommodated with this new stage, they tend to feel fascinated by their body and feel proud with the new male physical power (in the case of men) and the accentuated femininity (in the case of women). This stage, paradoxical in its nature, does not require any cause for concern.
Immediately after this accommodation, a phase of denial of the old child identity and a strong desire to assume an adult identity appears, and this is manifested by a total rebellion and total rejection of parental behaviour that put them in the role of children. This is called the originality crisis in which the teenager wishes to be the centre of his universe, analyses the values of his family, his society, and wishes his own independency, wishes to form personal rules and values and to be respected by those around. Practically, the teenager has to form a new self-image where he is no longer the child, but the woman or man which is becoming.
Speaking of masculinity and femininity we come to the subject of sexuality, which has been long debated. Hormonal changes, as well as psychological maturity, bring the adolescent on the verge of exploring sexuality, the sexual needs having an acute moment of manifestation, which can put adolescents in situations they feel embarrassing. During this period, gender identity is defined, the teenager feeling as clearly as possible that he belongs to a gender and identifies himself as a man or woman. Usually, many parents are alarmed during this time, considering that adolescents have no control or discernment about sexuality. But the truth is that the teenager only discovers his body to his natural needs, and sexual education is what can bring peace to both parents and adolescents because appropriate education in this sense sets the basis for a discernment that the teenager needs to have in order to be able to accept their sexuality without endangering themselves.
Other tensions arise from the adolescent’s desire for freedom, independence, which parents often refuse, all happening sometimes too quickly, and it is difficult to digest the change. The transition to independence is one of the main factors describing adolescence. That is why the end of this stage marks the beginning of adult life. It is perfectly normal for a teenager to have her/his room’s door closed, to ask his parents to knock at the door before entering, to wish not to ask for permission when he/she wants to do something, to claim to be treated as an equal in the family, to begin to manifest their frustrations and to demand new rights. The intimacy takes shape in the same time with independence, and it is natural when a teenager limits are violated or when some rights are not respected, to have a slightly aggressive reaction. Although, in most cases, a limit’s violation will not trigger an aggressive reaction, a repeated violation will certainly do so. Despite the fact that some tensions may appear in the family, this is not a manifestation that requires concern and it’s natural for the adaptation to come together with contradictory discussions between adolescents and parents.
Exploration plays a key role in stabilizing personality. Adolescence is marked by intense emotionality, passion for fields, activities, and people. During this period, appears the first love lived intensely and with idealization, many people say that the first love is never forgot. The negative experiences such as disappointments in love, the parent’s refusal to fulfil the adolescent’s desire, misunderstandings between friends, and so on are equally intense. Despite the fact that the process is experiencing a lot of emotional intensity and is unstable, it is not a cause for concern.
As it was mentioned at the beginning, it is about completing the personality development process. For this reason, exploration is the key tool for the adolescent, in order to be able to interact with experiences, people, places, situations through which he/she can learn, decide what suits him/her, what makes him/her well and to what he/she wants to evolve. A parent blocking the child’s impulse to explore blocks her natural development of personality and independence, which then can lead later in life to psychopathology.
Scientific studies have shown that personality is inherited in proportions of 30% to 50%, and the rest is given by the environment. Which means that the environment in which a teenager grows and develops is very important, the personality depending on the very high percentage of the mental health level to which he / she is exposed in the family environment.
Given the fact that we now have an idea of what adolescence is and how its development looks like in a healthy way, we can also point to a series of manifestations that often occur in this stage of development but which are not consequences of the maturity process, but consequences of problems that should be solved together with a psychologist. Consumption of substances, exaggerated aggressive behaviours (physical or verbal violence), run away home, constant misunderstanding, self-mutilation, smoking, adherence to harmful entourage, unjustified and exaggerated school absenteeism, social isolation and others are signs of emotional problems that may affect the on long-term the adolescent life.
Although exploration is normal in the sense that any teenager would like to drink a glass of beer or wine, or to try to smoke a cigarette, it is not normal a chronicity of these habits. Exploration does not, and never has, supposed a stabilization of those harmful habits. When we talk about normality in this article, we refer to the presence of a natural path that is not hampered and unmodified by disturbing factors, such as problems in the emotional sphere, occurred for independent reasons of adolescence.
Being said that, we must remember that adolescence is a difficult stage that comes together with intense, unstable emotionality but it is not a cause for concern and the harmful habits which can become chronic are not explained by the adolescent period and require special attention and even the intervention of a specialist.