Developmental Landmarks and Parenting During Adolescence
Developmental Landmarks of Adolescence
Two changes distinguish a child’s development during adolescence from previous stages. The first is characterized by rapid physical and psychological change. Adolescence is a period of metamorphosis in an individual’s life involving dramatic changes in body proportions, physical size, sexual maturation, and personality shifts. The second change involves individual emancipation. Western culture emphasizes the teenage years as the appropriate time for establishing one’s independence as a mature person and assuming full responsibility for oneself. The specific developmental tasks and milestones that individuals encounter in adolescence focus on acquiring and refining more advanced skills, abilities, and attitudes that lead toward preparation for adulthood.
Many parents anticipate that when a child reaches adolescence, it is like going to war since this stage of the life span is associated with rebellion, tension, conflict, and emotional turmoil. In reality, this depiction is not far from the truth since adolescence is a difficult time both for children and parents. While some teenagers reach the outer limits in their behavior and attitude, however, most adolescents do not act out and the stereotypes described here do not normally apply.
Parenting styles and behaviors must adapt once again to meet the needs of a different child. And once again, the adaptation often is not initiated by the parents but rather by the adolescent who may demand to be treated differently now that he or she is older. Meeting the developmental needs of a child who is attempting to become autonomous and eventually to individuate from the family system presents challenges not found in previous periods of parenting children. Most parents understand that adolescents continue to need guidance, rules, and support in this process of growing toward maturity.
Family professionals stress that one of the more difficult challenges of parenting adolescents is the fine line parents walk between being supportive of a teen’s efforts to individuate and maintaining certain limits and boundaries for appropriate behavior (Gnaulati & Heine, 2001). Adolescents need experience in making personal decisions, but sometimes these decisions can have traumatic consequences. Family systems become unhealthy when there is a demand for complete uniformity and conformity among all members, when everyone is expected to adhere to the same beliefs, values, and behaviors. Although parents and adolescents must agree on rules and other family patterns, this agreement occurs ideally through negotiation and input from all concerned. When no latitude is permitted for individual expression and differences are not tolerated, a family system becomes endangered in its ability to function in a healthy way. This approach may have been appropriate at earlier stages of the family life career as a reflection of the developmental limits and inabilities of children to participate fully in family life and decisions; however, it becomes less appropriate as children reach the adolescent years.
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