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Understanding the developmental tasks of adolescence

By Meredith Gettleman, LSW, Family Service Youth Therapist

As many already know, adolescence is fraught with numerous challenges and transitions. The pace and amount of growth that occurs during adolescence is second only to that which occurs during infancy. As teenagers experience biological, cognitive, and social and emotional changes, understanding these crucial advancements can sometimes make this rocky road a bit more bearable for everyone involved.

Although all individuals develop at their own pace, there are developmental milestones that all teenagers are attempting to reach (whether they realize it or not). With the onset of puberty, an individual experiences changes in the way they think about themselves and the world around them, an increased interest and desire for romantic relationships, more emphasis on peer relationships and fitting in, a desire to become more independent from parents and caregivers, and the beginning of their search for a personal identity. During this search, an adolescent is examining their gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, culture, religion/spirituality, beliefs, and values, and trying to figure out what are the most salient parts of their identity – a monumental and stressful task to accomplish. No wonder they sleep so much!

Adolescence is a period of great turmoil and growth that can be overwhelming for all those involved. Stressors such as family conflict, bullying, socioeconomic difficulties, and/or mental health issues only amplify the struggles and obstacles teenagers must overcome. As a parent or caregiver of an adolescent, it is important to keep in mind the many difficulties your child may be facing as you provide support to them. Coupled with this, have empathy, encourage open communication, and set clear, consistent, and realistic expectations – these techniques can go a long way in strengthening your relationship. Furthermore, remember to take care of yourself too – adolescence is a stressful time for parents and caregivers as well. Self-care is crucial during a transitional time such as this one. Bumps along the way are inevitable so try your best and know that it is okay to make mistakes. Parents and caregivers are human too! Only when we take care of ourselves properly can we truly be the best parents we want to be.