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Adolescence: a period of changes

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Adolescence comes with its fair share of changes, many of which can sometimes worry parents; these transformations can be physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, etc. Sometimes, our ability to adapt is put to the test. So how can you make this necessary phase as smooth as possible?
 

For many teens and their parents, adolescence is a stage of life that is highly emotional and full of highs and lows. This delicate period of change is a time when the teenager establishes, step by step, his or her personality and independence.

Physical changes

The physical transformations observed during adolescence are, in most cases, the result of hormonal changes as the teenager’s body is transformed from child to adult. This phase, called puberty, starts between the ages of 9 and 16 and usually ends between the ages of 18 and 22. Puberty occurs at different times for everyone. The sexual hormones are responsible for these physical changes; a boy’s body produces more testosterone while a girl’s body produces more estrogen.

Physical changes observed in both girls and boys include growth spurts, increased perspiration, acne problems and appearance of pubic and underarm hair.

Here are a few other examples of typical changes in boys:

  • broader shoulders and chest;
  • voice changes;
  • appearance of hair (chest, arms, face);
  • development of genital organs;
  • first erections.

And girls:

  • development of breasts;
  • first menstruations;
  • broader hips.

In general, the first signs of puberty appear earlier in girls than in boys.

Psychological and emotional changes

Adolescence is not only characterized by the aforementioned common physical changes. Indeed, this stage of life is full of emotional and psychological transformations that are just as significant as physical ones.

Teenagers search for their own identity and feel a growing need for independence. This period is also one of confusion, when the teen is torn between the desire for autonomy and the need to remain dependant on his or her parents.

Friendships also become more important. In addition, peer pressure increases and changes in behaviour are observed, sometimes creating conflicts between teenagers and their parents. Feeling carefree and invulnerable, teens seek new experiences and can sometimes get exposed to situations that are dangerous or harmful to their health and well-being: smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, reckless driving or sexual behaviour, etc.

As we explained above, puberty is the result of hormonal changes that, in addition to being responsible for the physical transformations of adolescence, lead to mood swings. This requires a lot of patience and understanding from the teen’s loved ones. Adolescence also involves countless difficult decisions to be made by the teen, which can cause all kinds of different feelings. 

Sexual changes

Adolescence is a time of first experiences, such as, among others, first sexual relations. Indeed, the hormonal and physical changes experienced by teenagers make them more aware of their sexuality. It plays a dominant role during this transition phase and is the source of a lot of questioning. Teens need specific, precise information about sexuality, as well as a supportive environment so that they can understand their own behaviours and feelings in terms of love and sex. It is therefore important to create an open climate for discussing subjects pertaining to their sexuality. But talking about sex is not an easy thing, so it is also important to choose the right time and the right strategy to broach the topic while still respecting the teen’s privacy.

A few tips for parents

If you are the parent of a teenager, here is some advice to help keep your family in harmony during this most sensitive period:

  • Don’t forget that even though your child makes his or her need for independence loud and clear, he or she still needs you in many ways. Be present and ready to help.
  • Don’t judge too fast. Certain behaviours that, at first, might seem abnormal to you may only be a normal manifestation of adolescence. Get informed and talk to other parents; this might allow you to put things back into perspective.
  • Listen, be open and be empathic. Try to put yourself in your teen’s shoes and listen to her or his point of view. To avoid confrontation, suggest options instead of giving orders.
  • Express your expectations clearly in terms of things that are non-negotiable to you: curfew, grades, chores, etc. For things that you consider less important, try to let go and work on your tolerance.
  • Have confidence in your teen and show it. Also, make your teen feel that he or she is important to you. Suggest sharing activities that your teen enjoys; this will allow you to strengthen the bond and promote togetherness. Take an interest in his or her life, friends and things that he or she cares about or that are part of his or her daily life.
  • If you notice worrisome signs such as changes in eating habits, significantly lower grades, isolation or a communication breakdown, share your concern with your teen with complete honesty and, if needed, seek help.

It is true that dealing with adolescence is no easy task. But rest assured: once you’ve reached retirement, chances are that you’ll remember your child’s mischief and silliness together and share a laugh or two. But if your child is truly experiencing difficulties or is adopting behaviours that concern you, don’t hesitate to get help. The fact that adolescence is an overwhelming time for most people is no reason to neglect or ignore situations that could deteriorate or damage your child or your family. Just don’t forget that, in many cases, taking a step back and a few deep breaths can be the most effective strategy!

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