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Denver Counselors Discuss Adolescent Therapy

Denver Counselors Discuss Adolescent Therapy

Most of us have heard at least one of the jokes:
  • Raising adolescents is like nailing Jell-O to a tree.
  • Teenagers: Tired of being harassed by your parents? Act Now! Move out, get a job, pay your own way, while you still know everything!
  • Grandchildren are the reward for surviving your child’s adolescence.

They’re funny because they have the ring of familiarity and the hint of truth. But for parents and teenagers caught in the throes of this tumultuous period of growth and change, it can be difficult to find the humor.

Parents grieve the loss of their sweet, loving children who couldn’t wait to tell mom and dad every detail of their days at school or activities with friends. They don’t know how to approach the morose stranger who only wants to be left alone in her room, except when she wants a ride to the mall. Or whether their simple questions about the day, an expression of interest and affection, will be met with insults and rage.

Adolescents are confounded by their storming emotions, the new social rules that seem to change daily, the expectations and pressures of budding adulthood. They crave the approval and support of adults but have no idea how to ask for it and are surprised themselves by how quickly and vehemently they reject it when it’s offered.

New research offers both good news and bad news. The good news is that your teen’s brain simply isn’t fully developed yet. He may look like a small adult—and do his best to convince you that’s the case—but inside his head remains largely a child’s brain.

Both the corpus callosum, essential to intelligence, consciousness and self-awareness, and the prefrontal cortex, vital to such sophisticated functions as emotional control, impulse restraint and rational decision-making, are under construction throughout adolescence and into our early 20s.

Which leads to the bad news. Your teen’s brain simply isn’t fully developed yet. How can you expect your teen to control his emotions, develop self-awareness or make rational decisions if his brain doesn’t yet contain the necessary ingredients for such capabilities?

Which leads back to another piece of good news. You, this child’s parent, have a fully developed, fully functioning adult brain. You have been using your own emotional control, rational decision-making abilities, intelligence and self-awareness to raise this person so far. These skills of yours have not disappeared simply because the kinder, gentler previous version of your child has. The final chapter of who your child will become has not been written, and you—despite suggestions that you’ve been replaced by peers and media influences—remain the primary author of your child’s story.

Because your teen’s inner experience is so chaotic and unpredictable, it’s perhaps more important than at any other time in your child’s life that you cultivate a home environment based on structure, consistency and predictability. Your child is depending on you to define safe and appropriate limits in what seems like an out-of-control, unmanageable world. Your child needs you to continue to love her, to shower her with affection, interest and nurturing kindness because much of the time she feels like an unlovable, unloved monster.

  • When your child withholds information, remain interested.
  • When your child escalates emotionally, remain calm.
  • When your child tests the limits, be flexible.
  • When she tries to go too far, remain firm.
  • When your child distances herself, remain close.

This time in your child’s life perhaps will require more strength, determination and commitment than any other time in your life. You’ll need support. You’ll need a strong shield to protect you from taking personally the barbs that are hit straight to your heart but really aren’t intended for you.

Make sure your support system is intact, and don’t be afraid to use it. Look how far you’ve come and how well you’ve done so far. And know that just over the horizon waits a wonderful adult who can’t wait to meet you—and himself—and say thanks.

If your teen is in crisis or is in need of therapy CLICK HERE to find a WBC therapist who specializes in treating adolescents. Call or use our online scheduler to make an immediate appointment.

1) Yes! Your Teen is Crazy! Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind. Michael J. Bradley, Ed.D. Harbor Press: Washington, 2003.

2) Westside Behavioral Care: Adolescent Therapy