Oftentimes when we think about the adolescent teenage years, there is a sense of dread. Maybe it’s because we remember our own teenage years or we hear from other parents about their teenagers. The teenage years are often a time of unpredictability. Brains are still developing. Hormones are imbalanced. Moods fluctuate. More risky and impulsive behavior is taken. The rebellious teen emerges. Instead of fearing the adolescent teenage years, we should be intentional and reframe these years as an opportune time for how we as adults interact and positively influence adolescents. 

Last week, the Transition Years team read and discussed an article, “Adolescence is an Age of Opportunity,” written by Lydia Denworth (2021). Denworth shares about neurological brain development and how this is a sensitive period of time for social and emotional processing. In our small group discussion, three key takeaways included how adolescents were concerned about status and respect; protective factors can help adolescents; and adolescents want to contribute and have a sense of purpose. Knowing these things can help us in our relationships with teenagers. 

Teenagers’ concern with status and respect is important for all of us to be mindful of since they want to be treated as individuals. Teenagers can sense when adults are paying lip service and when they are being sincere. If a teenager feels like you are not taking them seriously, they won’t take you seriously either. They want to be asked rather than told – they want to have a voice and a say in the conversation. This is a great opportunity to get their buy-in and invite them to have meaningful conversations. 

As adults, we can help provide protective factors to support their growth and reduce the risks. Some protective factors include positive family relationships, opportunities for family involvement, healthy peer relationships, and opportunities to be involved in school (clubs, sports, leadership, etc). When there are more protective factors present, there is less opportunity for risky behavior and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. We can help expose them to positive experiences, which will also help them learn more about themselves and what they like and don’t like. 

The last key takeaway is that adolescents want to contribute and have a sense of purpose. In their adolescent years, they are learning more and more about themselves and shaping their own identities. When they are able to see that they can be part of society and contribute in positive ways, they have a sense of value and are more likely to do good. It is our responsibility as adults to help provide those opportunities and steer them gently in the right direction. 

The adolescent teenage years are exciting times and it is a great opportunity for us to support their growth and development. Treat them with respect and ask for their input. Provide protective factors and different ways for them to feel connected. Allow them to contribute and find a sense of purpose. What teenagers want is not much different from what we want as adults. As adults, we can assist adolescents in their journey to becoming positive members of society. 

Click here to read Lydia Denworth’s full article that was published in Scientific American in May 2021.