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All Teens Are Not Alike

How to negotiate the emotional and development differences when raising multiple teens.

From Tween to Teen

Adolescence is not an event, it is an ongoing process. Young adolescents are as different from older adolescents as the infant is from the kindergartner.

The early years are defined as the year or so directly preceding puberty and the year following it. Late adolescence begins a year or two after the intial entry into puberty and goes all the way until the twentieth birthday.

The Early Years

During this time the tween becomes the teen. Voices begin cracking and bodies begin changing. Parents can expect the following from their growing teens:

  1. A need for more independence and freedom, but no real sense of responsibility, or the consequences of their actions.
  2. Extreme concern with fitting in with their peers; a strong focus on popularity.
  3. Awkwardness in relations toward the opposite sex; they may seek out information from books, TV, and films.
  4. Conflicts will increase as they seek more time with peers.
  5. Greater displays of intimacy; they still spend a lot of time with family.
  6. Beginning exploration of personal religious and moral beliefs.
  7. Budding concern with who they are and how they fit into the world.

The Later Years

Physical, emotional,and developmental changes in your teens are quite evident at this time. Parents can expect their teens to:

  1. Accept responsibility; acknowledge the consequences of their own actions.
  2. Show continued interest in peers, but with more focus on close friendships rather than mere popularity.
  3. Pair off more frequently with members of the opposite sex; they are more confident in their knowledge about sex.
  4. Conflicts with parents begin to decline.
  5. Exhibit less intimacy and time spent with the family.
  6. Exhibit personal, religious, and moral beliefs that are more well defined and solidified.
  7. Become more concerned with the future and what they are going to do with their lives.

Teens of all ages -- including older adolescents -- see their parents as their primary sources of support and advice regarding such important aspects of their lives as school, friends, and future employment. Of course, every teenager is an individual and there can be exceptions to the above.

The Difference Between the Sexes

Just as there are differences between younger and older teens, there are differences between male and female teens.

Here are some of the most prominent differences to expect between boys and girls.

Girls

  • Emphasize intimacy and emotional support more frequently in their friendships
  • Report higher levels of social anxiety, especially fears of social rejection
  • Are more concerned about others' judgments of their appearance and behavior
  • Evidence more depression and anxiety
  • Are more likely to turn stress inward and become depressed and anxious

Boys

  • Have more health risk behaviors, like smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use
  • Engage in more high-risk behaviors resulting in more physical injuries
  • Are more accepting of theft, lying, and fighting
  • Evidence more conduct problems
  • When stressed, are more likely to act out and engage in high-risk behaviors involving physical violence and aggression

How Teens Manage Stress

Adolescence is stressful. Some of the things that cause stress are external to the family -- peers, school, and the broader community. Other stressors are internal to the family -- parental conflict or divorce, parental depression or physical health problems, and parent-child conflict. Still others are inherent -- such as the teen's own temperament. It is not so much the type of stressor that causes problems, but the number of stressors.

Research suggests that most adolescents can cope with one, two, or even three stressors, provided none are especially severe or prolonged. When four or more stressors coexist, however, teens can get into real trouble. They may, for example, develop problems in school, behavior problems, or psychiatric disorders.

On the other hand, it's not good for teens to experience no stress during adolescence. It is only through experiencing challenges and overcoming them that teens develop confidence in their ability to do so. In fact, stress can help living things grow stronger.

The Necessity of Stress

Consider the difference between trees growing in a rain forest and trees growing in a desert. Because water is so plentiful in a rain forest, trees do not need to send their roots very deep. Consequently, even moderate winds can topple a tree in a rain forest. But to survive in a desert, trees must send their roots very deep in search of water, enabling them to withstand even very strong winds. Of course, if a tree goes too long without water in a desert, it will wither.

Teens can also benefit from limited amounts of stress. Too much stress can certainly cause problems, but the absence of stress can leave a teen feeling incompetent to handle the challenges of life.

Effective parenting requires that parents refrain from "rescuing" their teens too quickly whenever stress arises, while at the same time helping out when their teens experiences too much stress. Parents can do this by listening to their teens when they are stressed, exploring with them their options for overcoming the stressor, and expressing confidence that their teens can handle the challenge.

If, however, your teen starts to experience disruptions in his or her daily activities, such as difficulty sleeping or eating, this is a strong indication that your teen is being overwhelmed by stress. If so, you should step in to help out.

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