"Change" is the hallmark of the adolescent years, and it is often very disconcerting for parents to observe this rapid and sometimes seemingly directionless process of change in their children. First, of course, are the physical changes that children undergo as they transition from childhood to adolescence; almost overnight they can seem to transform from little girls and boys into young women and men! Another important and noticable change is the adolescent's desire to be part of a peer group. Prior to puberty, having friends was important, but now being a member of a definable peer group becomes an important task, and the clique or crowd one seeks to identify with can change over time based on certain variables in the adolescent's life such as who they may be dating (and what clique that person is in) or getting involved in a school activity (and moving into a new peer group.) While peer group membership is of primary concern, adolescents also begin to evaluate characteristics of their racial, cultural, and sexual identities amd where they feel they "fit."
This is also a time when adolescents naturally strive to explore the world with less frequent need to return to the "safety net" of their parents. They are decreasing their dependence on their parents for tasks such as setting their goals and making certain decisions, such as what to where, who to date, and so on. It is important for parents to remember that although their teen is not seeking their help with estabilishing their social relationships, the teen still wants to feel secure in knowing thatMom and Dad are there and able to offer support if a problem arises that they don't know how to handle. It is also normal for conflicts between parents and teens to increase during puberty, often over over routine matters such as chores, curfews, and time spent on schoolwork--conflicts that were unheard of just a few short months are years earlier during the teen's childhood.
When parents are concerned about "peer pressure" they typically think of negative influences on their teen, such as the pressure to smoke marijuana or else risk rejection from the peer group. But there are other, adaptive types of peer pressure, such as when teens watch their peers' gestures, clothing style, and so on and imitate those behaviors in an effort to "fit" into the peer group. Sometimes teens will find that peer expectations conflict with their own personal set of values, causing tension as they try to balance their desire for group membership with thoughts of abandoning their long-held values, a situation more common in the early teen years. In the mid- to late-teen years, adolescents become better at resisting peer influence.
Ultimately, teens are longing to belong. Throughout the ups and downs of their teen's adolescence, if parents can continually project the message to their teen that he or she "matters" in a significant way to them and to the family as a whole, and project an unconditional message of love and support, while trying to "pick the right battles" and skip over the rest, the teen should be able to navigate through the challenges of puberty while knowing in his core that he is loved by and has lifelong membership rights to the group that loves him more than anyone--his family.
If your teen is struggling with peer identity and influences and you are concerned that he or she is making choices that could cause harm--perhaps even harm that could affect his or her future--please don't hesitate to get help for your child and your family. You get one chance to try to usher your teen through adolescence as unscathed as possible, so if you're worried and want to get your teen "back on track" please give us a call--we are here to help!
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