Did someone say, perfect storm?
Adolescents and teens are uniquely no longer children and not yet adults; they are venturing across a swinging bridge between two worlds. Puberty takes hold and children undergo a storm of physical, neurobiological, and socioemotional changes necessary for them to become adults. These alone are hard enough to contend with, but in addition, adolescents and teens simultaneously experience contextual changes in their family systems, peer groups, romantic relationships, academic settings, and goals for their future.
Adolescents and teens experience the increased pressure of assuming adult roles while still forming their identities, social roles, and decision-making skills. What is exciting for them, and often frightening for parents, is that they tend to explore and develop these facets of themselves by approaching risky situations and learning what they can from them.
The socioemotional part of adolescent and teen brains is King during adolescence. This means social reward often drives their behavior, and peer relationships are not only a priority, but also have a huge impact on their lives.
So, yes, I think “perfect storm” is an appropriate descriptor for adolescence, though I don’t believe it is an inherently negative storm. It is a sensitive period of development that often results in anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, stress in both family and peer relationships, poor academic performance, and poor decision-making. However, the same sensitivity is also primed for adolescents and teens to learn healthy adaptation skills and to make positive foundational discoveries about themselves, others, and the world around them.
Therapy with adolescents and teens takes all of this into account, often focusing on identity development, anxiety reduction, behavioral activation, problem solving skills, coping skills, increasing self-esteem, and improving family and peer relationships. This is done through a variety of ways, including expressive arts, therapeutic games, sand tray, and traditional talk therapy.
Some adolescents and teens are uncomfortable talking directly about themselves, so art and other activities that use symbols to express their inner experience can be helpful. Others may view art, games, and sand tray as childish or beside the point, and prefer to just talk. As our relationship develops, I collaborate with your child to determine what therapeutic method makes the most meaning for them, and we go from there.