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Supporting Your Adolescent: Tips for Parents

Adolescence is a time for young people to define their place in the family, peer groups, and the larger community. During this stage of their lives, youth struggle with the transition from childhood to adulthood. During childhood, they depended mainly on their parents for economic and emotional support and direction. In adulthood, though, they will be expected to achieve independence and make choices about school, work, and personal relationships that will affect every aspect of their future.

Without question, adolescence is a difficult time for many young people. During this period, they must contend with physical changes, pressure to conform to current social trends and peer behaviors, and increased expectations from family members, teachers, and other adults. Adolescents also must deal with sometimes conflicting messages from parents, peers, or the media. They struggle with an increasing need to feel as if they “belong.” Young people also feel pressure to perform academically or socially.

For some young people, the usual challenges of adolescence are compounded by difficult family situations, overcrowded classrooms, disintegrating neighborhoods, or exposure to alcohol or other drugs. Without support and guidance, these young people may fall victim to behaviors that place them, and others, at risk. In our society, those behaviors include dropping out of school, running away from home, joining gangs, and using alcohol or drugs or becoming involved in other law-breaking behaviors. Some youth may become despondent, leading to academic problems, social isolation, or self-destructive behavior.

Growing Up Today

Each generation of young people and their families faces new, and perhaps more challenging, circumstances. Life for many young people is characterized by shrinking family incomes and growing options with regard to careers, beliefs, and lifestyle choices. More transient lifestyles result in isolation from extended families and a breakdown in the feeling of community. Today, therefore, youth need greater self-direction and poise than ever before to successfully move from adolescence to adulthood.

Today’s community and social structures place high demands on young people and their families. Fortunately, though, those systems also offer varied forms of support. Most communities have counseling services, specialized groups, hotlines, and educational courses for both youth and their parents.

Helping your child move to independence requires that you understand healthy adolescent development and how to find the resources that can help you when your child gets off track.

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