Growing, Developing Identity, Constantly Searching for Answers in Life
Working with teens is always an amazing process. Teens are constantly changing and although they are able to learn very quickly it is also true that the pre-frontal cortex of the adolescent brain is not fully formed until somewhere in their mid-20’s.
What does this mean? Their bodies and minds are growing and developing but they may have difficulty with impulse control or the ability to make thoughtful, rational decisions. Their emotions can be on a rollercoaster and they feel things profoundly as a result of physical development in addition to the impact of hormonal changes.
By and large teens want and need healthy support and boundaries. They need structure and love and to be able to feel safe. They are testing out life and attempting to figure out where they belong in the grand scheme of things. They desperately want to be accepted and to have social connections that help them to make sense of their world.
Teens want to belong to a group or “tribe” that validates their world view. This may or not be their family. They can also be very vulnerable and sensitive. They can become isolated and depressed if they don’t feel like they have real friends. This is an age where we often observe the challenges of substance use, body image, eating disorders and at-risk behaviors such as cutting. Expressing sexuality before they are ready to understand the ramifications can also lead to confusion, fear, and depression.
Cultural Impact on Teens
We live in a culture that most teens have smart phones and access to social media, which didn’t really exist prior to 2007. Although this is a wonderful thing technologically, the reality is that many teens become obsessed or addicted to their phones. They can get caught up in living in a voyeuristic type of existence where they are constantly checking their Instagram account to see how many “likes” they have received on a post. They can spend hours mindlessly looking at the lives of other people and comparing themselves as either lesser than or obsessing over the idea that they will become the next social media celebrity. Their self-worth can be determined by how many “friends” they have on social media sites.
Ironically, what we are seeing more of is adolescents that don’t know how to interact with other people in real time. The ability to engage in conversation becomes more and more difficult and there is a type of isolation and loneliness that can come into play. In some cases the loneliness transitions to hopelessness and despair resulting in depression, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts.
"We were scared and really needed someone we could trust to work with our daughter who struggled with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem Debra helped her to feel safe and able to talk about things that she could not talk to us about. She is doing so much better now and we are forever grateful for this wonderful therapist who helped our family during a very frightening time. The family sessions helped us all to understand each other and communicate better."