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Therapy for Teenagers

I have been working with teens in one form or another since 1997. It begins with establishing a sound and safe therapeutic relationship and then supporting their growth within the family unit and the community. 


The goal for any parent of a teenager is to maintain trust in the relationship as the dependency in the relationship slowly wanes (Article on the importance of Parental Relationship). The importance of the relationship should be maintained even though the roles change. The parents' job is extremely difficult as they have to balance being in dual roles that are often contradictory of each other. Parents need to make the hard decisions of when to clamp down and be the boss, and when to back off and be a supportive guide. 


It’s best if parents remind themselves that over the next decade (from 13 to 23) you will move from being the “boss" to being the "top advisor."  It can be surprisingly difficult to give up that role especially since there aren’t clear markers for when the changes happen.  Very few people are considered independent, self-sufficient adults on their 18th birthday. For that matter, college graduates these days are finding it harder and harder to begin their career right out of college. They’re finding it very hard to support themselves financially and can be dependent upon their parents for years after college. This blurred division between dependent adolescent and independent young adult can cause a lot of friction.


Try to see your teens behaviors as a natural part of their movement toward independence.  I have had many many parents complain to me about how utterly nonsense their teen’s complaints are.  “How can he be complaining?  He has everything someone could ask for and more!”  You’re right.  All things being equal, your teenager is often complaining about nonsense, but he or she is only fulfilling a part of his natural process in becoming an adult. Frustrating, yes, but common and necessary all the same. 


I find it often helps to view the situation from a more scientific point of view. There have been many advancements in our understanding of the neurology of teenagers. Much of their risk taking, emotional volatility, and poor decision making can be explained in how the brain develops. These videos do a very good job of describing it in a clear way.


The Adolescent Brain

Why do teenagers seem so much more impulsive, so much less self-aware than grown-ups? Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to show us how typically "teenage" behavior is caused by the growing and developing brain.

The Teenage Brain

Frances E. Jensen, MD, senior assistant in Neurology at Boston Children's Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, is translating the most up-to-date research on the teen brain which she shares with parents, teachers, and teens during her presentation, "Teen Brain 101"

Insight Into The Teenage Brain

Dr. Adriana Galván is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Brain Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is the Director and Principal Investigator of the Developmental Neuroscience Laboratory. Dr. Galván's expertise is in adolescent brain development. Her research aims to uncover the neurobiology underlying characteristic teenage behavior, such as risk-taking, exploration, and thrill-seeking.  Through her research, Dr. Galván's goal is to understand the opportunities and vulnerabilities that accompany adolescent brain and behavioral development in order to inform policy, juvenile justice and public health issues that affect youth.

Adolescent Brain Development

Jeannie Von Stultz, PhD, psychologist and Director of Mental Health Services for Bexar County Juvenile Probation, explains how and why adolescents think differently. For this first video in the 3-part series, Dr. Von Stultz discusses the following: emotional recognition, development of physiological, emotional, and cognitive brain centers. This recording is from a community presentation Clarity Child Guidance Center hosted on April 22, 2010.

Brain Storm

Daniel Siegel debunks myths about the Teenage Brain and "raging hormones". He discusses the changes and remodeling of the brain within the adolescent period. He asserts that people need to learn about these changes to support and meet adolescents with empathy and compassion.

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