A Child’s Growth to Adolescence
As a child grows to teen-hood and adolescence, they begin to see things in a different way. Adolescence means, literally ‘to grow up’. It is generally regarded as the time between childhood and adulthood, ages 13-19. It is a time of great change for a young person and sometimes is misunderstood. Physical changes, social dynamics, ways of thinking all are changing for the adolescent. Thinking switches from egocentricity to how others may see or feel about the teen. Peer pressure and body image are now some of the thoughts the teen has all the time. So many questions the adolescent has. Gone are the days of being a child and all too soon will come the time to be an adult.
It may seem like the teen wants to tackle things alone, content to make their mistakes and hopefully learn from them. Adults may see the mistakes as avoidable. But sometimes letting the teen make their own mistakes can be for the best. Knowing what to look for in a teen’s behavior can help a parent or guardian guide their teen to adulthood without being overbearing.
There are 4 aspects of change that a child’s growth to adolescence brings. They are:
Let’s look deeper at the 4 aspects of change that guide a child’s growth to adolescence.
Biological or physical changes come unbidden to a teen. Some can’t wait for the changes; facial hair, breasts, etc. Others dread the changes. Many look at the changes as making them more mature and ready to take on more. A teen male with facial hair or female with breasts may appear to their classmates as more grown up or capable. This is an added pressure on the teen. Along with these changes, others occur as well; muscles grow and develop, hair sprouts where it hadn’t before, height can change, and the big change, acne. All these physical changes can bring unasked for consequences to a teen, including body dysmorphia.
As adolescents develop, they become more independent. They begin to understand that society structures their sense of self and they rely on others perceptions of them. As children grow into teens, they see themselves as others see them. Peer pressure can affect an adolescent’s self-esteem more than a parents’ praise. They feel a need to fit in. In psychology, this is called the Looking-Glass self. Teens will mimic the behaviors of others in hopes they will be accepted. It is important to help teens develop a strong sense of self, even before they enter adolescence. The need to fit in can become near obsessive and cause the teen undue stress and anxiety. Having a strong sense of self helps the teen reduce the onset of stress and anxiety from acceptance.
Besides social stressors and physical changes, teens face problems unique to their developing minds. Any adverse situation they encounter can be magnified such as the loss of a loved one, a break-up with a boy/girl friend, or any other problem an adult might consider normal. Arguments can last longer in the mind of a teen, becoming a worse situation than it may have actually been. They may have feelings of inadequacy when they compare themselves to peers. This can lead to social stressors as well.
In 1985 there was a study conducted of 60 adolescents. They were asked what the major stressors were in their lives. They replied with:
- Relationships with friends and family
- Meeting self-expectations
- Meeting expectations of peers
- Pressure to do well in school
- Financial pressures
- Loss (death of loved ones, divorce of parents)
When one stressor is activated, it can start a chain reaction that activates the others, hence biopsychosocial aspects. For example, a teen experiences the loss of a parent (psychological). This causes the teen to fall into a depression. They begin to neglect their appearance and health. They may stop showering and become physically ill (biological). Because the teen has become depressed, not showered and may even be angry at the world, they isolate themselves, avoiding friends and other family members (social). The adolescent becomes more depressed and may even become suicidal (psychological). This puts the teen’s life in physical danger, as does the illness (biological). Their friends may look at them disapprovingly when it is discovered they attempted suicide (social). With this example it is easy to see how the biopsychosocial stressors are intertwined, separate, yet connected. Thus, the loop continues. It is important to be able to identify part of the biopsychosocial stressors to be able to help the teen.
Comparisons to children
Children and adolescents react to stressors in different ways, depending on their life experiences. Reacting to the death of a loved one can be the same, even though the child may not fully understand what is happening. Psychologically, the adolescent and the child can feel similar stress. How they deal with it is where they can differ. Socially, children and adolescents differ vastly. Children do not have the cognitive ability of an adolescent and may misinterpret the actions of other children. Adolescents normally are able to interpret actions of their peers much better than children. Adolescents can see the cause and effect of actions better than children. When it comes to physical stressors, children have different stressors than adolescents while remaining similar. Adolescents find their bodies are going through changes, changes they do not fully understand. In comparison, children are learning what their bodies can do. Both are learning new things about their bodies. In contrast, adolescents look at the changes their bodies are going through and worry what peers may think. Children do not have that stressor; though as children are becoming more and more aware of things around them in a less egocentric way, they are aging faster than they should. Society and peer pressure are stealing the youth from our children.
When a child knows something is not right, and they feel their body is not correct, parents need to pay attention to their child. Science has shown that children have a developed sense of gender identity by age 4. As a teen grows and matures, not only may they be confused by their biopsychosocial changes, they have to deal with other things that cisgender children do not.
- Gender Dysphoria
- Extra depression and anxiety
- Feeling the need to hide their struggle
- Increased suicidal ideations
They may have a sense of their gender identity but do not feel they can share it with anyone because of the societal stereotypes imposed upon them. When it comes to them growing up, parents truly need to be open and pay attention.
Children and adolescents both go through changes that they must deal with. They can appear similar but there are differences. Children are egocentric and are concerned with how things affect them. Adolescents are concerned with the way things will affect them, but they are also painfully aware about how others will view them. Children are eager to please, but adolescents want to please while retaining their new found identity. They want to maintain a balance between internal and external views of the self while children are more intent upon the internal view. No one said growing up was easy. But it is something everyone must eventually do.
Paul Gross, LPC
411 Lakewood Circle Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80910