The Road To Adulthood - Challenges and Support

By Dr. Ann Hill
Jul 2, 2010 - 5:49:12 PM

Adolescent Tasks
Throughout the years of adolescence the young person faces dramatic changes in their physical, emotional, intellectual and social circumstances. This is the time of preparation for adulthood. This is the time of preparation for adulthood. A time when the young person is beginning to separate from parents and family and establishing their own unique identity in the world. A number of Challenges and tasks face the young person including.

1. Making the transition from childhood to adulthood
2. Establishing a personal identity, identifying personal values, beliefs and attitudes.
3. Taking on greater responsibility for personal choices
4. Negotiating a change in the level of dependence in their relationship with Adults.
5. Adapting to bodily changes
6. Establishing Friendships
7. Developing enhanced social skills.
8. Entering more intimate, mature, relationships.
9. Coping with educational pressures- transition from primary to secondary level initially, then deciding on Third level and or future career choices.
10. Establishing a positive view of self including body image, self confidence and a belief in their own ability to cope with life challenges and stresses.

Research suggests that the challenges of achieving these tasks can contribute to high levels of stress for the young person. Indeed, the findings of a survey carried out with schools leavers in the Kerry region (K.M.H.A 2001) indicate that a large number of young people - but not all- experienced a notable degree of stress in relation to a variety of those challenges facing them in their daily lives. In particular, worries about "doing badly in the Leaving Cert" and concern about future career choice were significant. Other stressful issues included aspects of peer and parent-child relationships (particularly when these were experienced as critical, strained and rejecting), bullying, concern about the effects of drugs/alcohol on the family of self, worry about personal appearance and fears about sexual orientation.

Given the variety of changes associated with this period of development, much of this stress may be considered to be normal and perhaps it would be more surprising, and even worrying, if young people did not acknowledge the strains of coping with their situation. For some young people the challenges will be faced and surmounted whilst for others some challenges may prove too difficult to manage. If the young person is unable to identify options for coping with the challenge, this may lead to psychological distress. In some cases the individual may experience such an etreem sense of helplessness, hopelessness and lack of belief in their own ability to cope that clinical levels of anxiety and/or depression may result.

Stressful events in themselves do not cause deterioration in mental health. However, the young person's coping style and their ability to find alternative solutions to their difficulties will influence the extent to which stressful events are successfully managed.

The individual's personality, previous experience of identifying successful solutions to difficulties and the range of coping skills available to them will determine their response to stress. Further, the presence of external protective factors (family, friends, enjoyable activities etc.) that serve to support the young person through stressful events in their lives will strengthen coping ability. Being able to look for support from the people in their social network rather than trying to cope alone also reduces a young person's vulnerability to stress. Through experience of being supported in his/her endeavours to cope with adversity the young person can strengthen existing coping strategies, learn new coping skills and develop greater ability to use social supports. This in turn can contribute to greater resilience in the face of future challenges.


The Role of the Parent
The years of adolescence are a time when the child is beginning to assert his/her own identity. This time can be associated with significant levels of conflict between parents and the young person as both try to assert their own views, entering into battles abo0ut rules, expectations, limits, friends, school, etc. From many parents it may seem that the young person has reached a stage where the opinions of friends are valued over theirs. However research indicates that although peer groups may influence the young person in areas such as dress, musical interest and social activities this does not supersede the importance of parents as role models and the main source of life values, attitudes and moral development. Therefore the role of parents for the developing adolescence continues to be of great importance.

As parents you will want to provide your son/daughter with support in coping with the transition from childhood to adulthood. The quality of your relationship will determine the extent to which the young person can seek out and benefit from your support. The task of maintaining a positive relationship with the young person can seem daunting. But, it is important to recognise the wealth of information you have about aspects of the young person and yourself, which will help develop and maintain the relationship.


(a) Knowing the young person
You know your son/ daughter's personality, You Know how they communicate their needs. You know how they communicate their needs. You have over the years learned how they respond to stressful events and how they cope in different situations. As they have grown up you have developed an understanding of their needs for support from you. You know the areas of life that they can take pride in. You know their strengths and weaknesses and can identify when they need additional support.

(b) Knowing Yourself
Remember your childhood and what it was like to be adolescence. Remember what your parents were like and the helpful or unhelpful methods they used in dealing with your concerns? Think about your expectations of yourself as a parent and your feelings about being a parent. Also think about your hopes and expectations realistic and achievable? You know the aspects of your communication with the young person, which are helpful and unhelpful. You know the ways in which the young person can wind you up. You know how you cope with stress and how you access outside support when needed. You know that your behaviour can impact on the young person. You know that family worries can affect the young person and can influence you ability to cope also.

(C) Develop Positive aspects of the relationship with the young person
Some aspects of the "Parenting Role" that have been identified as supportive of healthy development in adolescence are included in the following list:
Provide a safe environment.

Provide love, care, affection, and positive support at all times

Retain a belief in the goodness , the value and the integrity of the young person.

Make time to develop good communication with the young person.

Spend time talking with and particularly listening to him/her.

Avoid "Battles of Wills" and excessive confrontation.

If emotions are running high, take a break. Return to the issue when both you and the young person have had time to calm down.

Examine reports of problems from different viewpoints, including the young persons and avoid overreactions to events.

Develop your ability to see things from the young person's point of view.
Provide constructive discipline- not criticism and constraints.

Ensure rules, limits and expectations are appropriate to the young person.

Enforce rules, limits and expectations are appropriate to the young person.
Enforce rules as constituently as possible and ensure consequences are in keeping with the type of misbehaviour.

Get to know friends, encourage friendships and positive social experiences.

Foster aspects of identity, self - worth, self confidence and self-efficacy.

Let them know your values, beliefs, hopes and expectations of them.

Offer support with studies, and encourage the adolescent's talents, be they academic or otherwise.

Ensure you are informed about aspects of normal adolescent development.
Never abandon them, "know when to support/protect/guide your child and know when to let go or even give a little push. "

Finally it is important for both the parent and the young person to be able to identify when things have reached a stage where outside help is needed. Ideally this should not be put off until crisis occurs. When difficulties arise, be willing to acknowledge your limitations and seek outside support. Taking over the problem with a trusted person will help you to look at the problem from a new perspective. Find out what support systems are available in your local area and how the services can be accessed for the young person and yourself. Information can usually be obtained from general practitioners, nurses, teachers and from your local branch of the Kerry Mental Health Association.

Dr. Ann Hill is a Senior Psychologist with the HSE South

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