I have two teenagers and one tween currently and, I admit, sometimes I am baffled by their behavior. When one of them has an outburst or meltdown over video games or house rules or even seemingly out of nowhere for no reason, I wonder if it's just the crazy cocktail of puberty hormones coursing through them that's responsible. Maybe that's the easy way out though. I can shrug and tell myself they'll grow out of it and it's out of my hands, but that's not really fair to them. Their bodies and minds are changing in rapid and confusing ways, they have new complicated social expectations, and are contending with new or impending responsibilities like driving and working and living on their own coming quickly down the pipeline. So rather than chalk it all up to hormones, maybe I should look at my teen and tweens' behavior in the same way I used to when they were little by taking a multifaceted and compassionate approach in figuring out what is going on with them and why.
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Researchers who study child development want to take a more complex approach to these developments surrounding puberty as well, saying that there needs to be a broader focus on adolescent developmental science and that there should be more research done on the sociological and psychological changes teens are experiencing. What about peer pressure, for example? How does that impact their mental health and developing sense of self? What about Dating? And not just sexual maturation and the new feelings that go along with it, but how are teens coping with the pressures and complications of being in a relationship? Teens today are navigating an increasingly complex and ever-changing world independently for the first time, what impact might that be having on them? After all, adolescence is when a child is at an increased risk of developing mental illness and substance abuse problems, so to mostly attribute these struggles to hormones misses the full picture of what might be going on.
"Due to the global slowdown in fertility, this is probably the biggest cohort of young people we will ever see," says Carol Worthman, professor of anthropology at Emory University and lead author of Puberty and the Evolution of Developmental Science. "If we are ever going to get serious about helping adolescents reach their full potential, now is the time."
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When they're still young, we spend a lot of time and effort on making what we believe are the best choices for our kids, and of course, we all want out kids to grow up nourished and healthy and happy. That hasn't stopped just because puberty has come knocking. Continuing to support our children as they grow by listening and responding to their needs is still vital even in the teen years. Gaining a more thorough understanding of what adolescents are really going through will only help us parent them through it, and help our kids to become the best versions of themselves.
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