Right now its like senior year and everythings hit me, its like, Oh, wow, Ive got to do something! Its kind of nice when somebody is there that knows what youre going through right now and can help you out. Tommy (What We Cant Tell You: Teenager talk to the Adults in Their Lives by Kathleen Cushman, Next Generation Press, 2005) Give us reasons to make the right decisions. Lake Placid High School Junior The challenge of growing up The experts say that the quality and quantity of a teens developmental changes rival those of infancy and early childhood. We can verify that! Sometimes our teens seem like angry 2-year-olds; at other times they seem to be 12-going-on-20. Hard as it is to be their parents, its tough to be a teen today. When we were young there seemed to be an agreed-upon sequence of age-appropriate behaviors. Now its more like a developmental free-for-all with unsupervised leaps of freedom contrasted with tight new constraints. Furthermore, our kids are growing up in a world we dont fully understand. Teens report that the pressures on them are intense. Its a head-spinning, heart-thumping, soul-searching array of all sorts of things happening simultaneously. (A Tribe Apart: Journey Into the Heart of American Adolescence by Patricia Hersch, Ballantine Books, 1999). The ten tasks of adolescence During these critical years, teens need to: Develop abstract thinking skills so they can make judgments about life choices, plan ahead, and create their own philosophy about life. Develop a powerful new ability to understand relationships, to be able to put themselves in another persons shoes and to use these new skills to solve day-to-day problems and conflicts. Develop the ability to think about and plan for the future. Learn how to moderate the risks they take in order to achieve their life goals rather then jeopardize them. Adjust to sexually maturing bodies and feelings and be able to develop the skills for romantic relationships. Identify meaningful moral standards, values and belief systems to guide their decisions and behavior. Understand their own complex emotional experiences as well as the emotions of others. Form friendships that are mutually close and supportive by sharing their ideas, values, and trust. Establish the basic framework of their identity. Although identity formation is a life-long task, teens need to develop an identity that makes room for both their own unique individuality and connection to others. Gradually take on the responsibilities that will be expected of them as adults. Develop the skills that will help them perform satisfying work and maintain commitments to family and the community. Work together with parents and other caregivers to negotiate a change in the relationship to one that balances being independent with being interdependent. From Raising Teens: A Synthesis of Research and a Foundation for Action by A. Rae Simpson, Harvard School of Public Health, 2001 We actually work on these tasks all our lives. But, in the space of a mere 8 years, teens need to acquire the emotional habits that will allow them to meet the demands of the adult world: economic self-sufficiency, family connection, citizenship, and physical and mental well-being. Teens learn to become adults by observing, imitating and interacting with us. We parents are still the most important people in their lives and we can help them define, understand, and integrate the changes they are going through. Its a time of risk for our teens, but it is also a time of opportunity. The next eight columns in this series will present strategies for making the most of this last best opportunity to help them adopt patterns of thought and behavior that will accompany them for years (Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence by Laura Sessions Stepp, Riverhead Books, 2000). Resources How well our teens are doing is a matter of judgment. One excellent resource if you are unsure is school guidance departments. We are fortunate to have small schools in the North Country in which its rare for a youth to get lost. Someone in a position of responsibility not only knows your teen, but cares about him/her and how he/she is doing. So, contact your schools counselor if you are worried. Or they may contact you -- problems among youth often surface first at school. Be receptive to their concerns and share yours. Most school guidance departments offer academic, career, personal/social, and substance abuse counseling and will refer you and your teen to outside professionals if necessary. The staff knows when to make these referrals and which local counselors and therapists are best for your familys specific situation. The books mentioned in this column are available from your local library. A good on-line resource to understand teen development is the Search Institute (www.search-institute.org). Download the 40 Developmental AssetsTM for Adolescents. The Raising Teens column was first published by the Lake Placid News, a community partner of the Lake Placid-Wilmington Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition (CYC). The columns express the judgments and opinions of Anna Lee Court and the experts she cites. They have been reviewed by a wide-variety of local experts in the fields of health education, youth alcohol and drug prevention, and family practice counseling as well as parents and youth. Funding for writing and researching the Raising Teens columns comes from a grant provided by the Drug-Free Communities Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to CYC.