Coping with the ‘storm and stress’ of the teenage years

Few people would like to relive their adolescence

Tue, Mar 12, 2013, 06:00

I wonder how many readers would like to relive their adolescence?

I wouldn’t and I doubt if I’m alone. I remember adolescence as a time of shyness, awkwardness and doubts. I didn’t have the battles with my parents that characterise some people’s experience of the teenage years, yet I have never forgotten that sense of not belonging in the ordinary world, of not measuring up to my peers.

For those tossed about by emotional storms and endless conflict with their parents, it’s worse. They will identify with the phrase “storm and stress”, which has been applied to the teenage years for many decades. The term was coined more than 100 years ago by Granville Stanley Hall, a major figure in psychology who regarded children as savages, had no time for people living in poverty, for people with disabilities or for the sick, and wrote an unsuccessful two-volume work on the psychology of Jesus Christ. Despite all this, his term “storm and stress” has come down the years as a description of the teenage experience.


Mood swings
Modern research has confirmed that teenagers can experience extreme mood swings faster than adults. In my view, it is probably the speed of mood swings that most baffles parents: the journey from calm to thunder can be amazingly short.

It can be helpful to know that the part of the brain that regulates emotions is not fully developed until the early 20s. When you realise this you can understand, as a parent, that it’s not all about you – it’s about how the teenage brain is wired. The storms will one day come to an end: you just have to ride them out.


Boundaries
This also underlines the importance of boundaries. The parent has to impose the boundaries that are so often resented by the teenager because the teenager’s capacity to impose boundaries is limited.

The primary task of the adolescent, in psychological terms, is to work out who and what he or she is. Some people don’t succeed in this: they drift, they find it hard to stick at anything and they are lost. The adolescent who wants to be a singer but who cannot sing is better off than the one who doesn’t want to be anything.

I wanted to be a journalist, an unrealistic ambition for someone who was shy and awkward, but it helped me organise my life until I became a journalist at 30.

So unrealistic ambition is good – and even if I hadn’t made it into journalism that ambition would still have helped me to organise my energies. Still, I am glad the adolescent years are in my past and I have plenty of fellow-feeling for anyone going through them at the moment. So if you are an adolescent, you have my empathy. If you’re a parent, you have my empathy too.


Addendum


Most of us can manage to leave adolescence behind us but breaking up from a long-term relationship is hard

– especially if you’ve run up debts together.

A British credit rating agency says millions of Britons have suffered reductions in their credit ratings because of debts run up by former partners.

Joint accounts appear to be the culprits. Two people move in together, set up a joint account and after they break up one of them is less than honourable about taking responsibility for his or her debts. I’ve been struck by the number of people I’ve met – mainly women, I’m afraid – who are left with debts by departing partners.

It’s a rotten business. One of the safeguards is to avoid setting up joint accounts, but if you love somebody you’re probably going to ignore that advice. After all, what could go wrong? By the time you find out what a rat your ex is, it may be too late.


Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. pomorain@yahoo.com