The other day, I had a friend confide in me the struggles she’s facing with her adolescent son. His temper is out of control…his grades are slipping…his relationship with his sister is far from great…and on and on. My heart broke for my friend. But it got me thinking about why some adolescents struggle so deeply and act out.
That led me to one of my favorite authors on adolescence Dr. Les Parrott and the following points he noted that helped me better understand teen struggles. They’re from his book Helping the Struggling Adolescent: A Guide to Thirty-six Common Problems for Counselors, Pastors, and Youth Workers. You’ll want to be prepared for your own child’s adolescent and teen journey—whether you think he’ll struggle or not—by understanding these 5 challenges that explain why adolescents struggle.
1. Physical Challenges
A natural part of growing up is growing physically. Teen boys develop deeper voices, body odor, and facial hair. Teen girls develop breasts, a menstruation cycle, and curvier hips. While these physical changes can feel rapid and unwanted, it’s important to help your teen understand the significance of these changes on their path to adulthood. Dr. Walt Larimore has great advice for talking with your child about puberty.
2. Sexual Challenges
Every teen will experience sexual changes. For boys, the locker room will quickly become a place to compare their body types to other guys. Here they’ll struggle to feel adequate if their body doesn’t fit into our culture’s unrealistic standards. For girls, their period will quickly become a sensitive topic as they compare who’s gotten theirs and who hasn’t. (Not to mention the mood swings and drama that are sure to accompany these changes!) While we may feel limited in this season of our teen’s life, it’s vital that we take on the responsibility of answering any questions our teens may have about their changing bodies and sexual awareness. This means always being available to talk through tough topics—providing a safe environment for your teen to work through issues with your guidance.
3. Social Challenges
Young teens face extra challenges when they find themselves moving from the safe familiarity of elementary school to the intimidating hugeness of middle school. No longer the school’s “top dog,” your teen will suddenly feel insignificant. Our job as parents? To remind our teens to be confident in their identity and what they stand for.
Our job as parents? To remind our teens to be confident in their identity and what they stand for
4. Spiritual Challenges
Growing up, most children simply believe what their parents believe. But as the teenage years come around, they begin questioning their beliefs. They ask themselves, Why do I believe this? Because my parents do? Or because I really think it to be true? When our teens doubt, our first reaction as parents may be to freak out! Instead, I encourage you to talk through their doubts logically, give them insightful books to read, and ultimately pray that God would give them wisdom and clarity in their decision.
5. Moral Challenges
When children are young, their sense of right and wrong is concrete. For example, they know lying is bad and telling the truth is good. But as they develop into adolescents, their moral identity begins to become less black and white. They start questioning rules they’ve always taken for granted. The best reaction you can have? Instead of blindly forcing your own convictions onto your children, explain to them why you encourage and expect certain behaviors. This will help them better understand their moral identity.
And tell me, what other challenges do you remember facing as a teen, or what is your own teenager or adolescent facing?