Adolescence, Puberty and Emotional Ambivalence Admin February 1, 2024

Adolescence, Puberty and Emotional Ambivalence

What is Adolescence?

Adolescence is considered one of the most critical yet defining stages in a person’s life, an altering and shaping phase serving as a floating bridge separating childhood from adulthood, marked by a series of changes on numerous levels comprising identity and independence crises, self-esteem and body image concerns, but mostly distinguished by challenges, insecurities, emotional ambivalence and the need to feel accepted by peers.  

What is the difference between Adolescence and Puberty?

While adolescence is predominantly defined as the phase of psychological and social maturation, puberty is the phenomenon of physical stages by which adolescents become capable of reproduction. Puberty is usually observed by the changes that occur in a person’s body size, shape, sexual development and hormones.

What is Emotional Ambivalence?

Emotional Ambivalence is defined as the inconsistency between simultaneously desiring and not desiring to make a given choice. Ambivalence can be a very complicated mindset to handle because it demands mixed evaluations, desires, or perspectives influenced by many confounding variables. Adolescence is a phase that is distinguished by emotional ambivalence found in teenagers. During this period, adolescents are faced with many challenges that might alter their lives, in fact the decision of choosing a group of friends, choosing a certain clothing style, starting a romantic relationship, etc. These decisions for teenagers can lead to great ambivalence, the truth is, for adolescents these choices can bring emotional loads of stress.

Several topics might be challenging for teenagers who are now dealing with new predicaments they once were oblivion about; confidence, body image, self-esteem, feeling accepted, belonging to a group, romantics relationships, etc.

Why is Puberty Challenging?

Adolescence is the period separating childhood from adulthood, a transitional period in which numerous worries and fears surface and are shared by both teenagers as well as their parents.  Adolescence is a complexed stage that underlays a series of fickle changes that occur simultaneously on distinct levels; emotional, behavioral, social and physical.

These changes are usually abrupt, as teenagers are unaware of the alterations that are happening within their bodies with not much power over them. As a response to these uncontrollable modifications, most teenagers will be unaware of what would the appropriate behavior be.

During this phase, most teenagers will act out as they would be establishing their own identity, exploring their relationships and discovering the world that is no longer limited to their household. In fact, this phase is marked by a lot of indecisiveness as well as mood swings as a result of the vacillation between feeling independent and wanting some parental support and guidance in their peculiar journey concurrently.

What to Expect as a Parent?

Change of social and cultural norms in modern and developing societies, has led to generational differences in families. This matter, along with the physical, psychological, social and behavioral changes, can increase parents’ concerns as well as the tension between them and their adolescents.

Most conflicts that occur within the family usually appear during adolescence, and one of the major traits that seems to be the root cause of these conflicts is the lack of proper communication.

In fact, at times, parents might tend to overprotect there now adolescents who are no longer in the childhood phase but rather are exploring their independence as well as their privacy. This overprotection or extra care is often perceived as an intrusion and invasion of privacy by the teenagers.

One main concern that also emerges during that stage, is the fear and concern of parents towards their adolescents’ peers, as parents realize at this stage that their offspring are no longer interested in their opinions but would rather feel accepted by their friends. This act might be interpreted as one of rebellion against the parents, who till the period of adolescence, did not interact with defiance coming from their adolescents.

During this stage, parents are also faced with a challenge themselves, which is the inability of letting go of their control over their adolescents while still setting ground rules.

The most important psychological and psychosocial changes in puberty and early adolescence are the emergence of abstract thinking, the growing ability of absorbing the perspectives or viewpoints of others, an increased ability of introspection, the development of personal and sexual identity, the establishment of a system of values, increasing autonomy from family and more personal independence, greater importance of peer relationships and the emergence of skills and coping strategies to overcome problems and crises.

Struggles arise when parents try to inculcate their traditional believes while their adolescents would be exploring more modern ones. In fact, some parents may practice both behavioral and mental control over their teenagers, even as the latter would be at the stage of trying to gain their autonomy.

Parents need to know about adolescents’ still-immature brain structure, sleep alterations and changing hormones and the emotional and cognitive immaturity that result from this still- developing state so that they can regard their teenagers’ behaviors in proper perspective.

Adults must recognize the attempt of their adolescents to gain independence as part of normal development and allow, when possible, some degree of freedom of choice.

What to Expect as a Teenager?

Numerous changes arise during adolescence; physical, social, behavioral and psychological ones. Not only are these intrusions brusque but they all happen instantaneously, which would leave the now adolescent in a place of confusion and wonder.

The physical variations that take place during puberty involve physical growth and development inside and outside adolescents’ bodies, changes in sexual organs, brains, skin, hair, teeth and sweatiness. These changes give rise to a range of social and emotional changes as well. The physical maturation of the body and the brain will alter the interests, needs, attitudes and moods of the now adolescents. They will start to look and behave differently and the array of social influences, role models and the emergence of an idol will accelerate both social and emotional growth and experiences.

The new set of emotional experiences resulting from these physical changes will leave way to a number of mood changes along with the tendency of being more irritable. This moodiness can be attributed to the sudden and fluctuating hormonal levels.

Circadian rhythms will start to change due to the influence of hormones, which will leave way to a new sleep-wake cycle. This shift in the circadian rhythm will cause  the teenagers to feel more fully alert at night and might cause some difficulties in waking up early the next day to go to school. The lack of sleep they would now be getting can cause irritability but also interfere with their ability to focus and concentrate, therefore several adolescents find themselves in difficulty when it comes to completing tasks that were once simple.

Since the brain of the adolescents is not fully mature, this cognitive immaturity leads to lack of good judgement, therefore making it difficult to think through and anticipate the consequences of their actions, consequently they might appear as impulsive, hurried and self-centered.

The brain’s immaturity can also interfere in the ability of regulating the adolescents’ emotions and putting them into proper perspective.

Early signs of independence might occur when the adolescent becomes less involved in the family activities. In fact, during adolescence, teens tie new emotional bonds with peers to feel more accepted but also as a way of filling the void left with the abandonment of childhood dependence on parents.

A very paradoxical situation is encountered at this stage which can cause a lot of confusion in teenagers but can also explain their outbursts; While in their pursuit to gain independence and self-identity, adolescents are faced with peer groups that discourage individuality. In fact, to belong to their peer group and feel more accepted, adolescents must convey and conform to the new ways of that group, which would indicate that the space for self-identity and independence is not as present as they wished for.

How to have a Better Parent-Adolescent Relationship?

Talking to adolescents about the changes that are about to occur can be a difficult mission that parents experience, especially given the abrupt change that arises in the parent-teen relationship.

One primordial aspect of this communication is to help adolescents understand what is about to happen during this journey: body metamorphosis and how this transformation can cause anxiety in different aspects of their lives, but also discussing the consequences of important decisions to help adolescents reflecting on their own choices.

Parents may have the tendency of giving instructions and directions, by setting aside these tendencies and for a healthier approach, parents can adapt the active listening technique for the purpose of truly understanding what is it that is troubling their offspring, but also to be able to give them a safe space that would show interest in what they are saying, validate their feelings and support of their choices.
It is quintessential to listen to teenagers openly and non-judgmentally, especially while having a crucial discussion; in fact, shutting down adolescents can not only lead them to feel guilty and ashamed towards their opinions in relation to the topic in hand, but will also make them question turning to their parents for any other subject.

In fact, when teenagers feel heard, this will increase the chances of building trust and respect for their parents’ contribution.

It is very important to remain interested and invested in the adolescents’ passions without having the urge to control them. Welcoming friends to the household will provide structure in both parents and adolescents lives.

Adolescence might be a challenging and demanding stage for both parents and adolescents, nevertheless, more positive parental involvement can help greatly in life satisfaction for sons and daughters.

At the American Wellness Center, located in Dubai Healthcare City, we understand the intricate journey of adolescence and puberty. Our clinic is dedicated to supporting individuals and families through this transformative period with comprehensive medical and mental health services. Our team of experts, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and medical professionals, offers personalized care to navigate the challenges of emotional ambivalence, identity formation, and the physical changes of puberty to ensure a healthy transition from childhood to adulthood.