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Understanding Adolescents and Teenagers
M. Constabean


The term, "Adolescents," is a term that is generally defined as a twelve to fifteen year old. An excellent example of an adolescent is Tom Hanks in the movie "Big." Hanks exudes the essences of a thirteen year old boy by displaying these characteristics:

  • Always checking himself because he is unsure about everything
  • Doesn't know social rules so he stick out like a sore thumb
  • Very literal
  • Experiences the world through all the senses
  • Innocent and free
  • Proud of himself and his accomplishments
  • nonjudgmental
  • painfully truthful
  • needs security, acceptance, respect, trust, openness, and confidentiality
  • Is in the moment, continuously
  • Playful, happy, effervescent, confident, and absorbed in whatever he is doing
  • Treats everyone the same
  • Is trusting and open
  • Constantly grazing

Adolescent girls have the same qualities but they get the message early to mute the above mentioned qualities.

Teen's Qualities

Teens are generally characterized by adults as 15 to 20 year olds with these qualities:

Obnoxious Irresponsible Energetic
Difficult Invincible "Can-do" Attitude
Clumsy Inexperienced Denial of effects
Loyal Self-centered Immature
Defiant Disrespectful A "Know-It-All"
Optimistic Mouthy Impulsive
No Fear Full of intense feelings Feels safer in groups
  • The teen is defined as the new bad guy or scapegoat for our society.
  • The government give little funding for teen projects in hopes that teens and teen problems will just go away or grow-up.
  • When times are bad teens are pushed out of the economic market with no resources.
  • The teen spends five years of variability in developing the physical, mental, spiritual, social, and sexual aspects of life. In fact there are times the teen doesn't know which way is up.
  • They never feel quite right.
  • Even little things become a crisis because of the continual pressure to evolve.
  • They feel they are center stage at all times and that everyone is watching them, so they try to stay away for situations that would draw attention to them.
  • Since schools are energy packed places waiting for a problem to explode, school administrators try to cut down interaction time between classes to a minimum, leaving no time for relieving bladders. Consequently girls are getting lots of urinary tract diseases.

"Concrete Thinkers"

Adolescents and Teens are concrete thinkers. Everything is either black or white. Everything is absolute. Either it is or it isn't. For example: A mother says to her concrete thinking teen... "We can read our books together since we have the same books." "They're not the same book," the teen exclaims. The mother points out that both books have sixteen chapters with the same titles. The teen points out that the stitching on the binding of her book is a different color!

The concrete thinker only sees that they are either absolutely the same or they are different.

The concrete thinker thinks rules should always be the same always no matter what!

Rules cannot be bent for extenuating circumstances, or things beyond one's control.

Concrete thinkers grow self-esteem by doing well in school, being part of a team that does well, by parents continually pointing out the positive aspects of their personalities, behavior, and their physical appearance. They will more readily believe a peer before they will believe a parent. Parents are supposed to love them and tell them positive stuff. That is what a parent does. Parents have to reinforce one positive aspect about their teens, ten separate times, believably, before it is somewhat believed. If a teen's peer say something once, whether it is true or not, even if the peer is a stranger, the comment is instantly believed and sinks straight to the heart.

Teens are especially are mean and vicious with each others feelings. A complete stranger will make fun of another teen, boisterously, in public, just for fun. For this reason instilling self-esteem is a never-ending battle.

Youths are concrete thinkers up to about age twenty-one. Changing into formal thinking beings is a gradual thing. Some may never develop that ability completely.

Formal Thinking

Formal thinking happens in bits and pieces. It may start somewhere around age seventeen, but it is so slight and gradual that it's collective effects are not really noticed until much later. Formal thinking is the ability to plan and to see if I do this, then will/can happen (seeing future cause and effect). This type of thinking takes the development of the frontal lobe of the brain. This is not fully developed, on the average, until age 21.

When a child is born his/her brain is not fully developed. The nerves have to grow throughout the brain to take advantage of that area. Each area gives the child the ability to think, do, or sense different things, or do it better.

The nerves have to grow into an area to be able to use that part of the brain. Until that time, the child is limited in his/her thinking and or sensory ability.

Altruistic motives are generally considered as part of concrete thinking. Ex: Doing a job well for the sake of having done a good job for no recompense doesn't make a lot of sense to a concrete thinker. Under their absolute thinking, the rule: If you work you get paid, stands firmly. Working with no pay, for the satisfaction of a job well done and for being a service to others, is not understandable even when explained. Another words they hear you say it, but it makes no sense to them. Under formal thinking, service builds self-esteem, self-worth, and a great sense of accomplishment.

Knowledge of the brain's development can helps us to understand why teens seem to be so weird in their thinking until they reach the age of about 21. At that point most of them actually start acting like adults. They are actually fun to be around. This is because, for the first time, they are thinking like adults and becoming more like us.

Have you ever heard adult say, "What were you thinking? Didn't you know that if you did that, this would happen?" Some of them will actually tell you, "No, I didn't think!" That is because it didn't even occur to them to think, because it was past their capability.

Enervation or growth of the nerves into the frontal lobe happens only at night while teens sleep. Those youths that choose to listen to music while they sleep do not allow the nerves time to grow because the nerves are busy processing the incoming stimuli of the music. Therefore, these youths are robbing themselves through retarding development and their potential to become capable people.

There is a "threshold of learning" or a time period during which an area of the brain may be used. This is when the nerves first enervate that area. If the nerves are not stimulated, they wither and die. When this happens the person losses the ability to use that area or the ability to use it at its fullest capacity. An example of this is the ability of youths to take up a foreign language with the capability of being able to produce the sounds properly and pick up the language easily. When someone tries to do the same thing later in life, they are never able to produce the sound exactly and have a greater difficulty learning the language.

Seeing others model formal thinking during "the threshold of learning" or at the time of enervation of the frontal lobe, helps the teen to take their example and begin thinking and using those same thoughts. The use of the nerves in the new areas stimulates those nerves and encourages new growth.

Troubled teens get 3 to 4 hours of sleep which allows little or no development for the frontal lobe. These teens have delays in cognitive, social, and all areas of their lives. It is usually these same teens that fall asleep while listening to the radio, which allows little or no development.

Troubled teens get into further trouble with adults because adults expect them to "act their age," even though they are not capable of it. Adults see their behavior as disrespecting authority, by acting dumb. We have 16 to 18 year olds acting like 12 to 13 year olds. Look at the teen's behavior and then treat him/her respectively. If a teen's developmental behavior is off by more than tree years, there is definite problems. Great care should be take to see that these teens are getting enough quality rest and proper formal-thinking adults modeling formal thinking.

Abused teens turn off and check out of their bodies/minds. Therefore, "the threshold of learning" has not been taken advantage of, leaving them with speech and hearing impairments and other developmental delays. Often these teens have trouble check back into their minds. They have exercised the "off" button so often that it works extremely well, whereas the "on" button becomes nonexistent.

Sometimes the "on" button is triggered by a stimuli similar to the original abuse. It comes on when it is not safe or unwanted. There is a flood of sensory activity that can be uncontrollable causing a psychological or mental crisis. To stop this from happening, often teens choose to self-medicate using drugs and alcohol. Others use over work, over achievement, continuous TV watching, overeating, excessive exercise, or have one sexual relationship after another to numb or cope with the mental pain.

Professionals have found that having the teen use kinesthetic toys or work with things that makes noises, forces them to use and develop their senses. Stimulation of the senses paired with psychological help allows teens to check back into reality and feel all right about using their senses again.

When an adolescent exhibits early sexual activity such as consensual sex before age 15 there is a high correlation with:

  • the first sexual encounter being a negative experience.
  • adolescents around the age of 13, having been sexually abused.
  • having been sexually victimized as a child. This is usually is done by a much older person.
  • drugs and/or alcohol used with all sexual encounters.
  • family and drug problems.
  • brain damage from early sexual victimization.

It is important that we pay particular attention to the adolescents and teens of today because no matter what shape they are in, they will be the leaders of tomorrow and the core of our society.

If we can stall a teen from making bad decisions long enough by offering education, healthy sleep, good role models, and give time for enervation to happen, we can make a difference in tomorrow's world.


Constabean, M. (Nov. 2, 1995) Working with the Young Adolescent - Workshop. Anchorage, AK.

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