Hudson Valley Parent

HVP - July 2014

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Page 6 of 49 ■ Hudson Valley Parent 7 may not make sense to us, but it does to them. Overestimating their abilities Additionally, adoles- cents begin to believe that they are unique and special, (although this phenomenon is currently permeating all develop- mental stages). They feel their lives are somehow different from others who are less special. They develop a "personal fable," and they become sort of a legend in their own minds! This "I am special" view can fuel the participation in risk-taking behavior, both positive and negative. We often focus on the negative, dangerous or just plain dumb risks that adolescents take; however, this "personal fable" that an adolescent develops can be a positive force in their lives. Because they view themselves as special, they overestimate their skills and abilities, and they believe they will be successful at anything they at- tempt. This view of themselves gives them the courage to take positive risks that can enhance their lives. Some positive risks might include preparing for a demanding career path after college or trying out for a sports team or after school club. This may give them the confi dence to run for school offi ce, apply for a challenging and competitive sum- mer job, or even ask out the cute girl or boy in biology class. Just as risk taking can be healthy and growth enhancing, it can also become a dangerous force in an adolescent's life. Egocentric thinking can cause adolescents to imagine that they are not vulnerable to life's I t's certainly no sur- prise to any parent of an adolescent to say that adolescents do dumb things. How often do we say, "I don't know how a smart kid like you can do something like that"? What I'm going to offer in this month's column won't make living with your adolescent any easier, but hopefully it will help you to understand why they take the risks (often dumb ones) that they do. One signifi cant reason for the increase in risk-taking in adolescence, compared to childhood, is the changing way that adolescents think, especially about themselves. Performing for peers Adolescents become so absorbed in thinking about the new chang- es and experiences they're going through that they have trouble dif- ferentiating their own thoughts from what they believe are the thoughts of others. This results in what is known as "the imaginary audience," a belief that since they are so consumed with themselves, everybody else must be as well. So they often feel compelled to "perform" for their audience. During adolescence, peers be- come the primary mentors on the rocky road toward the formulation of an identity, and they don't want to let their peers down, so they give an attention-getting performance and act in ways that they believe will impress their audience. Some do stand-up comedy, some do feats of death defying intrigue, and some may just be seductive; whatever it takes for peer approval. It problems and they are immune to the ordinary rules of life. How parents can help First, and most important, despite them telling you to leave them alone, DON'T! You are still the lifeline for your adolescent in time of diffi cul- ty. Adolescents need to stretch the umbilical connection, not cut it! They need greater independence and autonomy and don't want overly intrusive parents. They do, however, want to know that their parents are there for them when and if they need them (which usually is often). Don't be afraid to set what you consider safe limits for your ado- lescent. Adolescence is a time of heightened anxiety, and it's com- forting for them to know their par- ents are there to set limits on their often impulsive behavior. COMMUNICATE! Talking and communicating are not the same thing. Listen to them, and be honest about the issue at hand. Don't give them the "when I was your age" talk unless you plan to include some of the things you really did when you were their age and the real problems you experienced and solved. If you do this they may not only listen but actually hear what you have to say. Paul Schwartz, PhD., is a profes- sor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. Adolescents want to know that their parents are there for them when and if they need them. PAUL SCHWARTZ Child Behavior Adolescents: Legends in their own minds

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