Changing the Narrative on Adolescents
By Beth Berkowitz, PsyD. Director of Children’s Clinical Services and Child Training Institute at JFCS’ Parents Place and the Center for Children and Youth
The Center for Children and Youth at JFCS is joining forces with Dr. Ken Ginsburg and The Center for Parent and Teen Communication in Philadelphia to help change the narrative about teens. Adolescence is a time of extraordinary possibility for young people. Yet, it’s always been heralded as a tumultuous time in an individual’s life. We just need to look to television and movies to prove this point, which is illustrated by everything from Rebel Without a Cause to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Mean Girls. All too often, teens are depicted in the most negative ways.
Adolescents are frequently referred to as unreasonable, moody, argumentative, unreliable, risk-taking … the list goes on. Dr. Ginsburg tells a story we may have all heard at one time or another of being told to cherish his young children, because once they hit the teen years they will become unbearably difficult and unrecognizable. Yet it’s no wonder our teenagers are struggling so intensely. Much of the research and literature is correct: adolescence is a time of tremendous change and growth. Bodies and brains are being flooded with new hormones brain-based chemicals, and the brain is building new neural connections and pruning others. These factors can influence the way our teens explore the world around them.
It is, however, in large part, our narrative that impacts teens negatively. Instead of seeing them as unreasonable, misguided, and impulsive, we need to reframe their behavior as communicating to us and see them as curious and creative. Adolescents are human like the rest of us, not alien, and they want to be seen for who they really are. They want their strengths and accomplishments to be celebrated, and they want their struggles to be noticed and accepted. They want and need love, support, comfort, and a secure base to return home to each night. They also need established boundaries and consequences, but within reasonable expectations.
Dr. Ginsburg introduces us to “The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience” that he developed to provide parents with a unique structure for understanding and contributing to their adolescents’ positive growth.
- Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.
- Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.
- Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.
- Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.
- Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.
- Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.
- Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.
Dr. Ginsburg’s message is clear. Young people will live up to or down to our expectations. If we expect them to fail, they will. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to high expectations including being generous, caring, and creative. We can all try to be better role models while supporting our teens to be the people we know they are deep inside. Our job is to show them their potential and support their efforts to reach it.
Beth Berkowitz is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience providing treatment to children, adolescents, and their families in outpatient, day treatment, residential, and school-based settings. She has extensive experience serving children who struggle with anxiety, depression, attention difficulties, and family separation. Beth has spent the past eight years administering clinical training programs, supervising clinical staff, facilitating clinical seminars, and directing program development in the nonprofit sector. Beth’s commitment to mental health, strength-based services, and culturally informed treatment have been the hallmarks of her many years of clinical service and management. Beth holds a Master of Arts Degree in Clinical Psychology/Theater Arts from Cal State University and completed her Doctor of Psychology degree at California School of Professional Psychology where she focused on Adolescent Development.
[The 7 Cs are an adaptation from The Positive Youth Development movement. Rick Little and colleagues at The International Youth Foundation first described the 4 Cs of confidence, competence, connection, and character as the key ingredients needed to ensure a healthy developmental path. They later added contribution because youth with these essential 4 characteristics also contributed to society. The additional two C’s—coping and control—allow the model to both promote healthy development and prevent risk.]