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Understanding Adolescent Development – Strategies for Mentors

Supporting and guiding a teen as they grow from childhood to adulthood is a complex task that requires patience, a healthy dose of humor, and lots of love.  What was once thought to be caused by angst, rebelliousness, or sex driven hormones, we are now able to better understand the complexities of adolescent behavior and development, thanks to substantial research devoted to the subject.   One such researcher, Dr. A. Rae Simpson, co-director of the MIT Work-Life Center and Chief consultant to the Harvard Parenting Project, conducted research highlighting the unique needs and characteristics of this age group, as well as the implications for employers, parents, educators and mentors.  Her research influenced The Raising Teens Project, which identifies Ten Tasks of Adolescent Development that teenagers need to undertake to make a successful transition to adulthood.

With the physical, cognitive, emotional, social, moral, and sexual changes, all occurring at a rapid rate for teens, a caring adult would benefit from strategies and guidelines to offer support.  To that end, The Raising Teens Project has also identified The Five Basics of Parenting Adolescents.

While the bulk of these techniques are for parents and caregivers, these approaches can be integrated into mentoring too.  Suggestions include:

  • Watch for moments to express appreciation and respect.
  • Acknowledge the good times made possible by your teen’s personality.
  • Expect increased criticism and debate.  Strengthen your skills for discussing ideas and disagreeing in ways that respect both your teen’s opinions and your own.
  • Spend time just listening to your teen’s fears, concerns, interests, ideas and perspectives.
  • Model appropriate relationships and set a good example.

Another brilliant resource that promotes healthy lifestyles and supports adolescent development is The Healthy Mind Platter.  Created by Dr. Daniel J. Siegal, in collaboration with Dr. David Rock, the healthy mind platter suggests seven daily mental activities that are found to optimize brain matter and create wellbeing.

Like the US Department of Agriculture’s suggested daily diet of food, these activities are recommended for a healthy mind.  Time spent sleeping, being physically active, focusing, playing, connecting with others, time alone and time spent inside doing no particular task, all make up the daily prescription found to support and strengthen our internal and relational connections.

Dr. Siegel stresses, “mental wellness is all about reinforcing our connections with others and the world around us.   When we vary the focus of attention with this spectrum of mental activities, we give the brain lots of opportunities to develop in different ways.”

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