Developmental Challenges of Adolescents/Teenagers

Jeffrey Miller Palo Alto Therapist Teenage ChallengesAs a therapist whose work focuses on working with adolescents/teenagers, I am often surprised at how parents and adults in general forget or lose track of all of the challenges of that period.  This brief summary is to help us all focus on the formidable transitions faced by our adolescents/teenagers just in their normal development.

The teen years are chaotic and overwhelming in both the scope and number of normal developmental challenges facing the teenager, even without depression, anxiety, attention deficits, executive functioning deficits and learning differences that visit so many of our teenagers.  The following is a brief summary of the most significant developmental issues our teenagers face:

  1. Physical transformation; probably the most obvious changes are physical; the teenager is literally transforming from a child to an adult physically, a transformation that is disorienting to both the teenager and everyone around him/her.
  2. Sexual development; the teenage years witness the emergence of sexuality, with all of its hormonal changes, all of its ups and downs and all of its emotional complications.
  3. Separation from parents; the teenager is on a crash course of how to live life with primary dependence on him/herself rather than being guided, taught and supported by parents.
  4. Identity v. role confusion; with growing independence comes the whole challenge of a teenager learning who he/she is and what role he/she will play in the world regarding friends, family, jobs, etc.
  5. Social issues/group identity v. individuality; with growing adulthood comes the challenge of learning what groups and communities a person wants to be part of and how those groups and communities impact their own sense of individuality.
  6. Growing responsibility; a substantial challenge for any teenager is learning to bear the personal responsibility of living a healthy, productive, compassionate and caring adult life.
  7. Known/safe/familiar v. forward movement into world; the teenager now begins to experiment by moving from what he/she knows to how he/she will be as an individual in the world.
  8. Altered consciousness v. sobriety; we know that the teen years are when the urges arise to experiment with altering consciousness; teenagers have to learn whether to experiment with drugs and alcohol and, if so, to what extent
  9. True self v. false self; the teenager, in individuating from his/her family, begins to learn who he/she truly is and how that true self relates to ways they may have pretended to be.
  10. Purpose/meaning v. realism/practicality; the teenager is struggling mightily with what constitutes purpose and meaning in their lives and how real and practical those are.
  11. Faith v. cynicism (spirituality); the teenager is also beginning to deal with what we would broadly call spirituality, whether to have faith or not, whether to engage in cynicism or push through that.

Most of us have either purposely blocked out our memories of this critical age or engaged in “convenient memory,” remembering only the most positive parts of it.  When we really focus on all things teenagers are going through, even without psychological and emotional complications, we can see how important these years are.

In future posts, I will discuss in further detail developmental issues teenagers face.

To find out how Jeffrey Miller can help you or your child, adolescent, or teen, call him at (650) 321-0410 or email him at

Comments for this post are closed.

Is It Teen Angst or Is It Depression?

If you or someone you know is experiencing feelings of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, …

Developmental Challenges of Adolescents/Teenagers

As a therapist whose work focuses on working with adolescents/teenagers, I am often surprised at how parents and adults in …