Emotional Development during Adolescence

Emotional development continues once children reach adolescence. In fact, emotions have often been used to define the period of adolescence. For some people, the changes associated with adolescence conjure up pictures of strong emotions—a developmental period characterized as a time when teens become moody and negative. These images, however, are accurate for only a minority of adolescents. Most adolescents cope with the changes in emotionally positive ways.

When emotional stress does arise, it often is the result of adolescents' conflicts with their parents. These conflicts frequently occur because adolescents are striving to make independent choices and do not agree with parents' requests and opinions as readily as they did when they were younger. Conversations about general household tasks and curfews can be po tentially volatile—for instance, when a young person's desire to stay out late with his friends conflicts with the parents' needs to make sure their child is safe and home at a reasonable hour.

Although adolescents' conflicts over family issues can have an emotional impact, emotional extremes more often center on interactions with peers, particularly romantic partners. These extreme feelings are tied to the adolescent's self-perceptions, sometimes producing feelings of worthlessness and sometimes eliciting strong joy and desire. Depending on the unique characteristics of the young person, the availability of parental support, and the amount and kind of stress in an adolescent's life, some teens are able to surmount difficult emotional situations, whereas others may despair.

Emotion and Autonomy/Identify Formation

During this transition period, adolescents confront the challenge of developing autonomy—the capacity to think, feel, and act on their own. The quest for autonomy not only involves separation from parents and the development of self-reliance but also raises issues related to emotionality. One aspect of autonomy involves the need for the adolescent to realize that her emotions are independent from those of her parents, a process referred to as ''emotional autonomy.'' During this period, adolescents may feel pulled between the need for close emotional ties with their parents and the need to develop their own emotional responses. For parents, the difficulty arises as to how to encourage emotional autonomy and independence while avoiding tension and conflict. If parents and teens can compromise and adapt during this period of change, it can be a positive time of exploration for both.

Anxiety and Depression

When emotional development becomes distorted, outcomes for children and teens can be put at risk. If not effectively dealt with, unresolved issues of emotional development can lead to more serious emotional disorders. At least one in five children and adolescents displays symptoms of emotional disorders, with anxiety and depression as the most common types.

Anxiety disorders include, among others, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias (excessive fears). Although most children encounter feelings of anxiety or fear, these usually do not become debilitating. Anxiety disorders generally have an onset early in childhood and persist into adulthood. Additionally, anxiety disorders may become exacerbated over time and sometimes lead to other disorders, such as depression.

Depression is generally characterized by hopelessness, low self-esteem, and sadness, and not only affects children's emotionality but also their physical well-being. Beginning in the 1970s, the age of onset of depression started decreasing, and by the early twenty-first century, depression commonly begins during adolescence. Estimates of clinical depression range from 4 percent to 12 percent of adolescents, with older adolescents having higher rates. Before puberty, rates of depression are low and occur equally in boys and girls. After puberty, girls report increased depression, with rates about twice those of boys.

Evidence is growing that problems with hormonal activity in the brain and nervous system often result in depression. The onset of puberty and associated hormonal changes may influence adolescents' emotional states. Also, some teens seem more prone to depression because they have cognitive styles in which they define their circumstances in terms of hopelessness and self-blame.

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