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Adolescent Psychology


At Helfand & Associates, we handle many amicable divorces and family matters as well as some of the most hotly contested difficult cases.  In an effort to improve our services and also because I think it is interesting, I am studying for a Masters in Psychology.  The first class I am taking is Adolescent Psychology, which is a relevant subject in many cases.  Single parents are often under a great deal of pressure and disturbing teenage behavior just adds to it.

So far I have learned a lot of great information that I wanted to share with you whether you are just a parent, a divorcing/divorced parent or know someone who has teenagers.

The professor, a custody expert herself, had a fabulous tip.  When she talks to teens, she tells them that when they are making decisions to think about one simple thing:  Will the decision you are making benefit you now and in the future or not?  (Frankly, I think this works well for adults, too.)  If a young person is thinking about having unprotected sex, or getting into a car drunk or with a drunk driver or does not want to put effort into school, maybe this simple thought that is really a positive message, not a fear tactic, can help.

The next interesting issue I studied related to peer pressure.  I believe many of us think about peer pressure coming from bullying by rotten kids.  I understand from my studies that statistically, there is actually a lot more good, positive peer pressure rather than negative peer pressure.  Most young people encourage each other to do well and succeed, to keep away from bad behavior.  It is the bad peer pressure that we focus on because it is offensive and shocking.  It certainly happens, but it is not the majority of what is going on.  This was quite encouraging.

Peer pressure also really needs to be looked at in different forms.  I think this also applies to adults in many circumstances.  There is the peer pressure from external forces where someone pushes or bullies you.  Then there is internal peer pressure, a person’s personal desire to conform or be liked or simply not to stand out from the crowd; i.e., the recent incidents in the news when fraternity brothers are chanting foul, racist words, but the other brothers just sit by and no one stops him for fear of “not being part of the group.”

Another incident occurred recently where a fraternity of very upper middle class kids went on a ski trip, stayed at a hotel and the kids caused $100,000 worth of damages to the business including but not limited to breaking furniture and damaging walls.  All of these affluent boys acted criminally.  They will be paying fines and the owners of the hotel brought criminal charges.  The hotel owner’s business was destroyed for no reason.  A good time?  I find it to be a giant problem that these kids had no regard for the property and conducted themselves in such a fashion, like a violent gang.  It is, however, likely that some of these kids were the “gang leaders” initiating the destruction and others went along because of their internal desire to conform.  They all are being charged.

I think the lesson is to try and instill in children the importance of thinking as an individual.  Being in a positive group is fantastic.  Being part of a bad group or bad behavior is not.  All these well-t0-do boys now have arrest records that probably will not help them much as they go on to look for jobs.

The next interesting peer pressure issue I learned about related to girls’ abilities and desire to perform well in math and science and pursue careers in these fields.  Based on a study I read, support from friends is important; however, the most significant factor is the attitude in the home.  If the parents believe that girls can accomplish anything and should follow their talents, this has a significant impact.  If there are inhibitions about girls succeeding in these fields at home, this will also have a significant affect.

Finally, the last subject I am working on now is the development of adolescent boys.  Many boys typically do not feel comfortable or are also often not skilled at expressing their emotions.   (Obviously, girls can have this problem too, but I am referring to the information I am specifically studying.)As parents we teach them to be tough and stoic.  As a result, boys often feel that expressing imperfection, fear, insecurity, is not accepted.  They internalize or ignore situations that often do need to be addressed.

Boys during adolescence often push away from parents in an effort to assert their independence.  How do you know when the “push away” is completely normal or when it is a sign of a problem?  I think this is hard for a lot of parents to figure out.  Clearly, if grades drop significantly or the boy gets into trouble or socializing changes drastically, these are not good signs and seeking professional help might be necessary.

A fantastic book I am reading for class is Raising CainProtecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon, PhD. And Michael Thompson, PhD.  The book is very comprehensive and has many case studies that a parent of a son can look at.  It is not technical and is quite readable.  I hope this information is helpful.



The above advice is neither legal nor psychological advice.  You should always consult with a professional about your own case and circumstances.

At Helfand & Associates, we handle all aspects of family law including but not limited to divorce, custody, support, and post-judgment matters.  Tanya Helfand, Esq. is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney with 23 years of experience.  She litigates and mediates cases and is appointed by the Court frequently to help resolve contested issues.

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