Adolescence, an essential time of life, between fragility and hope

6 minutes to read
Writing: Eva Milko, Good Vibes Strategy
Groupe d'adolescents

In spite of the prejudices that surround it, adolescence is one of the richest periods in a person’s life.

Not only is it a period of significant physical changes, but some neuropsychological studies also show that teens’ brains undergo a major “reshuffling” during this phase of existence. Looking to build their adult life while discovering themselves, teens yearn to leave the family environment and to shift toward their peers. The world around them takes on a whole new meaning and invites them, little by little, to discover it.

But, as in any transitional phase, adolescence can also be a period of vulnerability that can lead teens off course with more or less healthy encounters. This risk is much higher for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who develop in environments that don’t always help them thrive.

Adolescence, an essential phase for discovering the world and growing

According to sociologist Michel Fize, adolescence is a privileged period for experimenting and building one’s identity. While testing their strengths, pushing their limits and exploring their abilities, teens don’t want to be subject to the whims of life or accept that adults make decisions for them.

“Adolescence is a privileged period for experimenting and building one’s identity”

Far from wanting to resist at all costs, young people aspire above all to detach themselves from family values in order to return to them later, to grow and realize their potential and one day become independent adults. Even if it may be difficult to deal with a young person who refuses to conform to our expectations, it is important to remember that this self-affirmation is one of the most powerful drivers in life. It is therefore essential to guide them during this transitional period to help them discover their full potential.

Travelling, which provides new cultural and socio-economic perspectives to teens, is an excellent way to help them become more independent. When teens leave their family circle, they have the opportunity to not only build relationships with their peers and learn to better understand themselves, but also to discover new ways of being and doing. For young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it’s a unique means of widening their horizons.

With their brains working in high gear, teens are also capable of great feats when they’re motivated by an activity.

Encouraging young people to find their passion or to join a group that helps them blossom through new scholastic, extracurricular or community activities is  therefore essential for their development. By giving young people the option to travel with their peers, we give them the opportunity to make the most of their skills in an environment that is safe and enriching.

Finally, teens, characterized by their emotional and sincere nature, are often driven by a strong desire for justice and fairness. Getting involved to help the environment or to act against discrimination gives a sense of meaning to their lives and helps them better understand themselves and take their place in society. As adults, it is therefore essential that we support them to help them become the responsible and informed citizens of tomorrow.

Adolescence, a delicate time when everything can change dramatically

While resilient by nature, young people still sometimes seem like idols with feet of clay.

Because of the specific development of their brain and, to a lesser degree, their hormonal changes, teens can find handling stress and their emotions difficult. Teens’ brains begin to develop in the amygdala (the centre of emotions) and finishes developing  around age 25 in the prefrontal cortex (the judgment and planning centre). This makes them more vulnerable to psychological problems when they’re confronted with challenges like repeated academic failure, a breakup, bullying, etc. Still unsure of themselves and susceptible to daily tensions, young people may have a tendency to exaggerate a problem as soon as it appears. They are also more susceptible to anxiety and depression.

75% sur un fond rose

It should be noted that 75% of mental health problems affecting people over the course of their lives develop before the age of 25, and that 50% of these problems begin before the age of 14.

What’s more, some childhood trauma can “awaken” in adolescence. A divorce during one’s early years may later cause conflicts with parents over custody arrangements, problems with food in early childhood may lead to eating disorders in adolescence, etc.

However, when young people have a supportive and understanding environment, they progressively develop the ability to handle their emotions and make informed decisions. By offering our trust all while showing our interest in what they’re doing, experiencing and feeling, we help them grow and support them properly.

In the meanwhile, their at times volatile emotions may lead them to react impulsively, which can negatively affect their relationships with others as well as their mental health. Relationships with peers, which are essential at this age, can strongly impact their well-being if they don’t match their expectations.

Particularly concerned with their friends’ validation, teens can also adopt dangerous behaviours to please them, such as trying dangerous sports, engaging in unsafe sex, committing delinquent acts or consuming alcohol or drugs. This behaviour is more problematic in adolescence as this is a period when the brain is especially sensitive to the effects of addictions, which can hinder their development and establish a dependency that continues into adulthood.

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly affected by these problems. They grow up in environments where they are sometimes side by side with people with dependence issues. They may be experiencing financial, familial and academic troubles that affect their mental health and push them toward addiction.

Their need to forge strong relationships with friend groups—to form a clique with inside jokes and language—can also create a lack of openness in certain teens, especially when they rarely have the opportunity to leave their environment. Travelling is therefore the perfect opportunity to help young people leave their regular environment and become more open-minded about other ways of living and thinking.

In conclusion, while adolescence is a time that brings challenges, it also offers several opportunities for growth and discovery.

Driven by their curiosity and their desire for novelty, young people find profound joy in exploring new perspectives, pushing their limits and developing their autonomy. Their first trip, their best friends, their first love; they all leave a deep impression on individuals and shape their future choices, moulding the world of tomorrow.

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