Phone: 604-377-5277

A telehealth service for British Columbia

Dr. Derek Swain

Registered Psychologist #1006


Teens and Families

Teenagers inhabit an ill-defined transitional space between the nursery and adult world which they cross and re-cross unpredictably. Their physical maturation provides them new abilities, interests, curiosities, and opportunities, particularly when they often appear much older than their years. Their skills and access to electronic equipment tends to separate the generations, allowing them to create virtual worlds of their own to which their parents are excluded. They can appear to be very technologically savvy and are often more adept than their parents, which sometimes leads them to generalize that they know more about life than their parents. These skills reinforce the notion that they are competent to run their own lives, without benefit of guidance and rules from parents whom they perceive as out of touch. And yet,  their pseudomaturity often masks their insecurities and the limits to their emotional capacities. Their behaviour is often a source of confusion for parents and other adults - and for themselves.

It is helpful to remember that the prime job of the adolescent is to individuate, to learn to become independent of, but still connected to, family. This can be a challenging experience, particularly for parents who are uncertain about how much guidance is needed and where to draw the boundaries on emerging behaviours. Further confusion is likely in that there is wide variance in the maturation of teens. Some demonstrate considerable responsibility and competence at an early age while others find maturity in much later years.

When confronted with challenging adolescent behaviour, it can be helpful to step out of the fray and observe with humour the adolescent's development, particularly his or her egocentrism. According to Elkind (1967) adolescent egocentrism refers to the self-centredness frequently observed as children make the transition toward adulthood. It arises from differentiation failure, the adolescent's inability to distinguish between his or her own cognitive concerns and those of others. Elkind sees adolescent egocentrism as manifest in two ways: The imaginary audience is the belief that everyone is as concerned about the adolescent's behaviour as he or she is, and it results in heightened self-consciousness and an over concern with the thoughts and feelings of others toward oneself. Second, the personal fable emerges as a result of the imaginary audience so that the adolescent believes that if everyone is concerned with him or her, then the adolescent must be a very important and special individual indeed. As a consequence, the adolescent may believe that he or she is omnipotent, invulnerable, and unique. This may account for some of their seemingly reckless behaviours such as drug use and unprotected sex.

Of course, a humorous perspective on the adolescent's development is just one way to help lighten the burden of parenting. But, parenting also involves significant responsibilities and worries that go along with watching one's child progress. The following is a list of issues which might indicate that you and your teen need significant help.


Place a check beside the items that are applicable to your situation. The more items checked, the more likely you could benefit from some professional assistance with your teen.

1. Teen seems isolated or disliked.
2. Teen has been a victim of bullying or is known to bully others.
3. You do not know your teen's friends.
4. You often don't know your teen's whereabouts or activities.
5. You feel exhausted by your teen's defiance or destructive behaviour.
6. You often feel powerless in dealing with your teen.

7. Teen seems to lack motivation.
8. Teen is manipulative or deceitful.
9. Teen seems to be dishonest - tells lies.
10.Teen is involved in activities that you don't approve.
11. Teen has problems with authority.
12. Teen's behaviour puts him/her at risk for safety.
13. Teen may be using alcohol or drugs.

14. Teen struggles with basic family rules and expectations.
15. Teen is unwilling to do simple household chores.
16. Teen's appearance or personal hygiene is outside family standards.
17. Teen ignores rules and consequences.
18. Teen has been suspended or expelled from school.

19. Teen skips classes at school.
20. Teen has lost interest in former productive activities, hobbies, or sports.
21. Teen's sleep pattern has changed.
22. You are worried about your teen's future.

23. Teen's school performance has dropped.
24. Teen is unwilling to complete homework.
25. Teen is at risk for not completing high school.

26. You do not trust your teen.
27. Teen has been in trouble with the police.
28. You suspect that money or valuables have gone missing from home.
29. Teen seems to oppose family values.
30. Teen has vandalized property.

31. Teen is verbally abusive.
32. Words must be carefully chosen to avoid a verbal attack from him/her.
33. Teen is angry and/or has temper outbursts.
34. Teen gets into fights or has been violent.
35. Teen frequently threatens others.

36. Teen complains of being disrespected.
37. Teen associates with a ‘bad' peer group.
38. Teen seems to lack self-esteem or self-worth.
39. Teen, at times, seems depressed or withdrawn.
40. Teen has shown suicidal intentions.

Through counselling, you and your teen can learn to find new perspectives on your problems, new attitudes and emotional reactions to those difficulties, and new skills and behaviours to help address problems more effectively.