Adolescence is not a disease or a handicap, it is a finite stage of life.
Masks Masks Attached To Attention One of the keys to understanding adolescence is it is a time to search for self-identity. The behaviors often displayed are for seeking attention, gaining approval is too hard. Once we find a behavior that gets attention, we become that behavior. Sadly, because so many systems surrounding young people are compliance-based, some young people receive a lot of attention for non-compliant behavior. Non-Compliance Defiance is NOT the opposite of compliance; it is the RESULT of compliance. Engagement is the opposite of defiance. Youth Criminal Justice Code of Canada has 158 references to the word “comply.” Each one detailing what adults can do to a youth who doesn’t not comply. There are no references to what a young person can do if an adult is irrelevant, non-engaging or… boring!
Evolutionary Breakaway Adolescence is an evolutionary development designed to help young people breakaway from their homes and begin their own lives. Mammals and Adolescence Many species of mammals send their adolescents to live in social groups with uncles or aunts. It Takes A Village (Extended Family) In his book, New Rules, author and statistician, Daniel Yankelovich, explains that humans were healthiest when we lived in Extended Families. This has been the typical family structure for most of the history of humankind. The Nuclear family was a recent experiment started shortly after the Industrial Revolution. Yankelovich would call this a failed experiment. The breakdown of the “traditional family” doesn’t point to the failure of the Nuclear Family, but to the Extended Family. https://www.amazon.ca/NEW-RULES-Daniel-Yankelovich/dp/0553249037
COMMON ADOLESCENT BEHAVIORS Incredible Brain Development Adolescence is a finite period of incredible brain development. Most of the development is taking place in the white matter of the brain rather than the grey matter. Length Adolescence begins shortly after pubescence, which is happening at earlier stages in most developed countries. Generally, from 10 until early 20’s. Since this is a finite stage, it is unethical to have kids in care without working on the tasks of adolescence. Learning Ability We might refer to white matter as the emotional software of the brain. They form the connections between strong emotions and how to respond to them. At the end of adolescence, the brain starts to prune connections. It becomes harder to learn. It doesn’t mean we can’t learn, it just means isn’t as easy as it was during adolescence. Though adolescents are prone to learning, they learn better “with” than “from.” For example, with peers, not from adults, lectures or books. Piaget said that “play is the work of children.” In the same manner, conversation is the work of adolescence. Excellence in teaching requires adults to build relevance to their curriculum and figure out how to help adolescents converse about their knowledge. Just as children learn best when they can play with what they’ve learned, adolescents learn best when they can converse about what they’ve learned. Dopamine Adolescents release dopamine when they take a risk and double the release if they risk in front of their peers. Pleasure Seeking, Risk Taking Many neurologists are calling addictions “overlearning.” Seeking alleviation of stress, they overlearn the use of addictive substances or compulsive behaviors. https://www.amazon.ca/Teenage-Brain-Frances-E-Jensen/dp/1443406228/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484945120&sr=1-1&keywords=the+teenage+brain https://www.amazon.ca/Unbroken-Brain-Revolutionary-Understanding-Addiction/dp/1250055822/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484945152&sr=1-1&keywords=the+unbroken+brain
Limited Emotional Vocabulary Because the links between “what they feel” and “what they think” are only beginning to form, adolescents experience emotions at a heightened level. Don’t ask an adolescent “what” they feel or “why” they feel it. Instead help them identify and name the emotion they are displaying. Anti-Dependency Like children just after their grey matter has formed, a child in a healthy environment they will attempt to individuate. Most parents have a hard time seeing this as a healthy sign of development, but if a child does not experience parental consistency, they won’t be able to break away. I heard one parent say, “raising adolescents is like being bitten to death by ducks.” Basically, anti-dependency is emphatically stating, “I am not you and you are not me!” They are not “anti- -parent” you just happen to be present and tangible. Adolescents can experience the same need to individuate as they grow into their new bodies and brains. Some parents see this as threatening, and become more authoritarian (which only defiance). Others realize this is an important time to give their children more choices than directives. Inability to Delay Gratification Because adolescents are only beginning to form the connections between what they feel and think, delaying immediate gratification is difficult. This can be assisted through a process called “Scaffolding.” Helping young people identify a challenging goal and then pursue it. Youth In Care and Trauma For youth in care, trauma is almost a given, but PTSD is not. We’ll look at more about trauma later in this presentation. However, scaffolding also works with well with people who have experienced trauma. As young people pursue goals that are relevant and challenging to them, they gain more confidence in their ability to stabilize the world around them.
GROWING BEHAVIOR Increase Emotional Vocabulary No one, regardless of age, wants to be “fixed.” We rarely seek advice as much as we seek understanding. This is especially true of people who are adolescent or arrested in adolescent behaviors. Emotions are made even more intense because there is no way to identify them. One of the greatest gifts we can give a person in adolescence is to develop their emotional vocabulary. Their feelings are like a bursting suitcase full of unmentionables. Identifying the emotion, doesn’t take away the contents of the suitcase, it merely adds a handle so it is easier to bear. Erik Erikson once said “a child would rather talk about sex than have sex, unless forced to have sex, because there is no one safe to talk to.” The University of Washington’s C-STARS program tells us that “the higher a person’s emotional vocabulary, the lower their at-risk behavior. In the book, “How to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk,” the authors suggest a simple three-step process. Identify the emotion being displayed Encourage them to talk with a word or phrase, “uh huh…” Give them their wish in a fantasy. Work with a young person to identify the major emotions they experience then together find words that would describe that emotion at three levels. Mild, moderate and severe. For example, anger might be irritated, mad and furious. Then strategize about appropriate behaviors that might help with those emotions in a variety of settings. Model the Behavior you want to see, Compliment the behavior you want to grow. Create a no-sarcasm zone around young people. Sarcasm is a high cognitive skill and a young person doesn’t not have the “tools” to respond. What they learn is that it is all right to tear people down and since they don’t have the words, they’ll use their bodies. I’ve never been in a school that had a violence problem among children that didn’t also have a sarcasm problem among adults. Substitute sarcasm with specific compliments and become a master of them. Compliments that focus on intrinsic characteristics rather than extrinsic ones. For example, rather than saying, “you look pretty today,” say, “your smile and sparkling eyes really light up your face today!” Instead of saying, “you’re so smart,” say, “I know you worked hard on that test and it looks like it worked out, congratulations.” Attaching the compliment to the effort rather than a role, helps young people focus on what they control. Rather than saying, “You’re a great artist.” Say, I can see you worked hard on learning perspective and shadows on that painting.
Tasks of Adolescence Engagement The primary task with an adolescent is to engage her or him. If you don’t engage, you are automatically forced into an unequal relationship based upon power and compliance. Instead of beginning the relationship with rules, begin with a strengths-based narrative. Values-Based Decision Making We start by learning about an adolescent’s existing values and since we learn our values by who values us, we need to help narrate a healthy history of relationships in the person’s life. Also, since we grow our values by valuing others, we need to find out who those people are in our client’s lives. This will tell us about the client’s values. Ultimately, maturity is being able to weigh our actions against our values and move beyond situational ethics. We help all our young people create their own values card. “Working the card,” means getting up every morning and setting my values for the day. It also means an honest evaluation of self compared to their values at night. It also means sharing the card in an ever-growing circle. We grow our values when we defend them, beginning in easy places and working up to the hardest places. For most of our clients, the hardest place is at home. One prof I had said, “We always seek the approval of the parent least likely to give it and therein is the root of most of our dysfunction.” Transferring the approval we seek from our parents to self-appraisal of how WE are measuring up to our own values is a huge step towards maturity. Impulse Control Because adolescents are just beginning to form the connections between what they feel and what they think, they are prone to immediate gratification. They feel emotions intensely and respond immediately. In order to mature, they have to feel, think and then respond as opposed to feel, respond and then think. This is a learned behavior and it is learned through the scaffolding process we discussed earlier. Find a challenge that is relevant to the young person and help them pursue it. They don’t have to always succeed at it. In fact, if it is challenging they may not succeed—but this is critical to learning resilience. To not succeed in an environment of unconditional dignity produces grit. The emphasis of scaffolding is on “doing well,” not just “feeling good.” Confidence follows competence. Social Capital Poverty is not just a resource issue. The state fails at assisting the vulnerable when it’s primary focus is money. A person can network their way out of poverty, but it is a learned skill. Our jobs come mostly from our networks, not our families and who-you-know is just as important as what-you-know. Helping young people expand their own networks by becoming compelling (drawing people to yourself) is critical to their ability to self-advocate in the larger community or world.
Reasons for Arrested Development Trauma There is nothing more important to a healthy childhood or adolescence than consistency. Consistency is the bedrock that allows us to stand up and reach out. When that consistency doesn’t exist, we become fearful, vulnerable and insecure. It dislocates our ability to grow mentally, socially and even physically (considering the neurological impact of trauma). Trauma (and grief) shut down the cognitive thought process in a way that development is arrested until a person begins to recover. Recovery from trauma requires consistency. If a person cannot find that consistency in the world around them, they must create it in the world inside them. Very few people can do this solo. The Annie E. Casey Foundation tells us that children in care have twice the rate of PTSD as returning War Veterans. We can conclude that every child involved in our system and every person in our corrections system has experienced trauma. As mentioned before, trauma doesn’t always result in PTSD, with help (and consistency), trauma can lead to grit and resilience. But isolation and punitive/coercive techniques only exacerbate the problem and deepen to the trauma. It is like blaming a child for being abused. Unfortunately, many of the systems surrounding our children, youth and inmates excel at this approach. Inconsistent Role Models Another behavior that freezes people in their development is a lack of consistent role models. A lot of this behavior comes from a very misconstrued aspect of love. In a consumer culture, we often confuse love with performance-based approval. Performance-based approval means, I will give my approval as long as you do what I want, then withdraw approval when you aren’t doing what I want. This is not actually love, but manipulation—no matter how well-intentioned. Love is unconditional dignity, “I will always seek your dignity, despite your behavior.” This should not be confused with unconditional acceptance (which is simply permissiveness and leaves children feeling anxious and confused). When I seek someone’s dignity, there might be times I’m emphatic about discouraging behavior, but always affirming of dignity. “I will love you—even when you don’t.” Lack of Guidance Lack of Guidance is like inconsistent role modeling. It often occurs when the adults surrounding children or youth are clear about what NOT to do, but very vague about what to do. This is child-rearing by “not.” It is similar to watering weeds in your yard. You grow the very behavior you want to avoid. The best way to grow a person is to offer specific praise about behaviors that match shared values. It is the same in organizational behavior with the corporation or agency ever-being the child. You will grow what you compliment, not what you denigrate. Once again, this means that organizations surrounding developing people (children, youth and arrested adults) need to be rich in compliments and starve out sarcasm. For some people, this is extremely difficult because our consumer culture misinterprets sarcasm as wit and cynicism as wisdom. Sarcasm is the language of the helpless. Young people do not have the cognitive capacity to “get” sarcasm, it’s a win/lose scenario with the child losing every time. I would compare it to throwing a hardball at an armless person and calling it catch. Addictions/Compulsions Addictions and compulsions can keep a person from growing as well. For years, addictions have been looked upon as a disease resulting from weak character and treatments created from that misconception usually involved scorn and isolation—even imprisonment—resulting not in less addictions, but more. Then addiction was labeled a disease which somewhat lowered the stigma attached to it. Currently, most neurologists and addictions experts see addiction as a learning disorder—even as “overlearning.” The adolescent brain is extremely malleable, it seeks pleasure and the alleviation of stress. If a person turns to a substance or a compulsive behavior and it alleviates that stress during adolescence, it becomes deeply imbedded as a cognitive pathway eventually—as an emerging adult—it prunes the other pathways that don’t work as well. That is one of the reasons that addictive substances are so dangerous for the adolescent brain. A compulsion doesn’t have to involve an addictive substance; it can involve stress-relieving behaviors such as gaming or pornography. Yet, the compulsive behavior results in the release of dopamine and that’s what becomes addictive about compulsions. Addictions frequently involve compulsive patterns; going to the same geographic places, seeing the same people, following the same routines prior to obtaining the addictive substance. Often those compulsive behaviors can be more difficult to change than the desire for the chemical. Treatment fails when it focuses on substance prevention and doesn’t include behavior modification. Institutionalizing people may prevent them from obtaining the substance they are addicted to, but it doesn’t change the patterns they have around those obtaining those substances. pFAS, FAS, FASDs, ARND and Other Prenatal Alchohol Disorders Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Alcohol Related Neurodevelopment Disorder are multiple classifications of disorders resulting from PreNatal Alcohol Exposure. Such early exposure largely affects the Central Nervous System and can result in numerous physical, learning and behavioral disabilities. The behavioral disorders can largely be presented as oppositional and, because so many systems surrounding youth are based in compliance, these children can often be classified as non-compliant, or “bad.” Early diagnosis is essential to prevent this stigmatization of behavior and children often need advocates to support them in compliance-based systems who can recognize any developmental delays and have them addressed properly. We All Do What Works If a behavior works for us (relieves stress or adds pleasure), we repeat it until it becomes a way of living (a habit in a positive case, a compulsion if it is detrimental to well-being). Everyone is susceptible to arrested development if—during our adolescence—we stumble on behaviors that are compulsive and we don’t have help challenging, replacing or pruning those pathways.
Helping someone with arrested development Narrate a New Story To help someone grow out of arrested behaviors, we need to realize they are simply trapped in harmful behaviors that worked for them as adolescents. Often, the story is one of helplessness, being a victim and lack of adult consistency. If we listen well, we can help develop a new story that changes the “locus of control,” from external to internal. Think of it as listening to a person with a backpack of heavy rocks trying to journey up a long mountain. Listening to them is like sharing a campfire, they take out each rock (remember those rocks are behaviors that have given them comfort or pleasure) and painfully explain why they are holding on to that one. Our role isn’t to challenge their story, but to help them consider if that rock is still useful in their lives. The decision to let go of a rock must always be internal—if we want a person to switch from an external locus of control to an internal one. We cannot take away someone’s “rocks” and replace them externally without victimizing them further. The decision must be a personal and internal if it is to be healthy. From our part, it requires copious amounts of patience and humility. We must continually remind ourselves we are not anyone’s “savior,” we merely walk the path beside them. Treatment is something we do TO someone; healing is something we WITH someone. We can’t help someone heal if we do not respectfully share their story. Use Scaffolding Scaffolding helps a person identify a goal that is both relevant and challenging to her/him and assists them in pursuing that goal. If it isn’t relevant to them, they won’t put the hard effort into achieving it. The Gates Foundation has named the 3 new R’s of Education as Rigor, Relevance and Relationship. A person cannot maintain rigor without relevance, regardless of age, and I can only identify what is relevant to you if I have a relationship with you. Gone are the days we can teach without relevance, we can no longer say, “I don’t teach kids, I teach curriculum.” Nor can we create a case plan without the client’s engagement. Rigorous development in life (such as pruning compulsive behaviors) is impossible to sustain without the investment of the person making the changes. It is critical that all organizations surrounding vulnerable people from adolescents through adults—policing, corrections, education, social services—measure for client engagement. Organizations simply do not do what isn’t measured. Help Them Articulate Their Values Values-Based Decision Making is a must in helping someone move beyond adolescence or arrested development. If I’m not making decisions based upon my own values, then I am making decisions based upon what my peers think or whatever situation I’m in. Both Reginald Bibby at the University of Lethbridge and the Pew Research Forum tell us that over 80% of North American adults live by situational ethics. Situational ethics are not values, they are conveniences. Deciding my choices based upon circumstances undermines my locus of control. I will always be interpreting my behavior and/esteem based upon what other people think or how they act and I interpret their perceptions. However, Values Education is usually fails based on three falsehoods: We assume people know what a value is We assume everyone shares the values of the majority culture We TELL values rather than share values Everyone has values we learn from those who valued us. Having worked with hundreds of street youth and gang-engaged youth, I can say that even gangs have values. The key is helping a young person identify which of their relationships are manipulative and which of those values are pro-social leading to well-being and contribute to society. If a person has a tough time identifying values, offer them a glimpse at some time-tested values from their culture. The Tipi Values of the Four Directions are great examples from which people can pick values that matter to them. Help Them Identify Areas of Mastery “What do you want to be?” Can there be a more mundane question to ask someone who has had no control over their life and will be in a “consulting” economy, rather than a “career” economy? It is irrelevant. In a consumer culture, we have spent years defining our “being” by our “doing.” The result has been people who are burning out at occupations they get into and then can’t get out of for no other reason but finances. People wind up doing what they hate and living lives of misery. Do we want to pass that on to our next generation? Organizations like the Gallup, measure well-being, with profession and possessions as only one part of the mix. Instead, let’s ask our young people what they want to master, with career only being ONE of the areas. Our tools use 7 areas of life to identify mastery with career as only one. Even then, career means “Making a living at what I love to do.” People often have a series of jobs prior to building a career. Once we realize that burnout comes from doing too much of the SAME thing. We can help young people start their lives by seeking mastery in multiple areas. The principle of mastery begins with the paradigm, “I don’t care if you are THE best, but I do want you to always strive to do YOUR best.” It relies on open mindsets instead of closed ones, “Instead of seeking to be THE expert, seek to grow YOUR expertise.” It aims at increasing wonder even more than knowledge! To encourage the habit-of-awe in life. Help Them Build Social Capital To survive in today’s world economy, we need to raise a generation that is highly self-motivated and has the skills to connect themselves to the world. Entrepreneurs, not employees. Young people must learn to become compelling (to draw people to themselves). There are two keys to living a compelling life. Compelling people spend more time on their relationships than their tasks. Compelling people can ARTiculate their vision and build a network around it. Mitch Joel, in his book, “Six Pixels of Separation,” tells us that—in the Internet age—we are never more than six pixels away from anyone we want to reach. This is a takeoff from Marconi’s theory on long-distance radio transmissions, Six Degrees of Separation. While in our care, policing, education, corrections and social services must be helping young people learn how to be compelling and invite people into their network. If (when) they go back to their families—no matter how functional—they need a larger community than just family to expand their opportunities. This is even more true if the young person comes from a dysfunctional family. Every person goes home, we have a fantasy about family that calls us, it is especially poignant over holidays and birthdays. If a person goes home to a family of dysfunction, that fantasy is often devastating. Yet, we all run to this fantasy. We need to help people prepare for this brokenness by resourcing themselves to others who can be supportive when the family is not (self-advocating). One of the biggest steps to healing in our life is to forgive our parents for not being perfect. To say, “they did the best they could with what they knew.” All of this is part of narrating a new story, where our client is not the victim and the locus of control is internal. We truly are “co-narrating” the story with our people. It is a noble and hopeful profession to be invited on that walk with them.
Helping People Stuck in
Common Adolescent Behaviours1
– Incredible Brain Development
– Shortly after puberty to 20’s
– Great ability to learn (better “with”
– Pleasure from Risk, 2x Dopamine
with Peers Present
– The adolescent brain is a pleasure-
seeking, risk-taking organ
Common Adolescent Behaviours2
– Limited Emotional Vocabulary
– Inability to Delay Gratification
– Youth in Care: Trauma
Increase Emotional Vocabulary
Model the behaviour you want to
see, compliment the behaviour you
want to grow.
2. Values-Based Decision Making
3. Impulse Control
4. Social Capital
Reasons for Arrested Development
– Inconsistent Role Models
– Lack of Guidance
– pFAS, FAS, FASDs, ARND and other
Pre Natal alcohol exposure
– We ALL do what works…
Helping Someone with Arrested
– Narrate a new story (Start with
engagement, not rules)
– Use Scaffolding
1. Help them articulate their values
2. Help them identify areas of mastery
3. Help them build social capital
Dr. Jerry Goebel, MBA, D.Min.
– Regina, SK