Supporting Adolescents

The time of adolescence is one of profound and dramatic physiological changes. A critical question that young people may be asking themselves is, “Who am I?” Key aspects of this developmental stage include (1):

  • An increased sense of self and autonomy from family
  • Physical and mood changes brought on by puberty
  • Increased peer group influence and desire for acceptance
  • Possible onset of dating, raising issues of sexuality, intimacy, and the need for relationship skills

Adolescence presents a developmental opportunity when the brain goes through significant remodeling. Adolescents need healthy and caring adults in their lives to provide a supportive enriched environment that optimizes this important window of opportunity. Click here to access a handout on the Amazing Adolescent Brain (2).

Being an adolescent can be difficult. But for adolescents who live in a house with intimate partner violence, this time of life can feel especially overwhelming and challenging. In addition, relationships within an adolescents’ family may be strained to a breaking point. During this important developmental period, adolescents living in homes with intimate partner violence may not be getting the stability and guidance they need (3). 

Children and youth living with intimate partner violence may work to keep their home life a secret. This may present a unique challenge for young people in adolescence trying to fit in with their peers when their friends ask questions like, “Why wasn’t your dad at your baseball game?” “Is your mom coming to the school play today?” “Why don’t we ever hang out at your house?” They may feel too embarrassed to answer truthfully to these questions.

Young people may also find it hard to learn to trust in their relationships or may end up repeating patterns of abusive behavior, either as a person abusing or being abused in an intimate partner relationship.

Click here to learn more about the potential impact of violence on adolescents.

What to pay attention to

  • They may feel caught in-between the abuse.
  • They may find it confusing to understand the dynamics of abuse in their home.
  • Some may want to tell their parents how they feel about what is happening.
  • They may act out with harmful behavior.
  • They may also withdraw or internalize the impact of the abuse that is happening.

What youth need

  • Find ways to connect with them.
  • Acknowledge how they are feeling about the situation.
  • Find out how they feel. Ask open-ended questions beginning with, “What do you think about……?”
  • Be willing to listen.

Keep in mind that adolescents may experience or select coping strategies and responses that may not be seen as healthy or very effective, but can also be a source of resilience and search for health. We will explore this in the next module on resilience and thriving.

Visit Multiplying Connections to access more training and tools about the impact of exposure to violence and working with adolescents (4). 

Sources

  1. Cunningham, Alison & Baker, Linda. (2011) The Adolescent’s Experience of Intimate Partner Violence and Implications for Intervention. in Graham-Bermann, Sandra & Levendosky, Alytia (Editors) How Intimate Partner Violence Affects Children. 
  2. Chamberlain, Linda. The Amazing Adolescent Brain: What Every Educator, Youth Serving Professional, and Health Care Provider Needs to Know. 
  3. Goldenblatt, H. (2003). Strategies of coping among adolescents experiencing interparental violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 532-552. 
  4. Multiplying Connections - http://www.multiplyingconnections.org/become-trauma-informed/amazing-brain-series