Activity: Understanding Adolescence

girl looking upset
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Author: Michael Britt

We all remember how tough it was going through our teen years – it was rough. And it’s hard to watch someone else go through it as well. The problems (and possible solutions) are well detailed in this article, “Parenting Teens: Silver Linings from the Battlefield“.

Why Are The Adolescent Years So Difficult?

We know this:

  • Emotions are intense: teen emotions run high (intense love and experiences of pleasure as well as intense anger) in part because the brain’s release of dopamine at this age creates these intense feelings.
  • Frontal Lobe isn’t fully developed: as adults (25 and older), our frontal lobes have developed sufficiently enough that we can now, finally, exercise some control over our emotions.  Teens haven’t yet developed this ability.
  • Desire for independence is very strong: teens want to define themselves, to “strike out and make a mark”.  It’s admirable, but the truth of course, is that they haven’t yet experienced real life. And by “real life” we mean the mundane but necessary responsibilities like:
    • Getting a job – and at this age, it’s probably not a very fun job, and sticking with it day after day
    • Paying significant bills (e.g., car loans) on a regularly basis
    • Putting money aside for dull stuff like paying for gas or for the laundromat.
  • They Actively Reject Us: they want to believe that we parents are out of touch, that things are very different now.  Some things are different of course (the technology all around us for example), but the dull stuff listed above hasn’t changed.

Raging Against the Machine

Parents have to watch as their teens struggle.  No lecture will do the trick at this age.  We can’t give them the experiences listed above and no lecture about it could have a significant impact.  It’s so hard for everyone to experience.

This is where the musical The Fantasticks comes in.  It’s a show about two teenagers who fall in – and then out – of love.  One of the key points made by the narrator of the show is this:

There is a curious paradox that no one can explain. Who understands the secret of the reaping of the grain? Who understands why spring is born out of winter’s laboring pain, or why we must all die a bit before we grow again? I do not know the answer; I merely know it’s true. 

The reference to “die a bit” refers to the unrealistic, naive, intense feelings of the adolescent that must “die” a bit before they can become adults.


Activity: Letter to Your Adolescent Child

Class Time: 30-45 minutes


  • Divide the class into groups of four to six students
  • Share the prompt below


Puberty is a time of rapid physical, social, and emotional change. Many adolescents are not prepared for these changes, which makes the changes even more difficult to cope with. How would you explain these changes to your child in a letter?

Frame the letters in such a way that your children will have a positive attitude toward the changes they are about to experience.

When the letters are completed, each group will be asked to share its letters with another group, and the students from the other groups will be asked to comment on what they liked about each group’s letters such as content, phrasing, degree of positiveness, and so forth.