The Meaning of Adolescence

From An Expert’s Perspective: The Teen’s Psyche

by Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, Consultant Paediatrician & Paediatric Cardiologist

Adolescence – that phase in life when your bundle of joy is no longer a child, and yet have not quite reached adulthood. It is a time when he or she is grappling with many developmental changes – physical, emotional, physiological and intellectual, all happening at the same time. According to the experts there are three phases of adolescence – early adolescence from the ages of 11 to 14; middle adolescence from ages 15 to 17 and late adolescence spanning ages 18 to 21. Every individual goes through these phases at their own time and pace, so there are no stereotypical patterns.

Your child will experience the high of graduating from being classified as a child to officially becoming a teenager. But while they are still figuring out what is happening to their mind and body and adjusting to the changes happening inside them, the world goes on regardless. A teen’s wish?; that the world would stop for even the minutest moment and let them catch up. As parents, the best you can do is to breathe in and try to take it in, one step at a time.

There are times during adolescence when your teen will feel good about themselves as they gain a new confidence in their ability to think and act rationally and have people around them treat them differently. But there are other times when they feel like they are doing everything wrong, and feelings of inadequacy and sensitivity that they never knew existed begin to surface.

From A Teen’s Perspective: Identity Crisis

by Zaim Zhafri

Overnight, it seems as if your relationship with your parents has changed. They now have expectations of you to behave like an adult and to aim for a secure future. You are expected to have ambitions for a wellpaying future career and to begin working towards those grades to land you a place in a prestigious university. The nature of extended university education in modern times means that young adults are dependent on their parents up to their early twenties. Financial dependency can further exacerbate clashes of opinion about lifestyle and future ambitions. All these pressures while you are still figuring out what you want to be when you grow up!

If only parents and teachers understood that you are too confused to know what you want out of life. That you are still figuring out who you are and what is your place in this world. You wish you could tell them to give you time to think for yourself and not rush you or make decisions for you. Would it not be better if they could let you explore different options and let you tell them when you are ready to decide?

Trust and Freedom

On the one hand, parents want you to be responsible like an adult and take on adult responsibilities. You are expected to take on household chores or take care of younger siblings – they call it pulling your weight around the house. On the other hand, you are not old enough to be trusted with freedom. Sure, you don’t mind the curfews and conditions they set as long as they are reasonable. And of course in a spurt of independence there may be times when inadvertently test the boundaries of that freedom. Of course you are aware that it takes only one reckless action to lose their trust. Parents need to have implicit trust in you and have confidence that you will not forget the values they have instilled in you. So, gaining and keeping trust is definitely a key milestone in the parent-adolescent relationship and the pendulum can swing back and forth until you find the right balance. Hopefully you come to a happy compromise without too many arguments, temper tantrums and rebellion!


Friends increasingly become a constant and nonnegotiable presence in the worldview of adolescents. Being part of a peer group helps adolescents to form their identity, explore their growing personality, build character, combat loneliness and experiment with crazy adventures. Friends provide all that important sense of belonging. Parents should not resent the excessive amount of time spent in the company of peers and the preference and importance given to friends. It should not be seen as making a choice over the company of parents or family time. In fact, at this stage of their life, adolescents will not want to be seen in the company of their parents and will reject invitations to events their parents are attending as boring. This should not be misunderstood to mean that adolescents are shunning their parents or shutting them out. This is just another manifestation of independence and wanting time away from parental control, supervision and adult company. There will still be family times together so there is really no need to be resentful of time spent with friends. Teenagers will have plenty to share with friends that they would never tell their parents and this is something parents should accept however grudgingly!


Parents and adolescents have different privacy settings. Parents want to get into your mind and your life and know everything that is going on with you. They want to know who you are speaking to; what you are talking about on the phone for hours; they want to limit your internet time; they want you to tell them everything you are feeling! This was fine before but now that you are older, you begin to treasure some quiet alone time with yourself or your friends and want to be left to your own devices. You want your parents to accept that you are an individual with your own needs, likes and dislikes and not merely an extension of them. They need to respect your privacy just as much as they keep you outside the boundaries of their adult world. They should be confident that if there is anything you want to share with them you will do so. Or if there is anything important happening in your life or you are in serious trouble, you will tell them and seek their advice. Parents can always sense when something is not right as surely there will be warning signs like anxiety, depression, over reaction or behaviour that is out of character. They can use these signals to initiate a timeout to listen to your problems and help to iron them out.

A Place Called Home

Adolescents will not stray far from home as long as they know and feel that it is their safe haven. Parents need to ensure that there will be love and security for their adolescents to come home to. There will be no judgement and there will be no finger pointing when things go wrong as they are bound to when adolescents are experimenting and exploring their new found freedom. After all, even parents were adolescents once and would have had the same experiences whether it is trying out cigarette smoking and choking, drinking alcohol for the first time and getting drunk, going on a romantic date, crashing the car, getting a ticket for speeding, skipping classes, staying out till the wee hours of the morning, blasting rock music till all the neighbours complain, and all the other mischief that young people get up to as their rite of passage to adulthood!

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