What To Expect When You Are Expecting An Adolescent

This was the title of a talk that I went to Thursday evening at my children’s school. It was presented by Associate Professor Nicholas Allen from University of Melbourne. He is a clinical psychologist working in the Faculty of Medicine.

I am four or so years of expecting my first adolescent, but I found his talk illuminating and stimulating about the changes my children will go through and what my role needs to be through this challenging time.

To illustrate the challenges that adolescence brings with it, Allen introduced to the audience what he called “The Health Paradox of Adolescence”. During adolescence the body is at its most healthiest and resilient stage in it’s life, yet overall morbidity and mortality rates increase from childhood by over 200%. The primary causes for this are all based around issues of control of their behaviour and emotions (suicide, depression, violence, alcohol abuse etc).

Professor Allen listed the what we could expect in typical behaviour changes of our adolescents as follows:

  • Experimenting with development of their “own” identity.
  • Greater testing of rules and limits.
  • Increased focus on body image, appearance and clothes.
  • Increased concern on themselves, alternating between high expectations and poor self esteem.
  • Increased moodiness and spending time in their room.
  • Increased attention to and influence by friends.
  • Decreased amount of affection shown towards parents, including rudeness and irritability.
  • Elevated agitation because of increased difficulty in school work and friendships.
  • Realisation that parents are not perfect and identification of their faults.

Although this does sound all quite negative, Allen spoke positively of the reasons why this occurred and how it is a natural part of the maturation process into adulthood.

Allen then had this advice for what families could do:

  • Be supportive and consistent.

Allen noted that the main predictor of the successful transition through this period was whether the home environment provided conflict or warmth. Those adolescents coming from warm home environments do much better than those with conflict.

  • Parents still need to help teens make decisions, but in a different way.
  • Moving from a more directional style of parenting to more collaboration and advisory capacity.
  • Be honest and direct about difficult issues. (Alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex, depression, suicide)
  • Promote family time.
  • Get to know your teens friends. Insist if you have to.
  • Most importantly, develop a relationship that promotes your teenagers talking to you.


  • acceptance is more important than providing direction.
  • Pick your battles.

I found these practical steps very a great guide future navigation of the turbulent waters of adolescence, but it was his last slide that I want to make sure that I remember:

  • Remember to ENJOY your adolescent.

Allen noted that adolescents can remind parents that there is new things to explore, some risks to be taken and that life doesn’t have to be the same all the time. So this period provides opportunities to find some new things to do together with your adolescent.

Allen then went on further after this to talk about a characteristic of families that I very much needed to reminded of:

A happy family will have a 5:1 ratio of positive statements to negative statements.

My contribution to this ratio needs to be improved at the moment. I remember hearing about this ratio a few years ago and trying to work with it, but have definitely fallen short with it of late. The great thing about this ratio when it is put into practice, is that it means when that one negative statement is said, it has much greater impact because it is less frequent. It is far easier to ignore the “you need to do this” or “stop doing that” if there has been a constant flow of them.

I can also see how creating the positive family base with the positive statement ratio, will be incredibly helpful when we hit the challenging period of adolescence.

Professor Allen took many questions and answered them with both theory and practical solutions. I very much appreciated him taking the time out to speak at the school and am sure that I will be re-reading this post in a few years time, looking for tips on how to deal with my gorgeous adolescent!

Have you experienced adolescence yet in your house and if so, is it as tricky as it sounds?