Thoughts on Adolescence from Dr. Emil Jackson

We thought we would share some notes with you from Doctor Emil Jackson’s, Director of Children’s Services at the Tavistock Clinic, talk on adolescence at the Institute of Education last Friday

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Welcome to a new week everyone! We thought we would share some notes with you from Doctor Emil Jackson’s, Director of Children’s Services at the Tavistock Clinic, talk on adolescence at the Institute of Education last Friday :)

Dr. Jackson spoke both compellingly and compassionately about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager in today’s rapidly-changing world. He highlighted the following points in particular which are relevant to our work as yoga practitioners working with this population:

• The developmental tasks of adolescence include self-identity, self-concept, independence, taking responsibilities for decisions, tolerating disapproval (in order to be ourselves), emotional regulation, managing and re-negotiating relationships; family relationships, peer relationships, sexual relationships, self-care/self-help, managing change and anxiety, adjusting to being in a sexual (adult) body, control over impulses, developing autonomy. Rather a lot!

• Adolescence is the prime time in life for experiencing feelings of shame.

• Puberty is now arriving much earlier for many children. Some children are very ill-prepared to occupy an adult body. This can particularly be the case if reaching puberty early. This can affect both interoceptive awareness and a sense of embodiment.

• It is common for adolescents to progress developmentally and then regress; due to an acute continued need of protection and support despite the desire for autonomy.

• The rate at which states of mind change is at its fastest in early adolescence.

• There is a natural instinct/interest for testing boundaries in adolescence. Teenagers often wonder what needs to be done in order to reach/overstep a boundary. They also have a propensity for ‘testing’ these boundaries out with their own bodies.

• Triggers of self-harm and suicidality in adolescents include hopelessness, isolation, depression, angry feelings, guilty feelings, terror of going mad, generating feelings when numb or disconnected, idea that the action will rid or ‘free’ one from one’s problems, potential blind spots (there can be lack of alignment: maybe things externally are getting better but the young person doesn’t feel better internally. The may wonder – am I going to feel this way forever?)

• Excessive reassurance can be unhelpful at this stage of life. Teenagers want their misery to be understood. It can paradoxically be more reassuring to have their feelings validated and reflected back to them. Not rescuing them can be more containing – can lead to them feeling more understood.

• It is important as professionals working with teenagers and young people not to underestimate the protective impact of simply conveying our concerns. Simply saying that we have noticed that the young person seems sad and distressed can make a huge difference to the trajectory of their lives.

We hope these pointers from Doctor Emil Jackson are useful to you and to your work. Have a very wonderful week!

Heather Mason

Founder of the Minded Institute, The Minded Institute

Heather Mason is a leader in the field of mind-body therapy and the founder of Yoga Therapy for the Mind. She develops innovative methods for mental health treatment drawing on her robust educational background including an MA in Psychotherapy, an MA in Buddhist Studies, studies in Neuroscience and a current MSc in Medical Physiology.. She is also a 500 RYT, a yoga therapist and an MBCT facilitator. Heather offers various professional trainings for yoga teachers, healthcare professionals and therapists, lectures around the world, and delivers training to medical students. She also develops protocols for different client populations by translating cutting edge research from the psycho-biology and neuro-biology of stress into yoga practices, breathwork, mindfulness interventions and therapeutic holding. Further she is involved in research on the efficacy of these practices, holds the annual UK yoga therapy conference and is blazing the trail for the integration of yoga therapy into the NHS