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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

An Unnerving Teenage Behavior

A behavior that parents find disheartening is their teenager's tendency to form rapid judgments about friends. Quickly deciding if a friend is "good" or "bad" and, if the latter, instantly removing them from their phone and online "friend" status.

 

Yet this behavior is analogous to that of infants who relate to their mother in black/white terms, whether or not she satisfies their momentary need. Only after maturing can a child relate to others in terms of shades of gray, understanding that one can possess both good and bad characteristics.

 

Similarly, the teenager whose personality is slowly developing into their fixed adult structure, requires maturing to accomplish this anew, and some with emotional difficulties never do.

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Confronting Adolescent Evil

The recent attacks by bicycle riding teenagers on two cars in mid-town Manhattan, a taxi driver (causing him thousands of dollars in damage) and another containing a terrorized family, were shocking but unsurprising during these days when society's expectation of personal responsibility has diminished. Yet even more surprising was mere official call for "consequences," and a victim's hope that the perpetrators aren't jailed.

 

The psychological capacities enabling a person to distinguish reality from fantasy, modulate mood, develop a secure identity or "sense of self," and to control their behavior and thinking develop within the first three years of life. For their healthy growth a "good-enough" parenting is required which some lack, this reducing their likelihood of successfully achieving adolescent goals (to provisionally separate from parents; to construct realistic educational and vocational goals; to explore intimacy through dating). This failure produces frustration and anger and, in some youth, acting-out behavior though only rarely like these teenagers which, according to local shopkeepers, was not their first outrage.

 

As has long been known, exemplary adults can arise from the most impoverished families since it is parenting that counts. The famed, recently deceased, Black economist, Walter E, Williams, credited his achievements to having had a demanding mother and teachers "who didn't give a damn about my self-esteem." His mother must have taught him values too.


No matter how greatly distressed, destructive behavior should not be engaged in and cannot be tolerated. All, including parents who do their best, are the product of an imperfect childhood and will make mistakes though some are inexcusable.


A school's structure and rules enable psychologically damaged youth to function better, and society relies on the police and law to do this in the larger society. Yet regardless of personal inadequacies, evil cannot be tolerated and must be condemned and punished since no desirable society can exist which lacks this.

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On The Kavanaugh Hearing, Memory, and Adolescent Development

While concerned with some political issues, I try to ignore the froth. I have several times recommended (without effect) that it would benefit psychologists if our professional organization moved its headquarters to a less insular setting than Washington, D.C. Despite this, I was captivated by the Kavanaugh Hearing for it raised questions in  Read More 
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The Fallacy of the "Healthy Troubled" Adolescent

Parents and others often consider adolescence to normally be a period of strife. They believe that all teenagers have personal difficulties and will behave in odd, inexplicable ways but this is false.

The normal teenager has no greater difficulty coping with the tasks of adolescence than they did with the demands of earlier developmental periods. Then it  Read More 
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