Counselor: Teens need identity


— The question on the minds of parents everywhere is "What is it about American society that leads children to bring lethal violence into their own schools?"

Carla Portigal, a licensed clinical social worker at Steamboat Mental Health, said she doesn't have all the answers, but she has a few thoughts on the matter.

Carla Portigal, a licensed clinical social worker with Steamboat Mental Health, said there are certain kinds of behavior that may indicate an adolescent child is struggling with feelings of isolation or depression. But the signs may not be of serious concern unless two or more of them are evident. All of the signs may be tied into depression. Those signs include: Kids who tend to isolate themselves from others Youngsters who are saying things about their own depression or anger Drastically changing behaviors for example, refraining from activities that they may have previously enjoyed Young people who draw disturbing pictures

Portigal, whose agency sees children who feel depressed and isolated "all the time," said she believes the scattering of extended families in modern society has something to do with the disaffection of youth. By necessity, she said, adolescents begin pulling away from their parents it's an important part of growing up and forming one's own identity. Psychologists call it "individualization."

"Parents stop being a resource" to a great degree in that stage of an adolescent's life, and that's why other adults become so important in a young person's life. Grandparents, aunts and uncles can play a key role, but only if they're around. Too often, in modern America, they are not, Portigal said.

Other cultures have evolved elaborate rituals to handle this phase of life, Portigal said. In America, many parents are struggling so mightily with their own unformed identities, they don't have time to care for their emerging adult children.

"There are some parents who don't get that," Portigal said. "Some parents are too busy in their own lives. There are parents who haven't grown up themselves. They can't resolve their own identities, so how are they going to help their children?"

Adolescents have identity issues; they have a need to express themselves and they have a lot of confusion they don't know how to manage, Portigal said.

One institution our society provides for young people to receive guidance from adults other than their parents, Portigal observed, is organized sports.

"The Partners program in our community is such a gift," Portigal said, because it provides adults to give kids guidance.

In addition, Steamboat Mental Health is offering three free sessions of counseling for youngsters through the middle schools and high schools in Steamboat, Hayden and south Routt.


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