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Raising Successful Adolescents


In 2002, Dr. Gary Tyson, an adolescent psychologist working at SMA Healthcare’s Residential Adolescent Program (RAP), died of bone marrow cancer.  Before his death, Dr. Tyson transformed this program at SMA by modifying the phase system and overseeing the clinical operation of it.  He was awarded the Adolescent Services Leadership Award posthumously in December 2002 for outstanding leadership, performance, and commitment to SMA’s mission at the time.  His training on “Successful Adolescents” back then still holds true today, and here are a few key components of his teaching:

Successful adolescents will individuate, but not separate from their family of origin — they have a sense of “roots” as it relates to their family.  They will develop their own sense of a unique identity, not just being what others are or want them to be.  Successful adolescents will get opportunities to be genuinely useful to others, and will learn to develop a sense of limits, knowing what they can and can’t do without pushing those limits in extreme ways. Adolescents who get into trouble are often pushing these limits.  Successful adolescents will find and nurture positive role models and will also often identify with something larger than themselves.

“Healthy families” raise healthy adolescents.  Healthy families will have many, but not necessarily all, of the following: a balance between 1) protection and challenge and 2) structure and affection. They must be able to demonstrate both of these competing values in a measured, balanced way.  Too much of one and not enough of the other can cause families to become unhealthy.  Low-key parents tend to hear more than loud, boisterous ones.  Being able to listen and understand an adolescent perspective is important, and that leads to the next important factor:  Respect.  Healthy families understand respect is bi-directional.  You get respect by giving respect.  Finally, when in trouble, healthy families seek professional help.

To help develop successful adolescents, it is important for healthy families to teach important coping skills.  These include, but are not limited to:  “centering” or self-calming strategies which can include meditation, relaxation exercises, or appreciating/engaging with nature; separating thoughts from feelings, because the thoughts are what we can control and help regulate our emotions; managing pain/moderating emotionality, so adolescents don’t overreact to situations; defining their own criteria for relationships for true understanding instead of what peers or parents tell them; and, developing an ability to “time travel” — remember the past but be able to project to the future.  Finally, it is important to develop a sense of altruism, which is defined as “an act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to one’s self.” By doing so, it helps prevent one from being self-centered and able to positively interact with others.

Adolescents and families learned a lot from Dr. Gary Tyson in the course of his career as an adolescent psychologist.  Sometimes a reminder of what he taught can help us be healthier today and also serve as a way of honoring how Dr. Tyson helped so many while he was here.

*If you or someone you know, ages 25 or under, is experiencing a crisis, we are here to help. Our 24/7 Crisis Response Team is available to talk to you or respond in person to crisis calls in Volusia and Flagler counties. Call anytime at 800-539-4228.