Senior Director of East Coast Clinical Programming Melissa Coffin, PhD, CEDS will be sharing about the seven key developmental needs for adolescents throughout a blog series. In her writing, Dr. McLain explains the first key, self-definition, and how Clementine supports the adolescent throughout her recovery journey in learning and defining her sense of self.
Adolescence has been referred to as a period of “storm and strife”. However, at Clementine, we would prefer it to be one of growth and perspective. Within that, we understand that there are key developmental needs that are extremely important to be mindful of, and sensitive to, during this pivotal period. In fact, the Center for Early Adolescence has defined these needs as the following: Self-Definition, Meaningful Participation, Competence, Creative Expression, Physical Activity, Social Interactions and Structure. To clarify how Clementine programs meet these seven needs I’ll be doing a series of blog posts on each one. We’ll start today with self-definition.
One of the seven essential developmental needs of an adolescent is that of “self-definition”. Well that makes sense, doesn’t it? As we know, adolescents are working hard to observe the world and their place in it. Throughout adolescence they have an ever-emerging understanding of their individual identity. Whether or not an adolescent has an eating disorder, we must acknowledge that this process goes hand in hand with puberty- which means an adolescent is getting to know their “self” just as their body is changing in new and unknown ways.
When an eating disorder is present in adolescence this process of self-definition becomes even more challenging. An eating disorder can quickly become the strongest “identity” for a teen. It may be more comfortable to be known as the “thinnest person in the room” rather than the complex parts that make up their self. Many of our teens discuss how scary it can be to move away from their eating disorder when it has played a central role in their identity.
However, the advantage of adolescence is that it is also a time of great flexibility. We have seen so many adolescents come to Clementine and work hard to redefine their fledgling sense of self. The true gift of recovery is a new self-identity free from the eating disorder. When a teen can understand and embrace their “healthy self”, it allows them to also develop hope and excitement for their future and what their new identity, and new body, will provide for them along the way.