The Wonderful Dangerous Path of Adolescence

Just when you thought you figured it out, everything changes!

One of the profound wonders I get to witness everyday is the way children transform throughout their lives.  Preparing parents and children for these changes can help them navigate the deep mysteries of growing up.  Nowhere is this more important than in the dramatic transitions through adolescence. Chinese medicine gives us a special lens through which we can support our children and discover the hidden significance of these changes.

The Taoist phrase, bianhua, 變化(transition and transformation), often used to describe things transforming from one type to another – such as a caterpillar to a butterfly – captures the spirit of adolescence that can cause fear and confusion for children and parents living through it.

Bian – meaning “transition” – is the pause that permits a kind of necessary chaos that will shake things up in order for transformation and maturation into adulthood to take place.  One minute our child wants a hug, the next minute she doesn’t want to be seen in public with us. The pictogram above of hua – “transformation” – shows a person flipping upside down, demonstrating perfectly the topsy-turvy quality of adolescence.

The first step in preparing to help your child move through the stages of adolescence is to embrace the spirit of change yourself. We are all creatures of habit, and as parents we may sometimes fall into ruts of parenting that assume our children are always going to do things the way we taught them.

Remember, growing up is an experiment with life.  Parenting is a spiritual practice that begins right in the middle of your life. When we take the time to notice the subtle changes in our child with an open heart, we become role models that can guide her through the stages of adolescence naturally and safely without embarrassment or shame.

By Dr. Stephen Cowan, MD, FAAP.

Dr. Cowan is a board-certified pediatrician and certified medical acupuncturist with more than 20 years of clinical experience working with children. We’d like to thank him for his contributions to and support of TCM World Foundation as we continue to educate the public about mind-body-spirit medicine. For more info on Dr. Cowan, please visit his website at