Through fifteen riveting case studies, a leading figure in adolescent psychiatry offers a provocative new way of thinking about parenting teens.
Adolescents, pains though they are, still need someone to stand up for them, and Ponton, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating troubled teens, may be the best news that teenagers have had lately. In her first solo book, she argues that what is commonly accepted as "acting out" should be understood as risk-taking, and that it isn't all bad. Admitting that adolescent risks range from disastrous to functional, she writes "risk-taking is the major tool that adolescents use to shape their identities." The book challenges cultural assumptions about adolescent development dating from early this century. Surprisingly, in tracing growth of the doctrine that adolescence is automatically full of turmoil, she doesn't comment on the fact that before the 20th century this developmental period simply didn't exist, which would have strengthened her point that teen troubles aren't predetermined and unavoidable. The heart of her book is a series of case studies culled from 15 years of work with teens. She has taken on the hard cases: anorexics, alcoholics, "cutters" who practice self-mutilation, and sexual risk-takers among them. The cases, even well disguised for privacy and full of created conversations, show the author's compassion as a therapist and her passion as a writer. In explaining why teens take risks, she manages to shift the approach to adolescent development from destructive to constructive. Teens aren't the only winners in this presentation. Parents who anguish over the plight of present-day adolescents will gain hope that they aren't raising a different species after all. (Sept.)