Why not opposition in adolescence, who really has a problem with it?

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In my welcome post, I painted a picture of the need to see oppositionality in adolescence as a normal part of development. Oppositionality is one of the ways in which adolescents come into their own. It aids them in developing a separate sense of self, purpose, and identity, as well as valuing connections and interdependence, and it equips adolescents to transition into a healthy, productive, responsible, and satisfying adulthood.

I argue for the need to see opposition on a continuum in adolescence rather than in all-or-nothing terms. The predominant focus on oppositional behaviors and attitudes is often through the lens of oppositional defiant disorder, as defined in the DSM-V.

Oppositional defiant disorder is a disorder that most research frames as the precondition to conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder. A clear line between oppositionality and opposition defiant disorder must be drawn, but, to do this, opposition in adolescence must be seen as a quality of adolescence that must be embraced, guided, and developed by adults, caregivers, and institutions of authority that are in relationship with and serving adolescents. It is not a cancer that must be eradicated in the adolescent or in the relationship between the adolescent and his or her adult caregivers.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the simple definition of opposition is “actions or opinions that show you disagree with or disapprove of someone or something.” The synonyms are “defiance and resistance” and some related words are “objection, disobedience, reservations, protest, and misgivings.” Some of the near antonyms are “acceptance, compliance, approval and obedience.”

Now, when I ponder this definition of opposition with its synonyms, related words and near antonyms, words like struggle, conflict, liberation, and power come to mind. As I continue to meditate, my mind goes in different directions. I wonder from a child’s mind what does opposition mean? What does it mean for a teacher? A single parent? A prisoner? Pastor? Police officer? Victim of sexual or physical abuse? When I pair the words with a person, I see that it could characterize the person and/or describe their actions, position, or point of view, but I need more information. I still don’t know if opposition is a good or bad thing.

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As a clinical social worker, I embrace the strength-based perspective, and I esteem highly the values outlined in our NASW Code of Ethics. One of our organizing values is social justice. According to the NASW Code of Ethics, social workers are charged with fighting social injustices and advocating with and on behalf of our clients.

Advocating is another word that could be related to opposition.

For me, it entails having reservations, objecting, resisting, disapproving, and much more… Now, I am thinking, could opposition be good or bad depending on its purpose and goal? I am seeing opposition as a function or means to an end. What is missing? The context or experiences.

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In my in-community practice, I receive many referrals from case managers, child protection workers, and caregivers seeking my services for the adolescent in their lives. The adults describe the adolescent according to their behaviors and attitude. Their descriptions always have a negative connotation that is assigned to the behaviors and attitude of the adolescent. I firmly believe that whether a behavior is defined as good or bad, constructive and purposeful or useless and disruptive, depends on the context, or the environment, relationships, and power structures. I am always given the adult’s point of view of the problem and who has the problem. I wonder what the adolescent would say if he or she was making the initial call or whether they would even call at all.

In my next post, we will continue the discussion on opposition in adolescence by focusing on who really has a problem with it. I would like to hear from you. What comes to your mind when you read the definition of opposition with its related words, synonyms, and near antonyms listed above? What’s your take on opposition and adolescence?

 

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