By far, Teenage is the most turbulent period in the life of an individual. Most of us wish we could blot out the memory of those awkward years; of asocial and sometimes cantankerous behaviour; of the hurt and bewilderment caused to our parents.
The transition period, when one is neither a child nor a fully grown adult, can be frightening to the teenager and the people closest to him. Overnight, parents, teachers and those in authority, are looked upon as enemies. Conversations become monosyllabic. Closed doors eloquently demand privacy. Weird dressing becomes fashionable. Parents are bewildered by this stranger in their midst.
Yet there is consolation that Teenage behaviour is merely a passing phase, a milestone on the road to maturity. A better understanding of what it involves will save parents a lot of heartache. It should not be confused with Juvenile Delinquency which is criminal or antisocial activity committed by young people, who probably suffer from some personality disorder or who grow up in a pathological family atmosphere.
Teenagers demand a measure of freedom, yet want the security that a home provides. They want to be treated like adults even though they have not yet developed skills in basic human relations, and often end up angry with themselves and those who expose their naiveté. ‘Nobody listens to me and nobody cares’ is the feeling that plays on their minds and makes them reclusive. Sometimes they seek security in peer groups and identify with the members in dress and behaviour.
Why do teenagers behave as they do?
o The changing body, the sudden growth spurt, sex specific changes gives them a feeling of being totally out of control. Daniel W.A says ‘An adolescent is like a house on moving day.’ Obesity or Acne may add to their distress. They imagine that they are being persecuted.
o Adolescent brains are still in the process of development. By extensive studies on the brain, scientists have come to the conclusion that the development of the brain between the ages of 10- 25 years is crucial. Here again, uniform development does not take place, and different parts develop at different times. Though by the age of seven, the size of the brain is that of the adult, the grey matter which controls executive functions, develops slowly in adolescence. The prefrontal cortex which is responsible for coordinating functions of judgement, reasoning, emotions and behaviour, is the last to mature. As a result, adolescents find it difficult to make sound choices. They act hastily without considering the consequences. They jump to wrong conclusions, and take offence at innocuous comments made by parents or other adults. In short, they are unable to get a grip over their emotions.
o The other disturbing behaviour is the alteration of teenage sleeping patterns. They like to sleep late into the morning, and are reluctant to get out of bed. Parents understand this as a form of rebellion and brand them lazy and uncooperative. The change in sleep patterns is important because while they sleep, hormones of growth and sexual maturation are released into the blood stream. The circadian rhythm of the brain is altered to facilitate this process. Adolescents are therefore late risers. They perk up by evening and are wide awake when others want to sleep. They think nothing of turning up their music systems at night, or sitting at their computers till the wee hours. Parents who are aware of this change will encourage their teens to slow down their activities by evening, avoid stimulants like caffeine, and restrict their use of the Internet at night.
Inside the brain is a ring shaped area called the limbic area which generates primal emotions of fear, anger and rage. The prefrontal area is what keeps the emotions under control. But as it is not fully developed in adolescence, the limbic area asserts itself. This is why teenagers behave impulsively. Sex hormones acting on the limbic area increase aggressiveness and irritability. The secretion of serotonin falls.
As David Elkin the psychologist says, “Teenagers believe in their own personal fable – Nothing will happen to me. It only happens to others.”
Parents and teachers will be more tolerant of unsocial or rude behaviour if they are aware of these physiological changes.
Ways in which Teens show their independence:-
1. They cultivate unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking or experimenting with drugs because they are incapable of making sound judgements or fail to assess the damage that these habits can cause. Instant gratification is all that matters. Peer pressure goads them on.
2. They are more prone to accidents as they indulge in drunken driving, speeding, drag racing and distraction on the roads. Death, suicide, homicide rates are higher among teenagers.
3. Anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and substance abuse may develop in adolescence. The sooner treatment is started, the better the chance of recovery.
4. Girls like to behave like tom boys. Or they may suddenly become conscious of their sexual power. They go in for beauty aids and weird fashions. Or they may develop anorexia nervosa with the idea of keeping their bodies “willow like.”
5. Because sex hormones are overactive, they fall into love traps. Rape, eve teasing, pregnancies or sexually transmitted disease may land them in serious trouble. Possessiveness in boys may lead to controlling behaviour or even violence against girl friends. Free mixing with the opposite sex, exposure to uncensored mass media, lack of sex education or even a permissive family atmosphere will drive them into experimentation. In the West, 40% of girls in the age group of 13-15 years are not virgins, 15-20% are addicted to porn, and teenage pregnancies are on the rise like never before.
6. Teens have a low frustration level. They are governed by the pleasure principle, and look for instant gratification.
7. Many teens find security in groups. They would rather be with friends than at home. Experimenting with alcohol, drugs or sexual escapades becomes exciting. Absenteeism from school or running away from home are some of the ways they show their independence.
8. Sometimes they want to sustain a lifestyle which they can’t afford. So they begin to steal or harass parents for money.
How to deal with Teenage Angst:-
– Parents should understand that rebellion is not personal, and that in spite of their rude behaviour, teenagers love their parents, and want the security of home.
– Understanding why teenagers behave as they do is important. This is just a temporary phase of perhaps 2-3 years until they reach adulthood.
– Parents should give their children unconditional love and discipline. Discipline should be consistent. Boundaries give children a sense of security. Discipline helps them become self reliant and mature.
– Parents should lead by example They should always present a united front before their children. Parental authority in the home should be undisputed. The New Age formula of treating children as equals is dangerous. There can be no equality between parents and children. This will only bring about negative repercussions. Children begin to think that everything is up for negotiation. Parents should insist on good behaviour. They should make their teenagers aware of societal violence, and teach them sexual propriety and the dangers of unprotected sex.
– There should be openness in discussing serious issues like good behaviour and misuse of liberty. Subjects should be introduced tactfully so that the teenager will feel confident of discussing his problems, knowing that his parents have his best interests at heart.
– The doors of communication should always be left open. Listening to the teenager and his problems is the most important component of communication. Some parents try to superimpose their unfulfilled dreams on their children and force them to do what they don’t want to. This causes them to rebel.
– Of late, many parents have begun spying on their children, and feel perfectly justified in doing so. They might search their rooms or scan their diaries or even stealthily follow them around to see if they are into drugs, alcohol or misbehaviour with the opposite sex. Some parents even employ private detectives. There is a possibility that this might backfire, permanently damaging the parent-child relationship. John Stott believes that “loving but firm confrontation is a better approach than spying.”
– Socialization with peer groups can be healthy and harmless. Teens need to exchange information and share experiences, and know that there are others who go through similar changes. However, parents must keep an eye on the type of friends they mix with, and the activities they are involved in, so that they don’t abuse their liberty.
Adolescence is a difficult phase in the life of an individual. Because of various changes – physical, emotional, sexual – there is a growing fear of the unknown. Teenagers need our encouragement and empathy.