Comments OffOctober 27, 2014by admin

Adolescence

By June Bond

There is perhaps no survival reality show on television than can surpass the challenges set up in the real world of parenting. Eating worms, scaling mountains, and diving into ice cold water seem very tame to those of us who have been on the ultimate reality survival gig—-rearing the adolescent. In my early years as a parent, I was certain that the adolescent horror stories came from parents who were ill equipped to communicate with their teens. Of course, I WOULD BE DIFFERENT!!! My adolescent children and I would communicate openly, stroll the mall arm-in-arm, and enjoy the constant company of each other’s wit and wisdom. Obviously, I had more theories in my early days than direct experience. Now that I have had six children that have completed or continue to be in the stage of adolescence, I am convinced that adolescence is a plan ordained by God. God, in His ultimate wisdom, designed adolescence as a tool to help us as parents “let go.” As I looked at my tiny charges, I could not bear to think that one day they would leave the nest and fly away from me.  However, as I walk through my house, teaming with rock music, size 13 tennis shoes, and a host of dirty dishes, I am looking at colleges that require a student visa for my children to attend. God’s plan is at work, helping me to learn to let go and allow my children to leave the nest.

The key to surviving adolescence seems to revolve around knowing when to worry and act upon a concern verses knowing when to sit back and let nature take a natural course that does not affect your child on a long term basis. The philosophy can help parents save their energy for the big battles, not allowing the small stuff to keep you and your teen embroiled in a daily on-going battle.

Knowing what is typical, as compared to non-typical, for adolescent behavior helps parents immensely. Parents need to understand that the goal of adolescence for the child is to ultimately gain the skills and maturity for independent living. In order to gain these skills and maturity there are five major changes that will take place during this period of time for the adolescent: 1) Biological changes, 2) Identity changes and ultimately identity formation, 3) Changes in regard to the family, 4) Changes in regard to the social life, and 5) Cognitive changes.

In the beginning it is the biological changes that are occurring in our children that are the red lights that signal adolescence. Hormones rage upward in our children at about the same time that our own hormonal balances are shifting downward, (not a good plan, I can readily admit).  Our children show signs of hormonal changes throughout their budding bodies, deepening voices, sudden growth spurts, and trips to the dermatologist. By understanding these changes, we can be more sensitive to helping our children, understand and cope with the new and sometimes, awkward, bodies that are now carrying their sensitive feelings. These biological changes are made even more difficult if they arrive very early or fail to arrive on a time schedule that is consent with a child’s peers. It is important to understand that boys who mature early are often seen as leaders and athletes, while early maturing girls can become highly sensitive about their new roles and body. With these biological changes, comes the need to provide honest and accurate information about hygiene, body functions, and sexual intimacy. Many parents feel uneasy in this role and opt for silence. Likewise, many young teens feel equally embarrassed about discussing these private topics. Fortunately, in most towns, there are very good programs sponsored by the hospitals that have nurses and doctors discuss these issues in an open and honest forum. In fact, many scout troops and youth church groups offer this “field trip” as a part of their program plans for adolescent members. The key here is that both you and your child understand the biological changes that are taking place and learn how these biological changes can and do affect other areas of life.

Identity formation is another change that is taking place during the adolescent years. Over a period of years, your teen will try on many new roles both in terms of who they are and what they want to become. These new identities can make a parent feel as if they are living with ten different teenagers, rather than just one teen trying on multiple roles. But role-playing helps an adolescent decide who they are and where they are going in life. During this time of trial, a teen develops his own identity in terms of a career, ethnic group, and friends. An adolescent tries to reach their own identity by trying different types of clothes, hairstyles, and music. A part of this process centers on testing parental limits and boundaries in regard to attitudes, behaviors, friends, and curfews. This is a perfectly normal part of the adolescent process that is moving your children to find their own identity.

Changes within the family structure are also a part of this adolescent process. A parent often finds their once compliant child questioning parental authority about EVERYTHING. It seems that it does not have to be a significant issue in order to be questioned. Questioning parental authority seems vital in order for the adolescent to be able to detach from their family and become autonomous. This is a time that parents can expect to become very stupid on a host of topics. (Parents do get smarter as their children get older, however. So just sit back and wait for a learning curve.)

A new definition in terms of social life is another change for the adolescent and parent. Friends become as vital as the air that your child breathes. Time spent with peers escalates, while time spent with family diminishes. Family vacations are shunned if they do not include friends. Weekends are crowded with sleepovers. A typical teenager can come home from their best friend’s house after a weekend visit and get on the phone for a two-hour conversation with the same friend upon entering the house. Instant messaging and three-way calling are ways that a teen uses to reach out and touch someone on a constant basis. Experienced parents will confirm that going out with a group of friends is the norm for young teens. Group activities are replaced by one-to-one dating in the later teens. Like wise, girls tend to have the same “best buddies” over a long period of time, while a boy’s best friend is the guy that he is with at the moment.

The fifth change in adolescence centers on the child’s growing ability to think in an abstract way. This new ability allows children to explore options, understand new concepts, and to see issues from another perspective. While this sounds like a saving grace in a sea of hostile changes, there are unique aspects of these cognitive changes that can drive parents nuts! The idea of an imaginary audience is an outgrowth of cognitive changes in the adolescent brain. This imaginary audience is always looking at your adolescent with a critical eye. Consequently, your teen cannot wear “those pants” to the mall or go into the drug store without full makeup. The same imaginary audience is honing in on that one pimple that “everyone” is looking and laughing at. Imaginary audiences are by definition tough critics and zappers of self-confidence. The concept of the personal fable is another outgrowth of cognitive changes. The personal fable allows the adolescent to feel that they are not only indestructible, but also unique. Unfortunately, this fallacy can lead a teen into dangerous activities that can result in injury, crime, unplanned pregnancies, and even death.

Knowing what to expect as typical behaviors and changes on the road through adolescence can ease the journey for parents. There are some nuances that are common to adopted children and foster children that should be noted, however, as normal hurdles and issues that can surface.  Perhaps one of the most common issues to occur, even with children who were adopted as infants, is the issue of abandonment. As stated earlier, increased cognitive abilities allow adolescents to examine issues from a multitude of perspectives. This wider perspective also enables them to see the “sad side of their adoption” as well as the positive side. Some adoptees begin to explore why their birth family was unable to care for them and adoption became the option for finding them a permanent home and family. With this realization can surface a sense of abandonment that has not occurred yet or allow old feeling of abandonment to resurface. The sense of abandonment can trigger depression and/or anger. It is interesting to note that anger toward the birth mother is often displaced on the adoptive mother, straining the relationship on both sides of the adoption balance beam. Another common thread that can occur and/or reoccur in adopted adolescents is the “fantasy of how their birth family would somehow be a better choice for them at this time. This is most common in adolescents who were adopted as infants and have limited information about their own birth family. Not totally uncommon at this time is the dreaded phrase, you are not even my real family…you cannot tell me what to do.” This phrase and others like it are just added arsenals in the ammunition pool of all adolescents to assert their own independence and move closer toward their identity formation. Speaking of identity formation, this is also a time that adolescents who have been trans-racially adopted again look for ways to connect with their heritage. Some try to connect with their heritage by disconnecting with the heritage of their adopted family. Hopefully an adoptive family has built a solid basis of cultural awareness by the time adolescence arrives in order to provide their child with a strong sense of identity of their unique heritage. Sexual maturation can also present a special issue to adopted girls. There may be added conflicts about sexual issues between an adopted daughter and mother who may have suffered years of infertility. Likewise, an adolescent girl may have conflict with her own sexual feelings and awareness coupled with the issues that may have produced an unplanned pregnancy in her birth mother’s life. Search and reunion issues also may arise during adolescence. Search and reunion issues are another facet of the identity formation that all adolescents work through at this time. While many more adoptees complete birth family search and reunion, I personally feel that adolescence is not the ideal time for this emotional endeavor. Adolescence is emotional and fragile enough in its own right, without electing to bring in added layers that can be better sorted through at a later time.

Clearly, surviving adolescence is difficult for both child and parent. There are days that the torch seems to be extinguishing at every turn. Are there no “cheat sheets” for this survival game???? There are no “cheat sheets” but there are some tips for the willing participant.

1)  Make few rules, but keep them. When you think about all of the do’s and don’ts in the world, most can really be summarized into a very short list. I try to remind myself that God Almighty only needed ten rules, so I should need even less. Center the rules around the fundamental ways that you want your child to live and treat others.

2)  Pick your battles carefully. Any good general will attest that there must be a major battle plan to win a war. Winning small skirmishes will tire the army and deplete the ranks for the “big battles.” Assess all battles in the overall framework of…”will this be a problem that can hurt or alter my child’s future in the long run?”  Remember the long hair and mini skirts that we wore to concerts of Mick Jagger? Most of us are now respectable adults wondering how on earth our own children are wearing those horrible outfits and listening to THAT MUSIC. Sounds like history repeating itself.

3)  Be realistic. Be aware that drinking, drugs, and teen sexual experiences are more a part of our culture than we want to admit. Be aware of these issues and work with your teen to avoid long term and possible irreparable consequences associated with these common problems. A great friend of mine is a minister. He told me that he had a contingency plan with his children. While he does not condone teen age drinking, he has been realistic about the issue. His plan is that if the child does drink, he can call him for a free lecture less ride home for him and any of his friends. As he stated, I would rather pick him up drinking than pick him up dead. So…be realistic!

4)  Seek help and outside resources if you need them. Counseling, support groups, and treatment programs are available. Seeking help is a sign of strength and maturity, NOT weakness.

Adolescence is a survival game for both parents and children. The rewards are high for those who complete the course satisfactorily. A dear and wise friend of mine compared rearing children to buying a new car. “Everyone wants a new car and a new baby. They both smell fresh and new. But by the time the car and baby are thirteen years old, you cannot pay anyone to take them off your hands. But, with care and love, avoiding too many dents and mishaps, the car and the child will eventually turn twenty-five. Then both of them can be considered classics, worthy of distinction.”


>>>>>>>>>>>>>Good luck on your way to rearing a classic.