Written by Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC
Grady is very handsome. He is close to 6″4″ tall with his father”s striking good looks. He is a musician. He is sophisticated in dress – mostly black pants and dark tee shirts – and speech, and young women find him irresistible. An older girl wrote on his Facebook wall, “I find you interesting.”
The problem is that Grady is only 12 years old. Even his mother forgets this. Grady is an only child and probably the only teenage boy she has ever met. She is frequently puzzled and, at times, outraged by the things that he does. I have explained to her that she will only have to go through another 10 years of this – until, between the ages of 21 and 22, his physical brain development is completed. Yes, that is correct. The physical brain is not fully developed until the individual reaches his early twenties. Until then, we may expect a certain amount of mayhem.
An issue that can interfere with the development of the pre-teens and teens of 2012 is lack of structure. When I was a young girl (back in Greco-Roman times), childhood and adolescence were very regulated. I went to a strict school where I wore a uniform. After school, I took ballet class (my choice), practiced the piano (my mother”s wish), and did homework. I had far fewer choices to confuse me than children do today. No cell phone calls or texts interrupted me as I practiced the Chopin Etudes. On some nights, I could read Anna Karenina until time for bed. My friends would be unseen and unheard from until the following day. It was gloriously peaceful and maybe even a bit boring… I don”t remember if it was or not; but I do remember it fondly. My young Clients do not have such an easy time of it. They are harassed to death by media and messages, awakened at three AM by texts, distracted to the point of being completely unable to focus, and yet still expected to perform. Their lives are chaotic, and yet we wonder why ADD and ADHD are so commonplace.
The chief developmental task of the teenager, aligning with a peer group, can be another issue. The teenager will go to great lengths to fit in with peers, so their choice of peers is important. If their chosen peers drink alcohol or take drugs, it is hard to resist that influence. This is why parents should speak often about their values and insist on meeting their children”s friends.
The possibility of dangerous choices can be another pitfall. Parents should consider talking to teens about drugs, sexual behaviors, venereal disease, and early pregnancy. I am well aware that some parents do not wish to do this. Some fear being embarrassed. Others think that their children are too innocent. Still others don”t talk about these things for religious reasons. Just be aware of one thing: what you don”t tell them, someone else will. It might be someone their age who doesn”t know as much as you do and who does not share your views. Two weeks ago, I told a sexually-active 14-year-old girl about the possible consequences of her behaviors. She was surprised. Here are some things she didn”t know or hadn”t thought about:
- Pregnancy can happen even with a condom.
- Condoms and birth control pills do not prevent venereal disease.
- Genital Herpes is incurable, a lifelong strain on the immune system.
- HPV has been linked to cervical cancer.
- When a 16-year-old boy says I love you, he may be speaking from an overpowering physical need.
- It is difficult to raise a baby when you are still a child.
If you can”t talk about this with your teenager, I will do it for you; but, really, someone should.
Parents themselves can be another issue. They can be hesitant about setting and enforcing rules. Many of today”s parents were brought up by participants in the drug cultures of the mid- to late- twentieth century. That was an age when many individuals thought more about themselves than about their children, an age when parenting often went by the wayside. Today”s parents often make a vow to themselves: I will never bring up a child the way my parents raised me. They are often so loving and so understanding of their children that they do not give them the structures that will keep them safe.
Above all, remember that these are children and that they do not know what they think they know. It is our job to teach them. Many of them speak with great authority and confidence. Don”t believe them. Don”t be deceived by their apparent sophistication. They are, in many respects, clueless. Here is a story about that:
My thesis director”s younger son was not as conservative, careful, obedient, and thoughtful as his older brother. When it was time for his father to teach him to drive, they got into the car, and Matthew said, “Now, Dad, please… No lectures. I have been watching you do this my entire life, and I know exactly what to do.” With that, he turned on the engine, put the car into gear, and drove Walter”s 1960 Mercedes 190SL through the back wall of the garage into the vegetable garden.
So, basically, to summarize:
- Know who they are. Know who their friends are.
- Don”t let your love for them matter more to you than their safety. Ask questions about where they are going, what they are doing, and why.
- Talk to them. Tell them what you think and why you think that. They may pretend not to be listening, but they are.
- Don”t believe what they say until you confirm it.
If you need help with them, come and see us. We like them, and there is a good chance that they will talk to us.