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Christian Child-Rearing

Early Adolescence Age

CHRISTIAN CHILD-REARING

by Dr.Paul Meier


EARLY ADOLESCENCE


A.   Entering adolescence.

     Dr.Theodore Lidz, Chairman of the Yale University Department
of Psychiatry, defines adolescence as "the period between
pubescence and physical maturity ... the transition from
childhood, initiated by the prepubertal spurt of growth and
impelled by the hormonal changes of puberty, to the attainment of
adult prerogatives, responsibilities, and self-sufficiency."
     That's a long definition, but I think you'll get the picture
that many big changes take place during adolescence. Take those
first four years or so, between the ages of twelve and sixteen.
At age twelve, your son or daughter is still considered a child.
How often have you heard the expression, "Quit acting like a
twelve-year old"? Four short years later, at the age of sixteen,
your son or daughter has become a young man of a young woman,
with an adult body, reproductive ability, and, desire to run his
or her own life as much as possible. The four years between
childhood and young adulthood, from twelve to sixteen years of
age, are probably the roughest four years of most people's lives,
because there are so many major adjustments to make. Encouraging
independent decision-making and spiritual maturity during the
first twelve years of life will greatly facilitate the major
adjustments during the early adolescent years.

     I have already discussed the Jewish Bar Mitzvah ceremony on
the thirteenth birthday, so I won't discuss it here except to say
that I think a new commitment between parents and child on the
thirteenth birthday can help them to be aware of the major
changes that are about to take place. The child has new
privileges and responsibilities, which help prepare him for the
self-sufficiency of adulthood. Of course, parental guidance and
discipline will continue to be needed until it, son or daughter
goes out on his own at age eighteen.

B.   Developmental adaptations during early adolescence.

     What are some of the major developmental changes an early
adolescent goes through? Well, initially there is a major growth
spurt. This growth   rather than   a particular   birthday  
initiates adolescence, since it occurs at different ages in
different individuals. I was about average height on my
thirteenth birthday. Sonme of my friends that were once shorter
than I started their growth spurt before I did, and passed me.
Then my growth hormone started pouring out of my pituitary gland
like water out of Niagara Falls, and I grew ten inches in about
fifteen or sixteen months. I was so awkward for a while that
relatives quit inviting our family over for dinner -- among other
things I broke glasses, a camera, and my uncle's pool cue, mostly
because I misjudged how long my arms and legs were. And I bumped
my head so many times on low overheads that I'm surprised I don't
have any residual brain damage!
     At age twelve, a child likes other children of the same sex
and hates those of the opposite sex, except for maybe a favorite
or two. But by age fourteen, most boys have decided that girls
aren't so bad after all! In fact, it's hard to think about
anything else. When boys spend more time with girls at school and
church, it breaks up some of their old friendships - sespecially
with boys that aren't interested in girls yet. Peer groups are
rearranged, and there arc marked feelings of ambivalence toward
individuals of both sexes. Boys who were once friends are now
competitors and even bitter enemies for a while. The same applies
to girls, of course.
     Young adolescents ask themselves the question, "Who am I?"
Then they spend the next ten or fifteen years finding out. During
this time, a healthy local church can he a positive influence on
the impressionable adolescent as he begins his struggle for
identity and guidelines to live by. Sweden was once a Christian
stronghold, but Sweden now has the highest adolescent suicide
rate in the entire world because adolescents are offered very few
moral guidelines, and many of the youth give up in their struggle
to find meaning in life. As their abstract reasoning ability
continues to develop rapidly, many adolescents develop fantasies
of changing the world or solving the world's problems. And for
some unexplained reason, some of us adults never give up those
fantasies......
     
C.   Special problems of early adolescence.

1. Communications breakdown.

     Unless parents are especially careful, what used to be a
family home will rapidly develop into a pit stop, used briefly by
teenage sons and daughters for refueling their stomachs and
sleeping! One of the biggest problems during this stage is
keeping the lines of communication open, but this is really
important. When a child reaches adolescence, many families
temporarily regress to earlier modes of experience and behavior.
If this is a creative regression, it can be quite healthy,
enabling other family members to empathize with the adolescents
feelings and development. Then they can grow together again as a
family unit. The idea is to avoid being overly rigid. Try to
adjust some yourselves while still maintaining overall family
stability. You may want to establish a weekly family meeting in
order to open lines of communication and to discuss constructive
criticisms and suggestions. Solomon said, "A reliable
communication permits progress" (Prov.13:17, LB). He
also said, "Through presumption comes nothing but strife, but
with those who receive counsel is wisdom' (Prov.19:10, NASV).
And the prophet Amos asked, "Can two walk together, except they
be agreed?" (Amos 3:3).
     If you want to walk together with your teenagers, you'll
have to make a real effort to communicate. A number of research
studies have been done on communication patterns in the families
of adolescents. One study showed that in the families of
aggressive, anti-social adolescents, the predominant pattern was
for the father to pretend to be in authority if both parents were
in public, but for the mother to be very directive and to
disregard the husband on other occasions. The anti-social
adolescent tended to "time out" whenever both parents were
present. With passive, negativistic teenagers, the usual
communication pattern was for the father to give the teenager
wordy lectures, but to disregard whatever the teenager had to
say. The mothers also ignored their teenagers, but at least
asked them an occasional question. The passive teenagers 
tended to "close up" most of the time. With introverted,
withdrawn teenagers, the usual communication pattern was for the
mother to ignore the teenager's presence and to interrupt
whenever the teenager spoke. The father generally let the mother
dominate, and was very attentive to his wife while frequently
interrupting his son or daughter. These introverted teenagers
paid close attention to both parents, in spite of the fact that
their parents ignored them.
     Another interesting family communication study was carried
out by Linda Wool and others. They lead a number of families
enter a room, one family at a time, to do individual and group
interpretations of Rorschach Ink-Blot cards. The families had
already been divided into two groups - those whose teenagers had
good personality integration, and those whose teenagers had made
poor psychological adjustments. The purpose was to see if the
family communication patterns had made any difference in the
psychological development of the teenagers. It was found that
"families of children high in personality integration displayed
more direct person-to-person communication, more efficient task
orientation, more role clarity on the part of the parents, and
less psychological distance than was true for families with lower
adjustment children."
     Since family communication patterns are so important, I
would like to tell you about one more study. This was carried out
at the University of Utah by James Alexander, who studied the
families of twenty-two normal adolescents and twenty delinquent
adolescents. He videotaped all of these families separately
during "resolution of differences" tasks, and found that the
families of the juvenile delinquents were defensive in their
communications and did not work at the tasks as a unified group.
The families of the normal adolescents, on the other hand, were
very supportive of each other and were able to work together as a
unit instead of as defensive individuals.

     One more communication problem that needs to be mentioned
at least briefly is the father-daughter communication problem.
When daughters are young, it's quite normal for the little girl
to climb on daddy's lap. But all of a sudden in early
adolescence, that little girl has developed physically into a
beautiful young woman. This results in some uncomfortable
feelings in practically all fathers and there are three major
ways in which most fathers communate with their daughters from
that time on. (1) Some fathers feel very uncomfortable about the
physical attractiveness of the teenage daughter, not realizing
that these feelings are quite normal, and consequently withdraw
from their daughters almost altogether. They may even take on an
extra job to avoid confronting her. She feels rejected by her
father, whom she loves very much, and this can result in a
variety of psychological problems, such as feelings of
unworthiness. As a Christian woman, later in life, she may even
have a hard time feeling accepted by God or by her husband.
(2) Some immature fathers continue to rock their daughters on
their lap, so to speak, and are overly friendly with their
daughters. Some even become quite seductive, with or without
being aware of it. I have had a number of female patients who
have engaged in a great deal of sexual promiscuity without
knowing why. But it was obvious to me that it was because they
had been overly stimulated by their fathers. Many even had had
sexual relations with their fathers (or in some cases
step-fathers), followed by guilt feelings and hostility toward
them. These are the hysterical females I described in Chapter
Five, who subconsciously hate men and are out to prove that all
men are good-for-nothings like their fathers. These girls will
seduce anybody they can to prove this, and especially good men,
since good men disprove their theory that all men are worthless.
Some of them become prostitutes, some become lesbians, but most
go from marriage to marriage, always finding out after being
married a while that their new husband is worthless too, just
like their father. Men frequently marry these women because they
are usually quite physically attractive, and these men want a
good sexual partner. But once they get married, these women
seldom want sex because they don't really enjoy it as a normal
woman does.
(3) The third (and obviously the healthy) way for a father to
communicate with his teenage daughter is to continue to
show genuine love and concern for her, including a healthy hug
now and then, but without being seductive. He will also openly
display affection for his wife, and the two of them together will
show genuine affection to, their daughter. The healthy father
will also realize that it is perfectly normal to feel physically
attracted to his daughter - after all, half of her genes came
from the woman he chose to marry. And he can enjoy her good looks
without entertaining lustful thoughts. This will provide a basis
for a healthy father-daughter communication pattern, and some day
she will find a young man much like her father and have a very
happy marriage.
     The same general principles hold true for sons with their
mother's. A healthy mother-son relationship will lead the
maturing son eventually to marry a girl "just like the girl that
married dear old dad," as the old barbershop song goes. But note
that the "other woman" in most divorce cases is not the husband's
secretary, but rather the husband's mother, who spoiled him and
overindulged him.

2. Other special problems daring early adolescence.

     The communication problems are definitely the biggest
problems in early adolescence. After they are taken care of,
there is a host of less important special problems faced by
teenagers, like the acne and body odor that accompany the
hormonal changes.
     Encouraging teenagers to improve their grooming habits
usually takes care of the pimples and body odor, but sometimes
medications may be needed for the acne, and these can be obtained
from any dermatologist. Most girls begin having periods during
early adolescence, and should be warned about this far ahead of
time by their mothers so it won't come as a traumatic shock. I
already distcussed the problem of masturbation and wet dreams in
teenage boys in Part One of this book.

     One more special problem of early adolescence is adolescent
depression. In teenagers, psychological depression is frequently
disguised. It's easy to see in adults, because a depressed adult
will lose his appetite, lose his sex drive, wake up frequently at
night, develop frequent headaches, have feelings of despair. But
the teenager often manifests his depression in different ways. If
I get a teenage patient who has never been a problem, and then
all of a sudden - over a period of a few weeks or months - he
becomes increasingly irritable, rebellious, and hostile, with
intermittent guilt feelings, I assume that he is probably
depressed. If the teenager has been a problem all his life, with
poor conduct ratings in school from the first grade on, I do not
suspect depression - he was raised wrong and has become a young
sociopath. But the depressed, previously good teenagers are quite
easy to treat. Sometimes putting them on antidepressant
medications alone will dramatically lessen the problem in about
ten to twenty days. Counseling sessions with the entire family
are then necessary, re-establishing broken-down communication
patterns.
     I once had as a patient a teenage boy who came from a
Christian home. The boy had been quite reasonable all his life,
but in his early teens the lines of communication broke down and
he started getting into all sorts of trouble; and he was even
expelled from school. I started him on antidepressant medication,
which I only with great difficulty convinced him to take. In
fact, he walked angrily out of my office three different times
when we discussed subjects he didn't want to talk about. Within
ten days he rededicated his life to the Lord, and went to his
family doctor and handed him some money. The family doctor asked
him what the money was for, and the boy told him that he had
stolen some money out of the doctor's wallet during a visit a
month or two earlier, that he wanted to start repaying it and
would pay the rest back when he earned enough from a part-time
job.

     If you think your son or daughter may be going through an
adolescent depression, the first thing you should do is
re-establish positive communications with a loving and accepting
attitude. Compare your family rules to those of other Christian
families.
     Frequently, parents of depressed adolescents are either too
strict or too lenient. As parents, you can also totally eliminate
nagging and they negative communications by heeding the following
advice.
     Have a two-hour family session involving only the teenager
and both parents. Re-evaluate all the rules, chores, and
punishments objectively. Have the teenager draw a line down the
middle of a blank sheet of paper. Tell him to put specific rules
and chores he thinks he should have on the left side of the line,
and the punishments he thinks he should receive for breaking
each of the rules on the right side. (Surprisingly, most
teenagers will be harder on themselves than their parents
would have been. Wanting more controls, teenagers frequently
break rules so the parents will make them a little stricter.)
     Then go over each of the rules, chores, and punishments he
has listed and discuss them. If they are reasonable, leave them
as they are. If they are too strict or too lenient, change the
ones you must. As usual, the father should have the ultimate say.
     When you have completed the list, both parents should sign
it and the teenager should also sign it and date it.
     This becomes a contract between the teenager and his
parents. When he lists the chores, tell him to be specific about
the day of the week on which he plans to do each chore. If he
lives up to his part of the contract, there will be absolutely no
need to nag him. If he doesn't keep his part of the bargain, you
still won't need to nag - just automatically give him the
consequence he listed on the right side of the line. If he breaks
a rule, he suffers the consequence he agreed upon. Make the
contract good for about a two-month period, and have weekly
family meetings to discuss how things are going. Show respect for
the teenager as a young adult, and listen to what he has to say,
even if you disagree with him. When the two months are up,
renegotiate the contract. If he has done a good job, give him a
little more freedom in the new contract. If he has done a poor
job, make the new contract a little stricter. But do your best to
keep the communications constructive and positive, and be sure to
compliment your teenager for showing responsibility. I have used
this technique scores of times with teenagers and their parents,
and the families have usually felt that it helped eliminate much
of the negative communications between the parents and the
teenager. It also helps put the brakes on the rule he ought to
have.

Note:

This is my standard approach to treating cases of adolescent
depression and alolescent rebellion, and it works most of the
time. Interestingly, when it doen't work, it is seldom the
fault of the teenager, but rather of the parents, who fail to
enforce the rules when the teenager tests them. Some parents come
to my office expecting me to cure their family conflicts, and do
not want to hear about ways that THEY themselves can cure these
conflicts. Abraham Linculn once said, "Most people are about as
happy as they choose to be." What a wise statenent!

                            ...................

The next chapter is "Mid-and Late Adolescene"

Entered on this Website January 2008


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