A Divergence from Adolescence

October 8, 2011

Okay, I know I promised whatever lone reader is out there that I would continue my wise monologue on the nature of adolescence (I’m sure your breath is bated), but I have to take a short hiatus to comment on a couple of the former adolescents in my life.

For those of you who do not yet have the immeasurable joy of observing the fruits of your child-rearing labor, let me assure you that adult children can been a tremendous delight. I just finished reading posts on the respective blogs of my #1 son and his lovely wife. What clear-thinking, independent adults they both are! Of course, they do see some things differently than I do. But isn’t that okay? Wasn’t that the goal of all those years of work and worry–to produce self-directed, society-contributing adults (who no longer live at home)?

Advice to parent of a pre-adolescent: Do your job, pray a lot, listen more, and hang in there. Then let it go. You might be surprised what they’re capable of.

Long Time No Entry

September 11, 2011

I’ve been feeling bad about myself as a blogger, and with reason. As I re-read the three (!) entries I posted with much excitement after I first launched my blog, I glanced at the dates and immediately felt the blush! Over two years ago! Rats! Let’s try this again. . .

At some point, I will re-visit my initial topic of hanging in with and guiding adolescents as they (hopefully) mature. But right now, I want to talk about the latest thing that has been bouncing around in my little brain–the disconnect with most of us between the beauty of soul and beauty of appearance. It seems like we over-emphasize one or the other (external vs. internal). The one we choose to live out in italics seems to depend on what our spiritual or emotional orientation is. More on that in the future.

As I work with clients it appears that the more healed and self-assured they become, the better they look and the more they are concerned about presenting an acceptable appearance. The more they give themselves permission to look nice, the better they feel. It becomes a reciprocal process.  It occurs to me, based on that observation, that there must be some solid connection between the inner life and outer expression of self.

I’ll be thinking about that, and musing here. So if you would like to join me in the ruminations, please be my guest. Later. . . (not too much later!)

More on Adolescence

August 16, 2009

I didn’t forget–I’m back, to continue:

The second flaw in the unavoidability misconception is that, after “sowing their wild oats” a teen will settle down and lead a stable, productive adulthood. Much to the contrary, however, the teen years are ones in which patterns of life are chosen and begin to become set. It is believed that personality is established by late adolescence or early adulthood. When it is established it basically does not change. Teens are literally becoming the person they will be for the rest of their lives. Their choices not only determine the path of their lives, but the behavior patterns remain, as well. So there is characterological, spiritual, emotional, physical, and sometimes legal and financial fallout. Yes, a wayward teen can come back. And they may come back all the wiser; unfortunately, it seems as if suffering is the best fertilizer for growth. But again, a well-prepared adolescent need not suffer and learn the hardest way.

We can all think of case after case where lives have been wrecked by unwise, irresponsible, and catastrophic adolescent choices. Even if an individual goes on to recover from an adolescent orgy of experimentation, the consequences often remain to be dealt with throughout the balance of life. Broken or damaged relationships and families; alcoholism, the result of over-indulgent underage drinking; drug overdose and/or death; a legal or criminal history that becomes an impediment to advancement and security; lost years that could have been spent preparing oneself for a career or marriage; lifelong illness through sexually transmitted disease, and children born into less than ideal, if not disastrous, circumstances are only a few of the possible results. Some of these outcomes cannot be reversed, only mitigated, if that.

That’s a gloomy picture, and many people are living it. This is not to point a finger, or to blame parents for their adolescents’ waywardness. Remember, they make their own choices. The point, however, is that we adults do have some power in the direction of our teenagers’ lives. The strongest power to shape an individual’s life is, indeed, during childhood, so we parents need to take advantage of that little window of influence while we can. But, if the opportunity of childhood is past, we can still impact their thinking. We can live a life that intrigues them.

Adolescents, II

August 15, 2009

More on adolescents (told you more would come!):

The second misconception regarding adolescence is that it’s unavoidably a time that a teen will sample all the illicit or self-injurious behaviors that can beckon them; they will eventually return to the right path. And that somehow it’s good for them. “Well, we might as well teach them how to do it safely, because they’re going to do it; they all do.” There are several flaws in this line of thinking.

First, it assumes an animalistic, and overly herd-influenced view of the adolescent. Because of the raging hormones, they just can’t help themselves. Or, they have no individual power of choice and they will automatically let the herd choose for them. These are both cowardly mindsets, typical of a parent whose major concern is to be the adolescent’s buddy without due consideration of the outcome for their teen. Both are insulting to an adolescent’s power to choose, and convey the message that the parent doesn’t believe they can make a good choice. The ultimate empowerment of an adolescent (or anyone, for that matter) is to prepare him or her with the tools they need to make a wise choice, then step back and allow them to make that choice. It says to them, “I believe in you. You can do it.” You can make a wise choice.

We need to remember that indeed, we humans are animal, in a biological understanding of the organization of the material world. However, we are also imbued with a spark of the divine. We are created in God’s image, with godly characteristics, one of which is will, or choice. We are not slaves to our biological makeup. We are more than merely the animal at the top of the taxonomical organization. Humans are called to something higher, and we should not assume that adolescents are exempt from that call. An adolescent, when given the necessary tools, is just as capable of choosing wisely (and nobly) as a well-equipped adult is.

Yes, during adolescence the hormones do rage, as we who have endured it can attest. And yes, the endocrine flood can cloud our thinking. But it does not automatically negate the ability to choose a wise path. Picking one’s way through the hormone fog is difficult, but it is not impossible, particularly when a parent has spent a decade preparing a child for it. As well, it’s critical for the parent to stay engaged in the teen’s life, offering assistance when needed. A word of caution, however: judging “assistance” and “when needed” can be a tricky proposition, and we must choose wisely in this process. When we do our job thoroughly, however, they are more likely to do theirs well.

This is not to say that a teenager won’t choose unwisely; there are no guarantees that the adult’s input will inevitably result in parent-approved behavior. But if teens are armed with the skills necessary to think critically, examine options, consider consequences, and have a trusted mentor available to them, they will be equipped and able to make wise decisions.

I’ve been thinking about adolescence

July 4, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the Christian community views:

Adolescence

In the course of my counseling practice, I have observed that we believers do not, in general, do a good job in regards to adolescent rebellion, and I wonder what that is about. I invite input from any readers who might care to weigh in.

We tend to either write off adolescence as a time of miserable rebellion to be endured by both the adolescent and those around him or her, or else a time of hedonistic indulgence to be winked at and ignored, because adulthood and sober living is coming (fast). Or, we adults see our adolescents as overgrown children whom we need to “herd” into appropriate behavior. I say that none of these is the case.

Adolescence does, indeed, have its share of misery and rebellion. But both misery and rebellion appear to be logical parts of the dismantling and reassembling process that are necessary and normal adolescent developmental phase tasks. They are not characteristics of an age bracket that we must merely grit our teeth and endure. Rather, they are vital facets of a job that teenagers must complete in order to become balanced, healthy, happy, and productive adults.

There are no two adults who see exactly eye-to-eye on all issues, down the line. My husband and I agree pretty closely on most things that are really important in life. If we hadn’t, I doubt that we’d have been all that interested in each other, and happily married now. But there are things that we will never agree on. These most notably fall into the category of gender differences. He doesn’t understand the tender, exhausting joy of midnight breastfeeding; I can’t grasp the deep elation of defeating the other guy at the latest contest. And there are basic personality differences, as well. I’m a detail person. I’m fascinated by the shape, color, texture, and design of the bark on the tree. He’s a big picture person. He sees the beauty and the possibility of the forest’s vastness. The point is that all individuals are unique and wonderful in and of themselves. Adolescents are no different. And the adolescent developmental experience, although it has many things that are pretty common from person to person, is still distinct to each individual.

What I’m saying is that adolescents have a job to do, and the misery and rebellion are tools with which they do that job. As the adults around them, it’s our responsibility to help them with their job. While our kids are little, we train them with the values we embrace. We teach them basic morality, personal, social, and familial values. If they don’t meet our expectations, we guide them back into the flow of those expectations. This is what we refer to as discipline. By this process we teach them what is important in life, and we give them the basic building blocks for successful and God-honoring living. In a sense, we “herd” them in the direction that we see life pointing. It’s an external directive process. The goal is to move that motivation from outside the child to inside as they mature. Think of it in terms of a Lego toy. I give my child a plastic block car to play with. It’s made up of red, blue, yellow, and white blocks. If he continues to play with it as it is, year after year, I wonder where his imagination is. Why isn’t he taking it apart and reassembling it? But if he takes it apart and makes something different, or even better, I’m gratified, and even proud of him for his creativity. The blocks are the same. They’re just arranged differently. This is what adolescents are doing; they’re taking the blocks we gave them and arranging them to look like their own design. It won’t look like ours. But that doesn’t make it wrong. It might even be better than what we could have imagined.

By nature, teenagers look around them and examine what others are doing. They find the observed behavior as either intriguing and mimic it (typical of peer pressure), or repulsive and shun it (rebellion, usually toward adults). This is the process of dismantling and reassembling that we refer to as adolescence. It’s a trial-and-error means of arriving at their own design. If we have appropriately done our job as parent when they were little, they have the blocks they need to achieve the goal relatively intact, and we now have a different job, that of leading and guiding rather than ordering and directing.

What is it that provides the motivation for dismantling the block toy we gave them and assembling something that is truly theirs? Curiosity is part of it. But there needs to be an even more powerful motivation, or they end up merely being inquisitive, without action and therefore with no results. Remember, the motivation has to be moved from external to internal or an individual will always need someone telling them what to do, taking action for them. It takes something even more powerful than curiosity to bring that about. There needs to be a passion that makes the blocks into a personal thing. This is where the misery and rebellion come in. It can be seen as a source of power that propels the adolescent into adulthood. As such, it is not merely a state to be endured. It is a resource to be harnessed toward the goal of balanced maturity.

More to follow. . .

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July 4, 2009

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