Archive for August, 2009

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.

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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.