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Part 2: The Growing Years - From Infancy to Adolescence  >  Parenting Adolescents


Guest Article – Dr. M. K. C. Nair

Dr. M. K. C. Nair is Director of the Child Development Centre at the Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram.

Since her parents are usually the ones who are close to an adolescent, it is they who will be able to easily perceive subtle changes in her behaviour. 

But even if the mother suspects that her child is having some problem, the adolescent herself may not acknowledge the presence of any problem. 

It should be remembered that problem behaviour in childhood and adolescence is probably due to a multiplicity of interrelated or interacting factors like health, appearance, intelligence and the entire personality of the child, the economic, social and cultural standing of the parents, the relationships between them and between all the other members of the family, the child’s experiences at school and in the neighbourhood, etc. Additionally, with industrialisation and urbanisation on the rise, more and more children now belong to nuclear family settings. Parents and to some extent, the media are also responsible for the changing attitudes of teenagers. Because adolescence is a time of rapid physical and sexual growth, young people tend to experiment. HIV infection is also on the rise, and teenagers are particularly at risk.

Not Yet Adults
Adolescents differs from adults in 5 main ways:

  1. Teenagers tend to show a special intensity and volatility of feelings.
  2. They have a need for immediate gratification.
  3. A teenager is particularly unaware of the probable consequences of his or her actions and misunderstands the feeling and behaviour of others.
  4. There is a lack of self-criticism in adolescence.
  5. A teenager has an awareness of the world about him/her that is different from that of an adult.

The Adolescent’s Concerns
Teenagers often complain that they are misunderstood, unduly restricted and unfairly treated by their parents. Parents frequently grumble that their teenagers fail to communicate or that they reveal their feelings in a hostile manner. Indeed, as parents, we usually have only vague ideas as to what adolescents must be thinking about, based on our own past experiences. But times are changing, and our experiences are not true templates for our young people’s attitudes and emotions.

Based on focus group discussions with many groups of adolescents, in an attempt to understand the adolescent mind from its own point of view, and using the data only for qualitative interpretations, the following observations were made:

Perceived Social Problems
While on the one hand, the adolescents were irritated about the unnecessary restrictions imposed on them by  society; on the other, they were also concerned about the prevailing problems of antisocial behaviour, gender discrimination, and misleading friends, books and mass media. They also cited difficulties in interpersonal relationships, especially in communicating with the opposite sex. Some of them also admitted to being confused about fantasy versus reality, and concerned about what others think of them, freedom of expression, risk taking behaviour and the issue of sexual abuse. Many highlighted substance abuse as a major manace.

Emotional Problems: Adolescents revealed that they were troubled by lack of freedom, and concerned about careers and the future. They also admitted to loneliness, identity crises, an inferiority complex, a lack of confidence, stranger anxiety, difficulty in adjusting with others, over-anxiety, lack of emotional stability, depression, suicide and homicidal tendencies. They were also plagued by worries regarding childbirth, love marriages, failed love affairs, parental expectations, problems dealing with elders, and the issue of fantasy versus reality.

Educational Problems: Many adolescents were not happy with the present day educational system. They expressed deep concern regarding the lack of proper counselling and guidance, confessed to an inferiority complex due to poor performance in studies, constant nagging by teachers, lack of opportunities for preferred professions, difficulty in adjusting with fellow students, lack of peer acceptance, difficulty in talking with teachers, examination fear, despair at not achieving academic goals like entrance examinations, stage fright, etc.

Health Problems: The major health problems observed were asthma, respiratory infections, obesity, underweight, goitre, bed-wetting, dandruff, alopecia and skin problems. They also had concerns about the change in body image, pubertal changes, breast size, beauty, attractiveness, prominent teeth, short stature, hirsuitism and menstrual problems.

Problems Related To Sex And Sexuality: Many of the adolescents interviewed emphasised the need for facilities providing counselling services to help them cope with issues related to faulty sexual concepts, the sexual urge, masturbation, sexual abuse, STDs/AIDS, etc. They also demanded Family Life Education services through schools, because they felt that most parents are uncomfortable discussing sexual issues with their children. 

Family Life Education
‘Family Life Education’ may indeed be a preferable term to ‘sex education’, so as to avoid undue anxiety among parents.

The following are the components of family life education for school children:

Adolescent Nutrition: Studies carried out at the Child Development Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, have conclusively proved that birth weight is the single most important factor that determines the development of the young child, and that a baby with normal birth weight has a clear edge over the low birth weight baby, at least to start with. It is also very clear that the most significant community factor that predicts low birth weight is the pre-pregnant weight of the mother —a woman who weighs less than 40 kg and has a height of less than 140 cms before conception is at risk of having a low weight baby. Hence the Action Plan for the Child in Kerala has stipulated that, on completion of 18 years, we should aim for a weight of 45 kg and a height of 145 cms among teenage girls. Therefore, nutritional monitoring should form part and parcel of any adolescent programme.

Personal Hygiene: Most of our schoolgirls do not drink enough water nor pass urine frequently enough at school. This may be because of poor toilet facilities. Often, girls are not taught proper menstrual hygiene — including trimming of pubic hair before the onset of menstrual flow. They also need to be made aware that some amount of vaginal discharge and dysmenorrhoea is within normal limits.

Understanding One’s Emotions: The basis for the formation of good personality, which includes a clear mind and clear body, is laid during adolescence. The formation of a good personality can be positively influenced by the family. A person with a wholesome personality is one who has strong mental, physical and cognitive skills, which enable him to behave, relate to and act effectively in the family and the society at large. The family stands for all the basic human values necessary for living usefully and meaningfully. Accepting the ground reality that, on the one hand, what fascinates an adolescent is the fantasy of love and sex and that on the other, what bothers the parents most is the immediate problem of getting admission to a professional course for their adolescent, ‘Family Life Education’ is one acceptable mode of introducing what is essential for teenagers to understand and appreciate. 

Awareness Of One’s Own Sexuality, HIV/AIDS And Substance Abuse:
For young teenagers, sexual information should be presented in a way that is acceptable to the local community, emphasising the virtues of virginity and the dangers of irresponsible behaviour. While this approach may be more acceptable to an average parent, it is important to realise that Family Life Education for older children and young adults should have adequate emphasis on understanding and appreciating one’s own sexuality and should aim at:

  • Fostering the attitude that a sexual relationship is like any other relationship where the feelings and needs of both partners are equally important.
  • Fostering each person’s ability to introspect on his/her own sexual feelings and needs. Without such insight, one might not know how to avoid hurting oneself or others. Lack of such insight may impair development of close relationships.
  • Developing the ability to be alert and sensitive to difficult situations where one ought to think before one acts.
  • Helping teenagers to have confidence in their own judgement and values, provided that parents and teachers themselves have a positive approach to sex and family life education.
  • Discussing subjects such as high-risk behaviour, safe sex, family planning, unplanned children, STDs, etc. in the context of HIV/AIDS control.

Be A Real Parent To Your Adolescent
We blame the influence of satellite television, Western culture and the general deterioration of standards in public life for the problems of drug abuse, sex abuse, teenage pregnancy, suicide, etc. It is time to acknowledge that we are often negligent of our children in their formative years — especially in the all-important period of adolescence. Many problems in adulthood have their roots in the adolescent period; it is a time of transition from the obedient child to the confused youth.

It is time to create opportunities for adolescents to grow with adequate self esteem, competence to face problems in life, skills to withstand peer pressure and the capacity to say ‘No’ to undesirable influences and life situations. 

Formation of teen clubs with the full patronage of parents and the community will go a long way to fill the gap of learning opportunities that were there in a joint family and the closely-knit community of times gone by.

7 March, 2016

Part 2
The Growing Years - From Infancy to Adolescence
Normal Growth & Development
Behaviour at Different Ages
Meeting the Emotional Needs
Learning and Schooling
Ready To Read
Parenting Adolescents
Guide to Child Care
1 Pregnancy, Childbirth ...
2 The Growing Years
3 Feeding Infants, ...
4 Keeping Your Child Healthy
5 Keeping Your Child Happy
About Dr. R. K. Anand

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