PART 2: THE GROWING YEARS — FROM INFANCY TO ADOLESCENCE
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:
- Teenagers tend to show a special intensity and
volatility of feelings.
- They have a need for immediate gratification.
- A teenager is particularly unaware of the probable consequences of his or her actions and misunderstands
the feeling and behaviour of others.
- There is a lack of self-criticism in adolescence.
- 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
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
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
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
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:
the attitude that a sexual relationship is like any other relationship where the feelings and needs of
both partners are equally important.
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
the ability to be alert and sensitive to difficult situations where one ought to think before one
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.
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