Childhood ends with the onset of puberty. Teenagers undergo profound changes
in mental tendencies and abilities as their brains change during and after
puberty. Puberty raises the ante so that the relatively safe play of younger
children is replaced by the more dangerous and consequential play of teenagers.
Parents are often unprepared for the major transformations that occur after
puberty and feel estranged from the new person emerging awkwardly and
contentiously in their own home. I noticed a bumper sticker that said: "Teenager
for sale cheap - take over the payments."
Parents of teenagers will often doubt that they have any role to play except
to offer custodial support and then recognize that their jurisdiction is
limited. I have attempted to help many parents change the diet of their
sick adolescents and often failed. The reasons for failure are apparent to most
parents. Let us review the status of adolescents hoping for some insight:
The time-honored principle of adolescent management is to fill idle time with
useful work, learning and supervised play. Otherwise, teenagers use idle time to
hang out in groups and engage in activities that frighten the adult community.
Idle time is dangerous time.
Teenagers are in the business of separating from their family and are drawn
to the values, activities and norms of their peer group. They seek role models
in the media and imitate examples of costume, values and behavior that seem
attractive to them. You could argue that other teens, movies, music, video games and
television programs are strong influences, stronger than parental example or
Old and New, The Teenager's Limbo
Teenagers have a tense mix of old primitive features in their mind and new
modern ideas. They tend to manifest old primate group behavior and at the same
time develop individual, modern personalities. Adolescent society is stratified,
competitive and relatively unforgiving. Teenagers cluster in small groups with
strict inclusion/exclusion rules. They manifest ancient human social patterns
spontaneously and the importance of group affiliation with their peers takes
precedence over family affiliation. Family values and teenager group values
often conflict and the conflict is seldom resolved in favor of the family unless
parents are determined and on the job 24 hours a day.
The parents’ main task is to locate their children in peer groups that have
the most congruent values with their own. Teens who hang out on the street
inevitably resist, oppose and challenge societal values. They get into trouble
fast. Individual teenagers may have a well-developed understanding of the adult
rules, but even those with a well-developed sense of local mortality will
participate in behaviors that the adult community finds unacceptable.
Girls, like boys, cluster in small tribal groups with strict
inclusion/exclusion rules. Teenagers tend to invent their own vocabulary and use
jargon to identify members of their own social group. Teenage groups are not
kind to outsiders and adolescent society reflects all the strengths and
weaknesses of an adult society sometimes in exaggerated, dramatic ways.
Teenagers of both sexes are narcissistic and are often trapped in selftalk
and case making. Girls are gossips and use language as a weapon. Some teenagers
are kinder than others and develop an idealistic view of human life and may be
at risk because they are too trusting and suggestible. Other teens are more
cynical and aggressive and practice power politics in school hallways and
JD Salinger's Catcher in The Rye, published in 1951, remains a contemporary
description of the sensitive, disappointed adolescent who find himself or
herself in a limbo, the transition from child to adult. The book begins with
Holden Caufield stating: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing
you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was
like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that
David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want
to know the truth.”
Dougan, a teenager writing in a New York Times discussion had this to
say:" Asking a bunch of adults whether or not Catcher in the Rye will really
reach teenagers is pretty funny, if you ask me. This only helps prove Salinger’s
point — adults were once young and disillusioned themselves, but they’ve grown
out of it, and they assume the rest of the world has grown with them. I’m 18
years old and every bit as confused and wandering as Holden. When I read this
book for the first time, I laughed so hard I cried and cried so hard I could
barely breathe. Yeah, my generation has Twitter and Facebook and cellphones and
what-have-you. The world is always changing in little ways like that. It’s the
big things that don’t change — and even in an era of such impossible
interconnectedness, there is no way to circumvent the feeling of being utterly
alone and misunderstood. Plenty of teenagers still love Catcher in the Rye. In
fact, my Facebook feed was full of tributes to Salinger the day he died. If that
doesn’t prove that this book has got appeal that spans generational differences,
I don’t know what could."
The greatest cause of teenage suffering is to be excluded from a desirable
group. Members of inferior groups are treated badly by members of superior
groups and outsiders emerge who are isolated and alienated individuals. Inferior
or isolated individuals are taunted, threatened, pushed, bullied, ridiculed,
sexually harassed, beaten, robbed and sometimes killed, even by nice children in
affluent Canadian and American suburbs. Alienation pushes an unwanted teenager
toward one of four destinations:
class="leftside"Creative alienation – poetry, music, art, political
- Withdrawal, depression and sometimes suicide.
- Revenge, antisocial ideas, and affiliation with groups
that express hatred
Alienated individuals can form groups that express their disappointment and
anger in destructive ways. Often these groups borrow costumes, ideology, ritual
and values from old malevolent ideologies. The skinheads, for example, adopt
fascist values and admire German Nazis of the 1930’s and 40’s who now epitomize,
to most reasonable adults, evil intentions and despicable deeds.
The next greatest cause of suffering is to be rejected by a desirable male.
Members of inferior groups are treated badly by members of superior groups and
outsiders emerge who are isolated and alienated individuals. Inferior or
isolated individuals are taunted, threatened, pushed, bullied and ridiculed even
by nice female children in affluent suburbs.
According to Campbell:[i] “Campbell found that female
adolescent disputes often center upon three issues relating to successful mate
choice: management of sexual reputation, competition over access to desirable
males and protecting established relationships from take-over by rival females.
Interestingly, the peak age for female assault occurs at ages 15-19 compared to
the male peak at 20-24 reflecting girls earlier sexual maturity… suggesting that
the rise in female aggression during adolescence, like that of males, is
associated with mate selection. Nanci Hellmich,[ii]
writing about mean teenage girls in the USA suggested: “Experts use the term
"relational aggression" to describe the cattiness, meanness and nastiness that
happens between some people, but especially among girls… Girls may gossip,
spread malicious rumors, write nasty e-mails, give the silent treatment, exclude
people from social events, betray secrets, snicker about someone's clothes or
mannerisms behind their backs. They may tell a girl that they're not going to be
friends with her unless she does what they want.”
SmartPhones Mental Health Crisis
Psychologist, Jean Twenge summarized the dramatic changes in teen life,
following the introductions of smartphones and social networking. She wrote, for
example: The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of
teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental
health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation
and in every type of household. The allure of independence, so powerful to
previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to
leave the house without their parents. Today’s teens are also less likely to
date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking”kids now
call “talking”—an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual
conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start
dating. But only about 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on
dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85 percent. Beginning with Millennials
and continuing with iGen, adolescence is contracting because its
onset is delayed. Across a range of behaviors—drinking, dating, spending
time unsupervised— 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and
15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high
Twenge identified a global withdrawal of teens into a virtual reality that
has created a mental health crisis. The solution is simple - throw away the
smart phones and engage teens in real world interactions, teaching them to
cooperate and pursue goals that will benefit everyone.
[i] Anne Campbell Staying alive: Evolution, culture
and women's intra-sexual aggression. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
[ii] Hellmich, N Girls' friendships show aggression
at younger ages. USA Today. 04/09/2002
Jean Twenge. Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? More comfortable online
than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have
ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis. The Atlantic
Persona Digital Books
- Children and the Family by
Stephen Gislason MD examines the intense interactions of
parents and children. Available as a printed book of as an inexpensive eBook
download. 275 Pages.
- From Dr. G's preface:" Parents receive a lot of advice
from many people. Popular magazines and books offer a continuous stream of
conflicting advice. Professionals have a variety of opinions about child-rearing
that range from helpful suggestions to misleading and even bizarre ideas. Child
psychology is an eclectic assembly of ideas, miscellaneous observations,
opinions, fears and irrational beliefs. Confusion prevails in education about
what children should learn and how they should learn it. If psychologists, physicians, and educators are confused, what about parents?
Parenting is difficult and long-term relationships sometimes fail. The best parents are pragmatic and not theorists. They stay involved with their
children, follow some basic guidelines they learned and tend to do whatever
works. Good parents improvise childcare with a combination of innate generosity,
common sense, love and concessions to the demands of modern life."
You can order Children and the Family as an eBook for Download
Additional recommended reading includes the books
Intelligence & Learning
Language and Thinking Feeding
Children and the
Alpha Nutrition Program
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