The turbulence of adolescence (1)

on   /   in Marriage and Family 12:27 am   /   Comments

By France Ewherido

The Vanguard Newspaper of July 7 and 9 carried the stories of Tolani Ajayi, a 21-year-old Redeemer’s University student, who allegedly killed his 60-year-old father, Charles Ajayi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, over an argument.

Much of what we heard about the incident was the account of the accused; the father is not alive to tell his side of the story. I sympathise with the Ajayis. They have not only lost a father, their son faces an uncertain future, depending on whether he is charged for manslaughter, murder or let off the hook.

But our attention today is not necessarily on the Ajayis. What happened to them mirrors what happens in many families, just that theirs had a tragic ending. Many parents, for genuine reasons, dread the period when their children get into adolescence.

Adolescence is the “transitional stage of physical and human development that generally occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood” (Wikipedia). In other words, an adolescent is “a young person (fluidly between 12-19 years) who has undergone puberty but has not reached full maturity.” At 21 years, Tolani Ajayi is a plain adolescent (19-24 years) or young adult.

Adolescence is a period when children begin to assert their independence, want to belong to a group, and want to take decisions independent of their parents. It is also a time when peer pressure is most intense.

Unfortunately much of the peer pressure tend to be negative (Tolani Ajayi confirmed he did drugs, primarily influenced by friends). In fact, adolescents tend to pull away from their parents, rely more on peers and become rebellious towards parents. It can be a very confusing and turbulent stage of development, and needs to be carefully managed.

To add to parents’ woes, television, cell phones, iphones, ipads, internet Facebook and other IT devices have yanked further influence and control from parents. The explosion in information technology is a double-edged sword. It can transform the life of a youngster and make him tower above his peers if well utilised. It can also easily ruin a youngster if wrongly applied.

Further eroding parents’ influence is the amount of time parents spend outside the home and care givers who take care of the children while parents are away. Normally, ages 0-10 is the best time parents have to shape the character of their children.

Studies have shown that the foundation of what a child will become is laid between ages one and 10 when they are most amenable and intuitive. In fact, a professor of psychology, Linda Spears, says “by age six, a child’s brain has already achieved 95 per cent of its adult structure.”

If parents get it wrong at this early stage, it becomes an uphill task putting it right later because as children get into adolescence, the paradigm shifts and they tend to be influenced more by external than internal factors.

By adolescence the character foundation of children should have been laid and the rules made and understood to guide them wherever they find themselves. So if they do anything to the contrary, they will know ab initio that they are breaking the rules. That way their conscience begins to prick them even before they hear from the parents. Parents need to be proactive; you do not wait until situations arise before you make rules or find solutions.

By the time children get into their 20s parents should have completed the major and hard work of upbringing. In fact, once they are out of school, start working and earning their own money (or moved to their own abode) you cannot tell them how to live their lives anymore. Your role shrinks to giving advice, which can be taken or jettisoned.

Unfortunately, these days many parents are working class and children are moved to day-care as early as six weeks old; thereafter to kindergarten, then to primary school. From there they move to the boarding house at the secondary school level. The implication is that today’s parents do not have the kind of opportunity parents of old had to participate in the early formation of their children.

If early parental influence in those days was 80 per cent, now it is 40 per cent or less. The new trend has come at a great cost: fractured parents/children bond. Many children and parents have become “familiar strangers.” Parents should bond and create friendship with their children at the early stages of the children’s development.

This friendship should be strengthened as the children get into adolescence, peer pressure notwithstanding. For me, I am at war with peer pressure, especially negative peer pressure. It is a battle I am fighting with the entire arsenal at my disposal, God being my most potent weapon.
Adolescence is a time when parents and children “fight.” This is inevitable because the ways of adolescents are different from the parents’, so are their thoughts. So there must be conflict; we only pray for happy, not tragic, endings.

I see these conflicts as theses, antitheses and syntheses. The child’s proposed actions are the theses, which are contrary to the parents’ (antitheses). They then squabble for a while and then find a common ground (syntheses). Sometimes it is not as straightforward.

Today, many parents carry secret agonies of adolescent children who are thieves, cultists, porn addicts, sex perverts, rapists, sexually active, fraudsters, armed robbers, and some are already into ritual activities.

Parenthood can be heart wrenching. But while parents may fret over adolescent children, they need not get heart attack. Many parents were not exactly saints while growing up. We had one baggage or the other. I derailed as an adolescent. The strong Christian and moral foundation my parents built and the grace of God put me in back on track.

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