Excerpts of a lecture delivered by Dr Ifedigbo Nze Sylva at the 2008 Annual Knights of St. John International Cadets and Junior Auxiliaries Convention holding at the KSJI Temple, Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral Garki –Abuja on Thursday August 28, 2008.
The problem of adolescence is by no means an easy topic to discuss not withstanding that it is so to speak an every day thing. It is often said that the teenage years are the “best years of ones life”, In fact Art Linkletter a Canadian born US broadcaster in his book A Childs garden of Misinformation highlighted the beauty of the adolescent years in this famous quote; The four stages of man are infancy, childhood, adolescence, and obsolescence, in his opinion, life became useless after adolescence. As true as these assertions may be, it is ironic to note that this is only part of the picture. Life for many adolescents is a painful tug of war filled with mixed messages and conflicting demands from parents, teachers, friends, family and oneself. Growing up—negotiating a path between independence and reliance on others—is a tough business and that summarizes what we would be discussing here today.
Adolescence (gotten from the latin word adolescere which means; to grow) as defined by the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, is a transitional stage of physical and mental human development that occurs between childhood and adulthood. This transition involves biological (i.e. pubertal), social, and psychological changes, though the biological or physiological ones are the easiest to measure objectively.
The onset of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood vary from country to country but we can generally place adolescents to be persons within the ages of eight and eighteen. NB, Those in the period of adolescence are referred to as adolescents or teenagers or simply as teens.
The period of Adolescence is filled with intellectual and emotional changes in addition to other major biological and physical changes. It is a time of discovery of self and one’s relationship to the world around himself or herself.
Before we delve into the problems of adolescence, let us take some time to note the causes. It is important to the success of our discourse that we first understand what is happening to the teen physically, cognitively, and socially; before looking at how these affects teens.
Physical Development: During adolescence, teens experience rapid physical development at a speed unparalleled since infancy. Physical development includes; rapid increase in height and weight (seen earlier in girls than in boys), the development of secondary sexual characteristics (prominent among which is the onset of menstruation in girls and the growth of pubic hair),a continued brain development.
Cognitive Development: Adolescents usually possess greater thinking skills than infants. These advances in reasoning can be seen in the following areas;
• Developing advanced reasoning skills. These include the ability to think about multiple options and possibilities. It includes a more logical thought process and the ability to think about things hypothetically. It involves asking and answering the question, “what if…?”.
• Developing abstract thinking skills. These means thinking about things that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. Examples include things like faith, trust, beliefs and spirituality.
• Developing the ability to think about thinking in a process known as “meta-cognition.” Meta-cognition allows individuals to think about how they feel and what they are thinking. It involves being able to think about how one is perceived by others. It can also be used to develop strategies, also known as mnemonic devices, for improving learning.
Psycho-Social Development: There are five recognized psychosocial issues that teens deal with during their adolescent years. These include:
• Establishing an identity.
• Establishing autonomy.
• Establishing intimacy.
• Becoming comfortable with one’s sexuality.
• Making achievement.
These issues bring about such changes in youths as; spending more time with their friends than with their family, keeping a diary, locking up their rooms, become involved in multiple hobbies, become more argumentative, would not want to be seen with their parents in public etc.
As a result of these changes which the teen is undergoing, they become vulnerable to many forms of trouble. As adolescents try new behaviors, they become vulnerable to injury, legal consequences, and sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, traumatic injuries, particularly from car and motorcycle accidents, etc.
We shall then proceed to discuss some of these problems.
Adolescence is a time for developing independence. Typically, adolescents exercise their independence by questioning their parents’ rules, which at times leads to rule breaking. It is common for once loyal children to begin to grumble when asked to carry out some chores at home and to respond in harsh words when been rebuked by their parents. This is often a challenging time for most parents.
Some parents and their adolescents clash over almost everything. In these situations, the core issue is really control—adolescents want to feel in control of their lives and parents want adolescents to know they still make the rules.
Children occasionally engage in physical confrontation. However, during adolescence, the frequency and severity of violent interactions increase. Although episodes of violence at school are highly publicized, adolescents are much more likely to be involved with violence (or more often the threat of violence) at home and outside of school. Many factors, including developmental issues, gang membership, access to weapons, substance use, and poverty, contribute to an increased risk of violence for adolescents. Of particular concern are adolescents who, in an altercation, cause serious injury or use a weapon.
Because adolescents are much more independent and mobile than they were as children, they are often out of the direct physical control of adults. In these circumstances, adolescents’ behavior is determined by their own moral and behavioral code. The parents guide rather than directly control the adolescents’ actions. Adolescents who feel warmth and support from their parents are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Also, parents who convey clear expectations regarding their adolescents’ behavior and who demonstrate consistent limit setting and monitoring are less likely to have adolescents who engage in risky behaviors. Authoritative parenting, as opposed to harsh or permissive parenting, is most likely to promote mature behaviors.
Substance abuse is a common trigger of behavioral problems and often requires specific therapy. Behavioral problems may be the first sign of depression or other mental health disorders. Such disorders typically require treatment with drugs as well as counseling. In extreme cases, some adolescents may also need legal intervention in the form of probation which is not so common in Nigeria.
UNWANTED PREGNANCY AND SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES (STDS)
This is as much a problem for the male adolescent as it is for the female but generally, the girls stand a greater risk of this. Due to the development of secondary sexual characteristics following adolescence, teens feel a great push to explore and experiment with their bodies. Early maturing girls are likely to start dating and a combination of the overwhelming urge to explore and peer pressure leads many into sex.
Teens often equate intimacy with sex. Rather than exploring a deep emotional attachment first, teens tend to assume that if they engage in the physical act, the emotional attachment will follow
Most sexually active adolescents are not fully informed about contraception, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. As a result, many fall victims of unwanted pregnancies as well as STD’s. This we must note has destroyed so many young promising teens even from very good homes.
Because adolescence is a transitional stage in life, pregnancy can add significant emotional stress. Pregnant adolescents and their partners tend to drop out of school or job training, thus worsening their economic status, lowering their self-esteem, and straining personal relationships. Some of them never get to fulfill their childhood dreams in life.
Pregnant adolescents, particularly the very young and those who are not receiving prenatal care, are more likely than women in their 20s to have medical problems such as anemia and toxemia. Infants of young mothers (especially mothers younger than 15 years) are more likely to be born prematurely and to have a low birth weight. Also there is the problem of Vesico vaginal fistula (VVF).
Most times, pregnant teens attempt abortion, but this does not remove the psychological problems of an unwanted pregnancy—either for the adolescent girl or her partner. Really, it leads to more psychological and medical problems and the church has very strong words against abortion.
Parents may have different reactions when their daughter says she is pregnant or their son says his girlfriend is pregnant. Emotions may range from apathy to disappointment and anger. It is important for parents to express their support and willingness to help the adolescent sort through his or her choices. Parents and adolescents need to communicate openly about sex, contraception, abortion, adoption, and parenthood which are all tough options for the adolescent to struggle with alone.
DRUG AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Substance use among adolescents occurs on a spectrum; from experimentation to dependence. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience.
Alcohol is the biggest culprit in this regard. Teens have access to it at parties, can obtain it from older friends who are of legal age to buy it, or may simply raid their parents’ liquor cabinets. Moreover, unlike drug use, the moderate use of alcohol is considered perfectly acceptable in most adult social circles. Teens see their parents enjoying a cocktail after work or having a glass of wine at dinner. Drinking comes to represent a very sophisticated and adult thing to do, after all, mum and Dad do it…why shouldn’t I?
Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age has negative health effects. While some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.
Teenagers at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those: with a family history of substance abuse , those who are depressed , those who have low self-esteem, and who feel like they don’t fit in or are out of the mainstream.
The majority of adults who smoke cigarettes begin smoking during adolescence. If an adolescent reaches the age of 18 to 19 years without becoming a smoker, it is highly unlikely that he will become a smoker as an adult. An estimated 20 million adults in the United States abuse alcohol. More than half of these alcoholics started drinking heavily when they were teenagers.
Teenagers abuse a variety of drugs, both legal and illegal. Legally available drugs include alcohol, prescribed medications, inhalants (fumes from glues, aerosols, and solvents) and over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep, and diet medications. The most commonly used illegal drugs are marijuana (pot), stimulants (cocaine, crack, and speed), opiates, heroin, and designer drugs (Ecstasy).
Drug use is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including increased risk of serious drug use later in life, school failure, and poor judgment which may put teens at risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, crime and suicide.
Parents can prevent their children from using drugs by talking to them about drugs, open communication, role modeling, responsible behavior, and recognizing if problems are developing.
STRESS AND DEPRESSION
Stress and depression are serious problems for many teenagers. A 1986 study in High Schools in Minnesota, in the US showed that although 61 percent of the students are not depressed and seem to handle their problems in constructive ways, 39 percent suffer from mild to severe depression. These young people often rely on passive or negative behaviors in their attempts to deal with problems. (Garfinkel, et al., 1986).
Stress is characterized by feelings of tension, frustration, worry, sadness and withdrawal that commonly last from a few hours to a few days. Depression is both more severe and longer lasting. Depression is characterized by more extreme feelings of hopelessness, sadness, isolation, worry, withdrawal and worthlessness that last for two weeks or more.
Young people become stressed for many reasons. The most common of these are: Break up with boy/girl friend, Increased arguments with parents ,Trouble with brother or sister ,Increased arguments between parents , Change in parents’ financial status ,Serious illness or injury of family member , and Trouble with classmates. In addition, Children from single parents or broken homes are subjected to a near harrowing experience which brings about Stress and Depression. A classical example of what life could be for a teen from a broken home is shown in my novel Whispering Aloud published by Spectrum books Nigeria (2007), you might wish to grab a copy.
These stress inducing events are centered in the two most important domains of a teenager’s life: home and school. They relate to issues of conflict and loss. Loss can reflect the real or perceived loss of something concrete such as a friend or money, and it can mean the loss of such intrinsic things as self-worth, respect, friendship or love.
In my book Whispering Aloud, a novella, Lilian, the main character, a child from a broken home, experienced the stress of being incomplete since she grew to know only her Mother, the stress of being lonely as she had no sibling to play and share experiences with while growing up as well as the depressive feeling of being kept in the dark about her father as her mother would not even mention it. Fate however led her to eventually discovering the existence of, and meeting with her own twin sister Vivian in what can best be described as an entrapping story.
Young people respond to stress and depression by exhibiting much more anger and ventilation; being passive and aggressive. They yell, fight and complain just about every thing. Drinking, smoking and crying more often- especially the girls- are other popular signs. They are also less inclined to do things with their family or to go along with parents’ rules and requests.
Ultimately, most young people will develop and assume the responsibility for their own protection and peace of mind. But during the years of learning and practice, parents, teachers and helping adults need to be aware of the signs and patterns that signal danger. Awareness of adolescent stress and depression opens the door for adults to begin constructive interventions and stimulate emotional development.
This is a huge problem that exists among adolescents though it is often neglected in this part of the world. Bullying is the act of intentionally causing harm to others, through verbal harassment, physical assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion such as manipulation.
Bullying in school and the workplace is also referred to as peer abuse.
In colloquial speech, bullying often describes a form of harassment perpetrated by an abuser who possesses more physical and/or social power and dominance than the victim. The harassment can be verbal, physical and/or emotional.
Every day thousands of teens wake up afraid to go to school. Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students of all races and classes. Bullying has everyone worried, not just the kids on its receiving end. Yet because parents, teachers, and other adults don’t always see it, they may not understand how extreme bullying can get.
Studies show that people who are abused by their peers are at risk for mental health problems, such as low self-esteem, stress, depression, or anxiety. They may also think about suicide more.
Bullies are at risk for problems, too. Bullying is violence, and it often leads to more violent behavior as the bully grows up. It’s estimated that 1 out of 4 elementary-school bullies will have a criminal record by the time they are 30. Some teen bullies end up being rejected by their peers and lose friendships as they grow older. Bullies may also fail in school and not have the career or relationship success that other people enjoy. Some bullies actually have personality disorders that don’t allow them to understand normal social emotions like guilt, empathy, compassion, or remorse. Such teens need help from a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist.
The School constitutes a large part of an adolescent’s existence. Difficulties in almost any area of life often manifest as school problems.
School problems during the adolescent years may be the result of rebellion and a need for independence. Less commonly, they may be caused by mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression. Substance use, abuse, and family conflict also are common contributors to school problems. Sometimes, inappropriate academic placement—particularly in adolescents with a learning disability or mild mental retardation that was not recognized early in life—causes school problems.
Particular school problems include fear of going to school, truancy, dropping out, and academic underachievement. Problems that developed earlier in childhood, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disorders, may continue to cause school problems for adolescents.
Between 1% and 5% of adolescents develop fear of going to school. This fear may be generalized or related to a particular person (a teacher or another student) or event at school (such as physical education class or bullying). The adolescent may develop physical symptoms, such as abdominal pain, or may simply refuse to go to school. School personnel and family members should identify the reason, if any, for the fear and encourage the adolescent to attend school.
Adolescents experience many more problems which I have not discussed here due to time constraints. However, it is important we highlight two major factors that are central to the orchestration or otherwise of these problems of adolescence. These two factors are: Peer pressure and the Media.
Peer-Pressure is a term describing the pressure exerted by a peer group in encouraging a person to change their attitude, behavior and/or morals, to conform to, for example, the group’s actions, fashion sense, taste in music and television, or outlook on life. Peer pressure can also cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do, e.g. take drugs, smoke etc.
As you grow older, you’ll be faced with some challenging decisions. Some don’t have a clear right or wrong answer – like should you play soccer or become a musician? Other decisions involve serious moral questions, like whether to cut class, try cigarettes, or lie to your parents.
Peers influence your life, even if you don’t realize it, just by spending time with you. You learn from them, and they learn from you. It’s only human nature to listen to and learn from other people in your age group. While peers can be of positive influence in many ways, they could also be very negative and in fact are responsible for a great deal of the problems teens experience.
Some kids give in to peer pressure because they want to be liked, to fit in, or because they worry that other kids may make fun of them if they don’t go along with the group. Others may go along because they are curious to try something new that others are doing. The idea that “everyone’s doing it” may influence some kids to leave their better judgment, or their common sense, behind.
The second issue is the Media. Some years ago, all I could watch was the black and white ‘wooden’ television in my Dads sitting room which showed only NTA from 4.00pm to 12 mid night. Today however, we can now watch whatever we want to, from whatever part of the world and at whatever time of the day. The local television, cable television, the satellite, the internet, the 3G technology in handsets, Video, CD and DVD players, name it, are all now at our very disposal and with the press of a button, we are availed of all sorts of motion pictures on our screens providing high level entertainment and relaxation.
Beyond the entertainment and the feeling of being up to date which these sophisticated gadgets give us; they are also a potent means for self destruction. Unfortunately, there is often no restriction to the content of what is on our screens. While they are all often pooled together under the umbrella of “Entertainment”, it is common knowledge that the content often varies ranging from the very critical and educative to the obscene and downright immoral. (See an article by me “What are Your Children Watching” at my blog site http://www.nzesylva.wordpress.com ).
Adolescents have a delicate innocence that can be easily influenced, traumatized and subsequently destroyed by what they watch on the screen. Once they have imbibed something negative, it becomes almost impossible to change them and they don’t just imbibe, they often also go ahead to ‘innocently’ experiment, destroying their lives and those of their friends in the process.
Most parents are often too busy or rather feign to be busy to monitor and show some extra interest in what their children are watching. Such parents must note that they would have failed in their parental duties if that child (or children) of theirs ends up a junky, a prostitute or a sexual pervert because of what they freely let them watch. The implication of having a media induced, morally deranged generation can best be imagined.
Having dwelt so much on the problems, every one would expect to hear me give the solutions. If you’ve listened attentively, you would have noticed that have consciously put in some points on how parents can handle the discussed problems. I am not a parent yet, so I in a way consider my self not too fit to advice them. However, it suffices to say that in dealing with adolescents as a parent, one has to be more patient and understanding, Strict but not firm, persuasive but not authoritarian and best of all very prayerful.
On the part of the teens, I wish to state that there is simply no excuse for letting the physical and psycho-social changes of adolescence overwhelm you so much as making you begin to take part in antisocial behaviours. As a Catholic teen, you have a responsibility to your self, your parents as well as the Church to live lives worthy of emulation by your peers.
Adolescence or no adolescence, the bible is quite clear on our conduct as individuals. For example, It says “Honour your father and your mother”. Honouring your parents does not include quarreling with them and being disobedient. Ephesians 6:1 is even more explicit on our duty to our parents, “Children, it is your Christian duty to obey your parents, for this is the right thing to do”. Our Lord Jesus Christ who was also an adolescent at a time gives us a good example of how to be a good adolescent. Despite being God, Jesus was very obedient Luke’s Gospel 2:51-52.
The bible also says “Thou shall not commit adultery”. 1st Thessalonians 4:7 says “God did not call us to live in immorality, but in holiness”. Titus 2:11-14 admonishes us to do away with all ungodly living and worldly passions. Participation in sex before marriage is not just a sin but could ruin your life. Same goes to using drugs and alcohol.
Psalm 119:9 summarizes the need for adolescents to remain very close to the word of Gods in these words “How can young people keep their lives pure? By obeying your commands” and the only way we can know of these commands is by being close to God, attending Masses and Catechism classes, participating in the Sacraments, reading the Bible and obeying our parents and teachers.
This paper is by no means exhaustive on the topic. We can actually go on and on but in these few pages, I hope that I have made good use of the privilege of talking to us today and that we all have learnt something new on our topic of discourse.
Once again, let me thank the organizers for the invitation to do this and the KSJI Abuja for her sustained efforts in raising future soldiers of the Church through the Cadets and Junior Auxiliaries.
Thank you all for listening. May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.
It has been my pleasure.
Dr Ifedigbo Nze Sylva (DVM)