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Archive for Saturday, July 9, 2005

Teenage behavior often linked to hormonal changes

July 9, 2005

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Q: My teenage son is becoming increasingly difficult to get along with. Isn't there some way to avoid this blackout period and the other stresses associated with the adolescent voyage?

Not with some teenagers, perhaps not with the majority. Tension occurs in the most loving and intelligent of families. Why? Because it is driven by powerful hormonal forces that overtake and possess boys and girls in the early pubescent years.

A: I believe parents and even some behavioral scientists have underestimated the impact of the biochemical changes occurring in puberty. We can see the effect of these hormones on the physical body, but something equally dynamic is occurring in the brain. How else can we explain why a happy, contented, cooperative 12-year-old suddenly becomes a sullen, angry, depressed 13-year-old? Some authorities would contend that social pressure alone accounts for this transformation. I simply don't believe that.

The emotional characteristics of a suddenly rebellious teenager are rather like the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or severe menopause in women, or perhaps a tumultuous midlife crisis in men. Obviously, dramatic changes are going on inside!

Furthermore, if the upheaval were caused entirely by environmental factors, its onset would not be so predictable in puberty. The emotional changes I have described arrive right on schedule, timed to coincide precisely with the arrival of sexual maturation. Both characteristics, I contend, are driven by a common hormonal assault. Human chemistry apparently goes haywire for a few years, in some more than others, affecting mind as much as body.

Q: I made a little offhand comment the other day about my daughter's hair, and she cried for an hour. I didn't mean to hurt her. I guess she's just more sensitive than I thought. Do I have to walk on eggshells around her?

A: You should always be mindful that your daughter is listening to what you say about her and that she's "reading" the subtle attitudes that you might like to conceal. Kids are extremely sensitive to their parents' love and respect. That's why adults must learn to guard what they say in their presence.

Many times I have been consulted by a mother regarding a particular problem her child is having. As Mom describes the details of the boy's or girl's problems, I notice that the subject of all this conversation is standing about a yard behind her. His ears are 10 feet tall as he listens to a candid description of all his faults. The child may remember that conversation for a lifetime.

Parents often inadvertently convey disrespect to a child whom they genuinely love. For example, Mom may become tense and nervous when little Jimmy speaks to guests or outsiders. She butts in to explain what he is trying to say or laughs nervously when his remarks sound foolish. When someone asks him a direct question, she interrupts and answers for him. She reveals her frustration when she is trying to comb his hair or make him "look nice" for an important event. He knows Mom thinks it is an impossible assignment. If he is to spend a weekend away from the family, the mother gives him an extended lecture on how to avoid making a fool of himself.

These subtle behaviors are signals to the child that the mother doesn't trust him with her image and that he must be supervised closely to avoid embarrassing the whole family. He reads disrespect in her manner, though it is framed in genuine love.

The first step in building a strong self-concept in your children is to be very careful what you say and do in their presence.

James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.

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