Teenagers as people in Transition: What Parents should know (Part 3)

By Sr. M. Rosanna Emenusiobi IHM (Ph.D)

(continued from last edition)

1.5 Adolescent Emotional Development
Remember that adolescence is a period of transition. The emotional world of adolescence is typically fast and intense. A prevailing characteristic of change, whether psychological, spiritual or chemical is instability. And so it is with a teenager’s emotional development. Girls are especially prone to experience more intense emotional reactions because of cultural and social influences that encourage girls to express their feelings. Cultural influence discourage emotional expression in boys. For instance, in many cultures, one of the signs of maturity in men is non-expression of emotions such as crying or showing tender loving care, especially in public. These are viewed as signs of weakness in men.

In general, increased emotional reaction are experienced by both boys and girls because they are learning to cope with new roles, new relationships, new expectations and new responsibilities. At this period, it is not quite okay to go to mom or dad for help. The most common negative emotions or feelings that teenagers experience are anger, apathy, boredom, sadness, depression, guilt, fear, and anxiety. Please, note that these emotions are labelled “negative” not because they are bad. Emotions are amoral and therefore should not be labelled as evil or righteous. Rather, they exist as a part of our human experience. It is only our response to a given emotion that is morally good or morally bad. Emotions listed above are negative because they are unhappy, difficult or unpleasant to experience. Again, they are the emotional reactions that could cause distress in the teenager’s life.

1.6 Intellectual Development
Our discussion, up to this point, has been focused on the biological, emotional, and relational changes that characterise adolescent growth. There are intellectual changes, too. Experts believe that from age 11 or 12 years of age, is the beginning of abstract thinking in young people, and that intellectual growth reaches its highest potential during mid-adolescence to late adolescence. Others believe that certain aspect of intelligence continue to develop into later years. Their ability for abstract thinking, to reason, predict and plan ahead certainly affects their academic performance, vocational decisions, and relationships with parent and most of the other tasks of this life phase.

1.7 Values and Moral Development
There are various theories on moral development in children. But the best-known theories are those of psychologists Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. Both described children’s early moral beliefs as oriented toward power and authority. For young children, might makes right, literally. Over time they come to understand that social rules are made by people and thus can be renegotiated and that reciprocity in relationships is fairer than unilateral obedience. Kohlberg identified a six-stage sequence in the maturation of moral judgment. The first stage: obedience and punishment orientation. At this stage, people stick to rules in order to avoid punishment, and obedience occurs for its own sake.

The second stage: reward orientation. At this stage, rules are followed only for a person’s own benefit. Obedience occurs because of rewards that are received. Stage three: “good boy” – “good girl” morality. Individuals at this stage show an interest in maintaining the respect of others and doing what is expected of them. Stage four: authority and social-order-maintaining morality. People at this stage conform to society’s rules and consider that ‘right’ is what society defines as right. Stage five: morality of contract, individual rights and democratically accepted law. People at this stage do what is right because of a sense of obligation to laws which are agreed upon within the society. They perceive that laws can be modified as part of changes in an implicit social contract. Stage Six: Morality of individual principles and conscience: At this final stage, a person follows laws because they are based on universal ethical principles. Laws that violate the principles are disobeyed. Many younger adolescents are functioning in the range between stages 1 to 4, while older adolescents will typically display stages 3 and 4 or stages 5 and 6. It is also important to note that an individual’s moral judgment and moral behaviour will probably represent more than just one stage at any one time. However, one stage will probably be more predominant than the others.


2.1 More Behaviours in the Adolescent Developmental Process.
There are many more behaviours that are typical, usual and understandable as a part of the adolescent developmental process. A basic premise underlying the psychological understanding of human behaviour is the belief that all behaviour is goal directed. Everything that we do is motivated to meet a certain need, accomplish a task or to produce a desired result. The behaviour goals are age appropriate. And so are the adolescent behaviours. Let have a look at some of these and the motive behind them.

Attention-seeking behaviour is an almost universal characteristic of young children. Being attended to gives them a sense of personal significance and importance. Power-seeking behaviour is very common among teenagers. Active, energetic and courageous teenagers are most apt to seek a greater sense of power.

When teenagers are feeling insecure or unsure about their worth and angry about not feeling valued, they are more apt to express their power-oriented behaviours in negative ways, for instance, disobeying parental directives. This form of behaviour represents a challenge to authority, and as such, it is usually directed toward adults. It is associated with teenagers’ natural, healthy need to push away somewhat from tradition and authority in order to establish their own sense of identity. This drive for power is another goal that can produce both positively and negatively directed behaviour.

Excitement. Seeking excitement is often associated with the pleasure of developing new abilities and talents. Expanding the limits is a central part of the adolescent experience. Arousal and excitement are also closely associated with the increased physical strength and sexual maturation beginning with the onset of puberty. Positive forms of arousal or excitement-seeking such as sports and hobbies are all positive behaviours because they help teenagers learn more about their strengths and abilities without causing negative or unhealthy consequences. This period in teenagers’ transition is also characterised by peer acceptance. It is one of the driving goals of adolescence. I will talk more on this later in this article.

Superiority. The goal of superiority is a common motivator for many teenagers. The quest for identity often propels them toward identification with hero images. Wanting to be just like or desiring to possess the attributes of an idealised hero represents the teenagers’ striving for excellence, superiority, and a sense of significance. A teenager who strives for excellence in a skill for which he or she is qualified is likely to feel successful and encouraged. While a discouraged teenager will sometimes seek superiority in destructive ways, like drinking more beer and other alcoholic drinks or scoring more sexual conquests than anyone else.

2.2 Common Emotions in Teenagers
Usual characteristic adolescent behaviours are frequent fluctuations in mood and extreme emotional reactions. It is said that teenagers go through one or more mood-swing cycles per day. In most cases, these emotions are experienced in extreme forms, and rarely in moderation. Parents, I would want us to keep these three points in mind as they will be helpful in your moral formation of your teens:

1. emotions are amoral. Emotions themselves are neither good or and from a moral point of view. It is what we do with our emotions, how we respond to them, that can be judged righteous or evil, good or bad.

2. Strong emotional reactions are age-appropriate for teenagers. Teenagers often experience very high “highs” and very low “lows”. Understanding this removes some of the confusion we feel when teenagers overreact to apparently in small issues. 3. Teenagers sometimes use their emotions to get what they want. The emotions themselves are not bad, they are simply used toward a desired end. Other common emotions exhibited by them include the following among others:

Anger: Teenagers have greater opportunity of releasing feelings of frustration confusion, and helplessness. Often these feelings come out in form of anger, precipitated by some current provocation. Another cause for extremely intense reactions is a transient hormonal imbalance, most clearly seen in young adolescent girls just prior to menses.

Apathy: Not caring or withdrawing emotions represent a kind of giving up when life becomes too painful. Apathetic teenagers are too discouraged to express their anger openly. Although some apathy is normal, it is a serious problems when it becomes chronic.

Boredom: Teenagers’ exhibit here a very low energy level and often accompanied with anger.
The bored teenager may sit in the midst of assorted home video games, stereos, reading materials, and various arts and crafts, and yet feel at a total loss for anything to do.

Sadness: This is not serious or clinical depression, but only mild depression commonly experienced at quite frequent intervals in teenagers. Loss of energy, withdrawing from people, irritability, refusing to be consoled are all symptoms of sadness. Elements of anger, apathy, overhearing parents fighting, being concerned about the future, and feeling bad about one’s physical appearance are some of the causes of sadness. Teenagers who are sad will often retreat to their room, sit alone in the backyard, or sometimes seek the company of a special friend.

When parents have adequate understanding of what is going on in their teens, they will make some adjustments in their formation and education of these young people, especially in the area of proper understanding of human life and human sexuality.

(to be continued)

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