Teenagers as people in Transition: What Parents should know

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

“Wives, mothers of families, the first educators of the human race in the intimacy of the family circle, pass on to your sons and your daughters the traditions of your fathers at the same time that you prepare them for an unsearchable future. Always remember that by her children a mother belongs to that future which perhaps she will not see.”
(Pope Paul VI)For some time now, our focus has been on women, especially adult women: married or single. This time, our torchlight beams on teens – the children of these mothers. It will appear in two segments, namely, the first concentrates on teenage years and the characteristics of this period, while the second will focus on raising these teenagers to appreciate and live out their authentic sexuality.

Teens are adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 or 20. Teen years are naturally “turbulent” on account of the new changes and challenges these boys and girls experience, some of which could be embarrassing, if they are not properly prepared for this period. One of the common challenges is the confusion brought about by the so-called sexual revolution that has virtually distorted the true meaning of human sexuality and subsequent hook-up culture it generates, which also damages childhood innocence.

In the following article, we shall look at teenagers and what happens in them as they grow into adulthood. Then, in the subsequent article, we shall examine sexual permissiveness (hook-up culture), and its effects on girls and how mothers, especially, could instill in their children the value of chastity – the antidote to sexual corruption. It is also that spiritual energy that respects human sexuality and respects sex for what it is. How can mothers raise their children to appreciate this noble virtue so as to sail untouched by the sexual malaise prevalent in our society today?

In this article, teenagers and adolescents will be used interchangeably to mean the same thing. For a better comprehension of our subject matter, we begin by exploring the features of teenage period in general.

1.1: Developmental Perspective
The adolescent or teen years have been considered as an age marked by change, transition, and tumult. It has been described as a time in life characterised by “storm and stress”. A short developmental perspective on the physical and psychological changes common to most teenagers of which produce the erratic behaviour patterns that often cause focused and apprehensive concern from parents.

Effective parenting requires more than a loving desire to help; positive motivation must be paired with an adequate understanding of the young people whom they seek to bring up properly. Without this deeper level of understanding, parents’ finest intentions can create worse problems and more confusion. By developmental perspective is meant a view of life that appreciates the meaningful inter-relatedness of the past, present, and future. It is “longitudinal view of human behaviour” that seeks to understand our life experience as a progressive movement.

Development normally proceeds in the direction of actualizing or fulfilling the created potential. Under healthy conditions the teenager will move naturally toward developing spiritual, psychological, physical, and interpersonal areas of living to his or her full potential.

There are three ways of defining teenage or adolescent stage of development. First, by using physical developmental changes, adolescents (teenagers) start with the puberty-related growth spurt and appearance of primary and secondary sex characteristics, and ends with the completion of the major physical growth.

A second way of defining adolescence is to assign a specific age span, for example, ages 11-19. The third definition uses socio-cultural concepts like the transition from child roles to adult roles and status . In this article, the application of these definitions will overlap. Parents need to understand their teen’s psychological, intellectual, emotional and sociocultural dynamics that identify them as people undergoing the adolescent process.

1.2. Phases of Adolescent (Teenage) Development
Dividing the adolescent developmental stage into three stages or phases helps to clarify the widely divergent maturity levels exhibited by teenagers. The three phases will help parents to understand the characteristics exhibited by young people as they grow through this difficult transition period. Experts have provided varying years for the onset of puberty. However, I am working with the age ranges below.

1.2.1 Early Adolescence (10-14 years): This stage begins with the physiological changes that alter hormonal functioning and related psychological changes. This period begins just prior to onset of puberty and lasts usually 18 to 24 months. During this time, the young person is becoming far more motivated by peer pressure than by parental pressure. While girls experience menarche (onset of menses), boys experience their first ejaculations and a sharp increase in the frequency of erections. Both boys and girls develop secondary sex characteristics including increase in body hair, growth and breast development. Clumsiness is typical of this age and is caused by the rapid growth spurt prior to and at the time of puberty.

1.2.2 Mid-Adolescence (15-17 years): This stage is characterised by additional physical and sexual development and is accompanied, especially in boys, by an increasing sexual desire and responsiveness to sexual stimuli. During this phase, there is a decreased interest in same-sex peer groups and an increased focus upon building friendships and dating relationships with members of the opposite sex. Movement away from parental influence is facilitated by adhering to the norms and values of groups and organisations that are on the parents’ non-approval list.

1.2.3: Late Adolescence (18-20 years): This stage marks the transition into early adulthood. Major physical growth and sex changes have been accomplished and the young person is feeling more comfortable living within his or her “new” body. Energies are now being focused on future issues. “What vocational commitments and what relationship-commitments should I be making”? “Does my future look promising and secure enough to really burn my bridges behind me”? These are the questions of the late adolescent.

It is essential that parents be acquainted with these stages even if remotely. This knowledge enhances how they follow these changes and thus provide appropriate sexuality education to their teens.

1.3 Major Changes In the Body
As already mentioned, the adolescent developmental stage is commonly thought to begin with the onset of puberty. Since the physiological changes during this stage have such a dramatic effect on the teenager’s self-concept and behaviour, it is important for parents to have a solid understanding of the physiology of their adolescent daughters and sons.

1.3.1 Anatomical Changes: Muscular Growth
The first observable anatomical changes in boys at puberty are growth of testicles and slight growth of the penis. In girls, puberty is heralded by the onset of menarche, (beginning of menstrual flow), appearance of pubic hair and development of breast buds. As puberty continues, the boy’s penis continues to grow, pubic hair develops followed by axillary hair (armpit hair), facial hair, and sweat gland development. His voice deepens, his height increases rapidly and he increases dramatically in muscular strength. As a girl continues through puberty, her breasts continue developing, the shape and curvature of the pelvis and hips change, vaginal tissues develop and begin secretions, a physical growth spurt is realised, pubic hair develops further, axillary hair appears and sweat gland activity increases.

1.3.2 Primary and Secondary Sexual Characteristics
Primary sexual characteristics of puberty are those that affect reproductive capability. Boys begin producing spermatozoa and the first ejaculation occurs. However, the first ejaculations may contain few or no life mature spermatozoa. In girls, menarche indicates a maturing ovarian functioning. However, some experts say the first 12 to 18 months of menstrual cycles may be anovulatory (no ovum is released) so that the girl can be infertile for some time following onset of menses.

Secondary sexual characteristics include all of those puberty-related physical changes that do not affect fertility. Pubic and axial hair growth, increased sweat gland activity, growth spurts, weight gain and increases in physical strength, are all secondary sexual changes that both boys and girls experience. Boys also develop facial hair and a voice change. It should be noted that about one-third of boys also experience some breast enlargement during mid-pubescence that can last from about 12 to 18 months.

Onset of menarche (beginning of first menses) usually occurs between the ages of 10 and 161/2 , with the highest frequency at about age 13. The earliest stage of puberty (pubescence) usually begins at about age 10 in girls and at about age 11 in boys. The average girl of none to 13 years is taller than her male counterpart of the same age. This is the only age that girls are taller than boys (and this causes some of the awkwardness between the sexes).

Boys’ physical strength doubles between the ages of 12 and 16 and continues to increase through early adulthood. Girls, however, experience the greatest increase in strength at menarche and reach their maximum level of muscular strength during late adolescence. Girls’ superiority over boys in physical strength, then, is very short lived.

When parents understand adequately what goes on inside 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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