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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Growing Pains - Hannatu Musawa


 
Most parents of adolescent children will identify with the fact that it is a time of change and challenge for all involved. Due to hormonal changes in their body, an adolescent mood may swing from admirable behavior to a despicable show of rudeness at home and in public. A great number of problems encountered with parents and teens are attitude problems, underage drinking, drug abuse, drunk driving, bullying, rebellious behavior, smoking, peer pressure, body issues and lying.
These problems can be overwhelming for many parents. To nag, yell or threaten are definitely not the best approaches to addressing a troubled teen. Because modern day parents are extremely busy, other productive strategies have to be used to deal with children. It helps to exercise an unbelievable amount of patience and be able to think practically and strategically. It is understandable though that parents become confused and frustrated and at a loss at how to react to these problems. We as parents may become irrational and emotional; the first instinct is to lash out negatively. This in turn results in verbal or even physical abuse between parent and child; and if these scenes for one reason or the other continue to escalate, then a parent would be forced to admit that a losing battle is being fought without a victor.
In Nigeria, adolescents react to rapid changes to the environment. These changes affect the society in major ways as 43% of the Nigerian population comprise of adolescent children (Bamgbose, 2002). When adults are not properly educated or morally sound, these characteristics are usually always passed down to the children. Adolescent children can be said to be relating to a person who is in transition to acquire biological features peculiar to the adult population group. This period of life between childhood and adolescents refers to teenage children between thirteen to eighteen years of age. This period is described by specialists as a turbulent period of overwhelming stress. There are physical traits associated with adolescents such as profuse perspiration and body odour (if hygiene is not prioritized), enormous  appetites, skin problems that can be acne related, social awkwardness, curiosity about sexuality, self-consciousness, feeling lazy or lethargic and disruptive and sometimes aggressive behavior.
With these barrage of problems, it is paramount and necessary for parents to enlighten themselves on issues that maybe plaguing their children and interact with them as much as possible; or as much as time will allow. Many parents mistake for example doing homework or going to the church/ mosque as interacting optimally with their children- this is not the solution. Interacting with your children by participating in activities that they enjoy such as football, swimming, movies etc. is so much more productive to both parties. Engaging your child in a project they find interesting will bridge a strong foundational bond that will serve as a lasting understanding even in times that you or them become frustrated. Some parents feel utterly lost as to how to tackle adolescent children; especially if the aggression or hostility being shown by them is not related to physical abuse or an alcohol or substance abuse problem.
At this point its very important that parents distinguish between the “normal” teenage mood swings and rebellion from signs of actual depression. Even though depression may occur at any age, it can affect adolescents more than it does younger children. These depressive symptoms can appear at the age of 13 but more often 16 and 24. Unfortunately, depression is very difficult to detect in adolescents; especially due to the fact that they don’t open up so easily due to insecurities. Dr Michael Miller, editor in chief of the “Harvard Mental Health Letter”, says experts have identified certain characteristics that distinguish mood swings from depression in adolescents. They are:
  • Severity: The more pronounced the symptoms (changes in mood, behaviours, feelings, thoughts), the more likely that the problem is depression and not a passing mood.
  • Duration: Any deterioration in behavior or mood that lasts two weeks or longer, without a break, may indicate depression.
  • Domains: Problems noticed in several areas of a teen’s functioning- at home, in school, and in interactions with friends- may indicate depression.
The first step to helping your child is to recognize and accept the fact that they even have a problem. Encourage your child to to also identify what is happening to them; so that you may assure them that they will not be alone in tackling the issues at hand. Educate your child in ways to cope with problems; model appropriate behavior for them to follow. Support them towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle; for example enough sleep, exercise and eating proper balanced meals. Adolescents should also be motivated towards taking preventative steps through creativity and being involved in interactive activities. One of my traditions has been to make children socially responsible by giving them practical lessons. Teach your child to feel empathy towards the less privileged, orphans and disabled. I embark upon community service with my daughter, nieces and nephews from their foundational years; to ensure they develop a high level of empathy for the less fortunate in the community. I often point out almajiris that walk under the basking hot sun without even slippers on their tiny worn feet or any proper clothing. Engage them in interactive problem solving, “If you were President, what would you do to ensure that all children are safe and properly cared for?” Or “How many different policies would you suggest to ensure that child trafficking stops and all children have an equal opportunity to go to school?” This question can be posed to the older children.
While teenage mood swings can be very difficult to deal with, it is important that parents give support to their children. Do your best to understand what that child is feeling; take a mental time travelling machine to remember how strange many things may have seem to you at that age. Most teenagers find it excruciatingly difficult to talk to their parents about their feelings. Focus on the fact that your priority should be to help shape your child into a productive and self-sufficient adult.
It may take the last drop of patience you have but resist the temptation to address temperamental mood swings by lashing out in anger or annoyance. Do not take any negative behavior personally by being a bully instead of a parent with great inspiration and advice. Be observant of your child’s mood and ensure that when they are upset or in pain you are there for a shoulder to lean or cry on. When you child does well reward them with love and recognition instead of material gifts for many parents are unwittingly guilty of showering their children with too many gifts. You time and attention is far more valuable in the long run than the latest ipod or PS3.
The fact that you are raising a young adult is challenging but should not have to be a nightmare. Do the best that you can like many parents; and it is a guarantee that the impact of your influence will shine like a bright light through your child. One day the thought of growing pains will be a distant and fond memory.
Saharareporters

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