Recently I was asked to contribute to a workshop on fostering teenagers, of which I’ve had quite a bit of experience. I thought it might be useful to share some of it, especially if you haven’t had much experience of this age group.
Puberty is the start of adolescence and begins earlier now than it did in previous generations. The average age for puberty in girls is 12, and for boys 13. The child’s physical and emotional characteristics will change dramatically between the ages of 12 and 15, as his or her body is subjected to a massive rush of hormones, affecting appearance and mood.
In addition, scientists now know from brain scans that the brain ‘rewires’ in adolescence, changing and developing as much during the early teens as it did when the child was a toddler. Never again will there be so many alterations and transformations going on in the mind of the young person. Little wonder that a stranger can suddenly appear in your house, having more in common with an alien from Mars than the child you once knew. If it is confusing for you to meet this new and not always convivial young person, it is even more confusing for the young person who will be having to come to terms with not only all the astonishing changes in his or her body but also complex changes in thoughts and feelings (and therefore character), which not even he or she will understand.
To make matters worse, children have growth spurts during this time (unprecedented since babyhood), which the brain takes a while to recognise and accommodate. This is why young teens can often become very clumsy – they literally don’t know where their bodies end, so will reach for a glass based on where they thought their arm ended, only to find they have already reached it and knocked it over.
As they adapt and rediscover themselves, teen children are continuously experimenting with new approaches and ideas, a bit like trying on new clothes in a shop to see if they fit and suit. Much of what they ‘try on’ they will reject as not appropriate for them. But in trying on these new ‘garments’ and testing their effect, they will also often be testing you – sometimes knowingly and at other times inadvertently.
Teenager culture now has a unique and well-defined status, with a code and practice of its own. It covers many aspects of a teen’s life, from how to speak and dress, to music, attitude and ambition. Some of this will sit happily alongside your lifestyle and family values, with minimal disruption; other aspects won’t, with the potential for conflict. The pre-teen and early teen stage can so easily become a battleground, with both the young person and the carer or parent struggling for control and to understand each other. Even the most experienced carers can expect some disturbance in the household as the young person works through this time of change and uncertainty. Think of it as a type of metamorphosis, where the green caterpillar of childhood disappears into the dark and secret cocoon of the teenager, finally to emerge as a beautiful adult butterfly.
However, to see them through this metamorphosis, patience, understanding, praise, loyalty and support are crucial, so too are clear guidelines and boundaries. I’ve put together a few golden rules for managing teenagers which may be helpful and I will share in my next blog.