Let’s say you have a bicycle. You’ve had it for 12 years. It’s comfortable, predictable. One day you go outside and get on it and suddenly it has the power and handling capabilities of a motorcycle. But…the high performance is not predictable. You can get bursts where you feel great but just as often when you think you’re going to climb a hill or shoot through a gap the power surge leaves you. Add to that, that no matter how hard you try the bike seems to always drift into a certain lane. Oh you cruise along fine for a while but suddenly without warning, BAM you find yourself in this weird uncomfortable lane.
Welcome to adolescence. Your kids’ bike of a body just got its motor. The only problem is you can’t seem to control any of it. And when things do start going well you keep getting distracted by the opposite sex. No matter what you do it just won’t stay in the right lane!!
The physical and emotional changes of a teenager are as much a function of hormones as they are neurology. The adolescent mind is developing neurological pathways at an astounding rate…but they don’t connect to anything. That’s why the young people seem to experience these mental thunderstorms. Give a girl the body of a woman or a boy the body of a man and you get the bicycle kid who suddenly finds himself on a motorcycle.
Along with the physical changes of puberty come the mood swings and the worries about the changes—height, weight, facial hair (or lack thereof), in girls it’s developing breasts (or lack thereof). With all this going on kids run at a 90 to nothing pace and the long hours, lack or rest and consuming vast amounts of the four teen food groups (sugars, carbs, carbs and sugars) can lead to moodiness, gloominess, irritability and the tendency to let the emotions drive the bus instead of the student being in charge or the emotions. In fact most teens seem to “feel” more than they “think”. Ask a student “What were you thinking?” and you’ll get, “I dunno.” Ask them what they are feeling and you’ll get a salad of emotions.
Changes in thinking do occur. They can do abstract reasoning. They can now imagine “What if”. These new mental powers cause them to be convinced that: What’s important to them should be most important to everyone else. They also have this delusional ego centric view that everyone is looking at them and talking about them. They are also convinced that no one else has ever felt like they do. This makes them very vulnerable to criticism and put downs even though they use these things in surviving the food chain at school. They are easily embarrassed and thus respond to new or different situations with an assertive false bravado or an “I don’t care” attitude.
Mix all this in with the surge or drive toward independence and you’ll understand why the majority of the teen interaction with adults is either withdrawal (I’m going to my room) or confrontational—“why are you yelling at me” or why they are yelling at you. At 16 a young person is as old as they’ve ever been. So they have arrived. They’ve never been bigger, older, stronger or wiser. This creates that scenario of : I’m expected to act like an adult but still obey the kid stuff rules of curfew, homework, housework and having to have adult approval or permission to act, go, do or have.
The good news is that all these changes set up experiences which are vehicles for maturity. That’s probably the code word here. Bodies and minds are maturing. They are developing more “power” and with more power comes more responsibility. Once teens understand that responsibility is directly linked to independence (read FREEDOM) they often start learning to exercise self control. The understanding that emotions are indicators of feelings and not pathways for behaviors allows them to feel, THINK then act. Until that maturity comes in it’s just act like you feel.
They physical and emotional changes of teens is necessary for them to learn the basic skills described by Stephen Glenn: Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Systemic and Judgmental skills. Once these skills are developed young people are ready for maturity, independence, and self reliance. The changes are like a thunderstorm but once they roll through you get the calm after the storm.
Lonnie Jones is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Alabama and is involved in speaking at conferences, retreats and seminars. Lonnie is a chaplain for the Huntsville SWAT team and currently worships at the Maysville church of Christ. Most of all, Lonnie is a devoted child of God, husband, father and a great mentor to me personally and so many other youth ministers. Many of us thrive because of Lonnie’s sound wisdom. You can visit his website at http://www.keepingupwithjones.us/index.html.