The objective of this article is to help those connected to early adolescents as well as their parents, to understand the stresses for early adolescents in an attempt to ward off trouble.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Summary: Adolescence begins earlier and earlier. Puberty and rapid social change make life rocky for our early adolescents. This article discusses these difficulties and identifies some means of dealing with them.
Not so long ago, the term “adolescence” meant children of high school age. Today, child development experts speak of “early adolescence” as beginning as young as eleven. Some even suggest the age may be ten. In any case, adolescence and puberty don’t always go together. Puberty (the physiological capability for sexual reproduction) may occur before any signs of the emotional or social stresses and conflicts of adolescence become evident. On the other hand, sometimes the psychological stresses of adolescence appear before physical sexual maturation. In either case, adolescents who are not exactly like each other–either because they have begun to develop physically before their time or later, have a harder time. Boys, because their sex organs are outside of their bodies may be subject to teasing in the locker room at school. Early developers have bodies that have grown beyond their emotional maturation. Later developers may wish for more physical maturation to be like their peers. Girls experience the same problem but usually not to the degree that boys do. Girls who develop too early don’t know how to emotionally handle their maturing bodies. They may learn to use sexuality inappropriately because it gets the attention of some of the boys who are also ahead of themselves.
It is important to explain to children before their bodies begin to change, what they may expect. It is important for parents to talk to children about their own experiences as early adolescents and normalize the process. It is important to answer questions and to be encouraging while providing information and it is important to stay available as children go through this process while reassuring the late developers that they will catch up. The early developers need reassurance that the others will catch up to them. EVERYBODY goes through these changes, just not all at the same time.
Early adolescence has been described as the time when the nicest children begin to behave in the awful ways. This is partly due to the physiological hormonal changes that take place as bodies change.
In our society there are not as many rites of passage to pinpoint entrance into adolescence or adulthood as there are in other cultures. For many adolescents in this country there may be a brief religious ceremony or the qualifying for a driver’s license.
Especially during periods of rapid social change, when many traditional social structures are disappearing or changing, adolescence can be a very difficult time. Children know that they may give up their parents’ values and work to achieve their own. Family pressures ten to be idealistic and moral; peer group pressures ten to be more practical seen by the adolescent. The usual way to deal with these pressures in adolescence is to rebel against the family at least to some degree and to more readily embrace the standards of one’s peers. For example, Sunday dinner for the family may become boring for an early adolescent who would rather go to the movies with her friends.
It is possible to get through early adolescence with one good friend,although being a part of a larger group is helpful. Many young adolescents, while trying to be independent from their parents, seek out other adults such as a friend’s parent, a parent’s friend, a teacher or counselor–with whom they can talk in confidence.
During this time period a youngster’s conscience may be weakened. Sometimes quirks and habits that were given up long ago reappear. With so much energy being used for working out social and emotional problems, the academic achievement of a young adolescent may suffer. So, keep the conversations active and non-critical and provide continuous reassurance that this time period will not last forever while you coach and listen. The same sex parent becomes particularly important here and if he or she is not available, while you do your best, look for extended family who can help you.