• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

‘Is it a crime to be a teenager?’

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It is the moment that life truly hits you; the good bits are really good and the bad bits really bad. But why do our teenage years have to be like this? Experts believe that teenagers are nature’s greatest achievement, writes ANNE AGBAJE.

One cold night last August, Chinyere Nwangwu angrily ran out of her parents’ home. This is not the first time she would be forced to take such decision, but that night she vowed never to return home. Her destination that evening is her aunt’s place at Aboyade Cole Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. “Is it a crime to be a teenager,” she tearfully asked her aunty, after she had narrated her ordeal.

Breaking rules, arguing, wrong crowd, smoking, girlfriend or boyfriend issues are some of the attendant problems that come with teenage years. Parents are very particular about whom their children relate with and the kind of company they keep at this crucial stage of their lives. But teenagers do not see this concern as a welcome development, rather they think their parents are poking too much into their affairs.

Often, this can push a parent’s patience, while some teenagers unfortunately go as far as blatantly flouting parents’ rules or breaking the law, often with tragic results, others become withdrawn and keep to themselves.

Sociologists say all teens go through similar phases such as the need for independence, a separate identity, testing authority, which is part of growing up; it is also linked to developmental changes in the brain that will eventually help them become analytical adults.

Simon Egbeyemi Peters, a doctor and counsellor with a private clinic, says starting an open and frank discussion about drugs, sex, self-esteem, and other vital issues among teens is something that should be courageously done by parents and wards.

“I know and think young people, for the first time, can realise that they can think one thing and say another, that their thoughts are private. Ideally, we begin preparing for adolescence when our children are very young, when we listen and respond, giving them opportunities to respond. Sharing in this way, by starting when children are small, listening to them and involving them in decision-making, will prepare the way for better communication once they become adolescents,” he says.

Bunmi Odusanwo, a parent and counsellor, says misbehaviour in teenagers has more of an evolutionary quest and aims to explain why teenagers are the way they are; why they are rude; why they take drugs and have sex; why girls mature before boys; why boys eat all the time, and why they all find it impossible to get out of bed.

“We’ve become blind to the fact that our teenage years are, in fact, the most dramatic, intense and exciting of our lives,” she says, “we shouldn’t be criticising teenagers, we should be celebrating them.” Odusanwo also refuses to condemn teenage drug taking, saying parents should try to understand the reasons behind it, instead: “We have to be realistic – people take drugs because they enjoy them.”

As a secondary school teacher and guidance counsellor, Ifeanyi Chidozie is more biological in her approach in tackling this issue. She explains that teenagers are semi-children as well as semi-adults because of the physical changes taking place in their bodies. “They are conscious that they are no longer children. So, they want to be made to feel important. If their parents and people close to them do not treat them as important by involving them in decision-making they become disagreeable, revolt and begin to seek that self-importance outside the home. Some take to drugs, alcohol or relationships with the opposite sex,” she explains.

However, medical experts are of the opinion that during the teenage years, the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex is developing. This is the part of the brain that is behind the forehead. It is the thinking cap and judgement centre, which helps teenagers to develop their own ideals and ideas. In essence, whereas younger children do not see the flaws in their parents, adolescents suddenly see the world more realistically.

“They construct an ideal of what parents should be, based on their friends’ parents, on media parents,” says Egbeyemi Peters, “when they compare their own parents to the ideal, they find them wanting. As a child evolves into a teenager, the brain becomes able to synthesise information into ideas. Teens want to exercise their new skill and they tend to practice on their parents.

“It may seem that they argue for the sake of arguing, but really, they are practising their new abilities.”

Janice Okafor, 16, like other teenagers, says they are in a world of their own, as most parents do not have much time for their children as a result of their jobs.

 “My parents are bankers and I cannot say I am close to either of them,” she explains, smiling coyly. “I discuss issues of my life with friends. I’ve made some mistakes even at 16; I’ve been to some places where I should not have been and with friends that got me into trouble. I won’t say I have been raped before but an attempt has been made but I was rescued on time. But my parents did not know all this, and I don’t know how to tell them.”

On the other hand, a teenager like Femi Ajuwon finds it extremely hard to share his feelings in the public, regardless who the person is. “See, every teenager have issues, but mine is not peculiar, I feel nobody understands me, not my parents, friends, relative, etc. I have so many questions to ask about many things, but how do I do it. It is not that I am shy, I just can’t share my feelings with anyone, and I don’t know how to deal with these issues,” he confesses.

Finally, the job of parents is to look after teenagers while they are incubating their extraordinary craniums. “Adolescence is the reason we live so long,” Odusanwo says, as “human longevity has evolved because we need to bring up our intensely supported, slowly developing offspring. Basically, once you’ve passed your teenage years your only function is to care for teenagers. They’re on the way in ‘you’re on the way out.’”