Thursday 23rd January 2014
Recently I have noticed the changes occurring for my 11-year-old son, his irritability seems high, patience low and his moods all over the place. This often results in him becoming angry with his 9 year old brother who remains in a very innocent child state, one that my 11 year old was privy to until three or four months ago.
I know what it means and it involves both excitement and fear for me as a parent much as it involves equal curses and blessings for him.
Watching his struggle (its clear for anyone who fancies bobbing round on an early morning to mine after he has been forcibly prized from his bed to see) brings me to reflect on how enormously important it is for young people to feel that they are neither alone nor judged during this tough transition.
I genuinely remember as I am sure many of you will relate to those intense feelings as a pre teenager where I suddenly realized what a huge responsibility life could be.
I would lie on my bed thinking about the possibilities that lay ahead (at some point these would usually eventuate in me owning a castle) and I would undergo a plethora of emotions, like a roller coaster of highs and lows that could both intoxicate and terrify me.
I didn’t know what these feelings were or where they’d arrived from, nor did I know how to control them, all I understood was they consumed me.
I was a child of the 70’s, parenting was traditional and my mother and father would both acknowledge today that we didn’t necessarily spend a great deal of time talking about our feelings, we were a typical working class bunch and this meant that dad worked long hours and mum stayed at home. Moreover back in the day my Mum found emotional tactility relatively difficult so I would during periods of difficulty withdraw as opposed to connect from her.
This resulted is me becoming what I suppose could be considered a difficult teenager (I wont start on that story as you all have lives and it will take several months to note) and this is why my current situation with my eldest son is playing on my mind so much.
I wonder how different this phase would have been for me should someone have actually sat me down and talked me through what was happening to my body, brain and emotions alike? What would it have felt like to know that someone had my back so to say and during periods of turmoil to have been able to ask for a hug and a cup of tea?
My parents were always on my side and would have helped me if I had known that and further known how to ask…..but I didn’t.
And that’s my point really, how often do we teach our children how to ask for their needs to be met? So often we find ourselves instead reacting to their tantrums and mishaps, or explaining why they have to do everything the way we want them to.
I have worked constantly for 16 years with some of the most deprived young people, emotionally, educationally, parentally and socio economically and ALWAYS it is their feelings of abandonment and aspirational poverty that has affected their development most.
What would have been the difference if early on and throughout their young and adolescent years someone had been there for them to guide them through the emotionally murky waters of life?
This is why its so important that educators recognize to take that extra moment with that struggling child, and when that child becomes an angry teenager they are cared for by their teachers I spite of their ‘attitudes’ because that anger stems from feeling that they have no one on their side.
So back to me and my boy and of course what I am trying to get across to anyone who has, is going to have, or is related to any close to puberty kid. Your job is to become an active and obvious guide. I say obvious because believe me with prepubescent and pubescent kids you need to SPELL IT OUT!!!
I am asking you to let them know that you are their wingmen, that you understand fully how it feels, that you can offer comfort in the confusion and understanding in the moments of great emotional anguish and self questioning.
Instead of using anger to react to their moods or allowing them to isolate themselves in their bedrooms I am calling on you to instead bring them further into the belongingness and connectedness of the family.
Hug them tighter, more often and in spite of their protests and remind them each and every day that they are wonderful and that you love them.
This is what I am learning to do with my own child, imperfect as I am and at times as confused as he is, together we can get through it and hopefully get through to adulthood with one thing that we are completely sure of; the love we have between us.
I wish this had been my experience, it would I believe have saved me a great many mistakes including some truly horrendous hair colours and painful piercings.
I am sure there will be moments where I mess up and use the immediacy of anger to deal with certain scenarios, but right now I reckon its 85% communication to 15% reaction and that I hope will see us through.