Rev. Fr. C. Joseph, Counsellor
St. Joseph’s (Autonomous) College, Jakhama
“The interior of a teenager’s mind is an endless war between Stupid and Clever”. -William Landay
The difference between a child and a teenager is that a child wants to be loved, a teenager wants to love. The affections of free choice are preferred to the natural affections in the family. When a teenager emerges, he discovers his own personality and begins to affirm his ego. A teenager is like a chick just breaking the shell in which he has been confined – the shell of the family – and beginning to find him in a great, broad world. They feel that there is a kind of conspiracy against their own ego which they resist by over asserting themselves. There is a fondness for writing names on fences, making loud noises on street corners and in busses, in order that people may be conscious that here, at last, a personality is beginning to emerge.
Gestures are quick and awkward. Sloppiness is cultivated to attract attention; feelings are easily hurt. But all these are signs that a personality is being born into the adult world, and democracy is founded on personalities. Be not too hard on them.
The second characteristic of a teenager is imitation. The ego must emerge from its interiority. It may do it in one of two ways, either by creation or by imitation. If the teenager is keen on developing his own character, being himself and not someone else, then he creates; he assumes responsibility; he has a sense of value, and he discovers the purpose of life and concentrates on the development of his character in a constructive way. He is willing to say “No” to certain things; he resists the crowd and the mob, knowing that the crowd and the mob are often wrong. There are not many, however, who are creative, even among adults. The creative group in society is always the minority.
Release from interiority most often comes through imitation. Imitation is an escape from responsibility, the ignoring of character building, a flight from true self-expression, and the avoidance of originality. Imitation enables the ego to assert without being committed to moral values or self-restraint. The teenager then becomes very sensitive to outside influences and is afraid of ever doing anything which is not “the thing”. A teenager in such a case never really becomes himself or herself, but like others. He imitates to escape choosing in such a way as to develop personal responsibility. Imitation without moral standards is loss of personality or the spoiling of character.
Imitation is seen in boys who want to be like the “old man”; so they smoke. Ever notice, when a high school empties, that almost all girls are dressed alike? A few dress a certain way, and almost everyone follows.
Because this is the age when personality is not able to stand by itself, it loves to merge into groups and fan clubs; there is even a kind of mass courtship, in which a group of boys will meet a group of girls – they find it difficult to present their own personalities to each other. Hardly strong enough to stand on his own amorous feet, a youth has to lean on somebody else. Hero worship is very strong; very often the hero is a player of the drums, or a celluloid phantom, or a moaning singer. The nobler the hero, the nobler the character which will unfold in later life.
Sometimes the teenager revolts against the parents, because he feels that this personality of his should not be submerged in another. He forgets very often that the parents were once teenagers and hence know the strength and weakness of those difficult years. Parents have greater vision and are capable of better guidance than youth suspects.
The third characteristic of a teenager is restlessness. The teenager is like mercury, which can be dispersed in several directions. The restlessness is due in part to the discovery of vital and biological impulses stirring within. The body-imperative is more immediate than the soul-imperative. Hence the teenager finds perseverance difficult and long attention to the same subject almost impossible. It is this fidgety quality which most tries the patience of adults. He discovers less the laws than the illusions of life. Infatuations are common. There are no friendships that seem closer than the friendships of teenagers, and yet there are hardly any friendships that are quite as volatile. Adults must remember, however, that this urge for affection, for love, for friendship, for society, is good and right. God put it in them, and it is not to be crushed but developed along right lines.
We have noted three characteristics of teenagers. The first two are psychical, and the third, which is biological, deserves further stress. Sometimes teenagers go through a phase when they will not properly answer others. Whatever questions you ask they will just grunt. This ‘grunt stage’ is a normal part o teen development. Perhaps it is an automatic process well beyond his control by which he is distancing himself from his parents. They want your love, your support, your encouragement, your nurture, acceptance and attention. The difference for teenagers is that while children need their parents to be in the lead, pulling them along, directing their steps and making the important decisions, teenagers need to be side by side. Teenagers need ‘helpful attention’ rather than protective attention.
If you liked being a teenager, there’s something really wrong with you.