Adolescence: A unique period
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Adolescence: A unique period of challenge and opportunity for positive development

By Emmah Kanyara

Every child dreams of growing up and enjoying the perceived freedom that comes with status. Imagine getting to pick what to wear or even the privilege of deciding when to leave the house and what time to get back! Good life huh? However, before one gets there, a person has to go through transitions, and one of the major ones is adolescence

Adolescence is a transitional period marked with significant physical, emotional and psychological changes; hence adolescents do not entirely understand what is happening to them. During this period, there is a surge of hormonal growth leading to the adolescent exaggerating their experiences. An example of such is when one has a pimple or does not have the latest phone: the world appears to be coming to an end. Adolescent also create imaginary audiences who are always judging them. This often leads to them having a weak or negative self-image thus lowering their self-esteem. With these, they may feel unworthy of affection, undesirable and even helpless. Such negative self-perceptions influence their behaviour. Positive thinking is never the less recommended since it eventually leads towards a positive self-image, and this will, in turn, help the adolescent exhibit positive self-enhancing behavior. Before addressing it further, let us focus on ways in which adolescents attempt to deal with this.

In trying to resolve this crisis, some adolescents identify with perceived role models like celebrities, their peers who are considered ‘cool.’ At this point, the adolescent is trying to develop individuation meaning he or she is trying to develop his identity. The adolescent seeks to find meaning for their lives and tend to question their parents' beliefs, values, and cultural practices. The search may lead them to beliefs and practices that are different from those of their families. When this happens, there is usually a conflict with their parents and society in general.  At this stage, they are easily lured towards cults and tend to feel misunderstood.

To positively address the challenge there are some recommended ways. First off, an adolescent need to be able to answer the question ‘Who Am I? ’ failure to this leads to experiencing identity confusion that causes much internal conflict. They can also identify who they are by looking at what capabilities they have in terms of what their potentials are, their abilities, talents, and strengths. They can relate themselves with these and take pride in it. They can then focus on life and career orientations based on their potentials and aptitudes.

Also, they need to invest in furthering their education. Failure to do this will foreclose them for further development. They may deny themselves chances for new growth in their lives in terms of career and even the acquisition of much-needed knowledge.

Adolescents need new abilities like critical and creative thinking competencies. They can do this by reading widely and holding intellectual conversations with their peer and with other older friends. Even as the adolescent is becoming independent, they still need a relationship with their parents. The nature of the relationship will change, but they must maintain a relationship.

It is essential that an adolescent has an idea of what they would want to be in the future as this can help them form an identity and thus meaning in their lives. They can do this by identifying what their role is in society. E.g., a boy or girl who wants to be a teacher is saying that they would like to share their knowledge with others

Another way that an adolescent can reduce anxiety and emotional problems is for them to manage their expectations. They need to practice delayed gratification. Young people must learn that they cannot have everything they want and worse still have it instantly. They must learn to choose and at the same time and reject. They need to understand and accept that choosing one thing means losing another. They also need to learn to take accountability for their choices. They need to look at the choices they make and the consequences concerning their behaviour.

Some young people enjoy writing lyrics and poetry or even keeping journals. These activities can be exciting and satisfying, helping them relieve the pressures of growing up. Such writing provides opportunities for them to jot down intimate information. They can also write down reflections on what they are going through and the emotions they feel emanating from a specific issue. One can write a daily log or write something down every time a significant incident occurs. This can be written under the following headlines – how I viewed the day, how I felt emotionally, what I did and what I learned today. Journaling over some time may help the adolescent identify behaviour pattern that is either helpful or unhelpful, and it also provides an outlet of feelings, therefore, lessening the hold that these feelings have on them.

Drawing pictures is another way that adolescents can use to express their feelings, ideas, and thoughts in a non-threatening manner.

What about guardians who also have a significant contribution to the wellness of the adolescence? One effective way of reaching out to adolescents is keeping the lines of communication open so that the adolescent can find it easy to say what they are going through. This way they are also able to seek advice and feel confident in the knowledge that there is someone on their side.

Another effective way of assisting adolescent understand responsibility would be to give them age-appropriate tasks. This will teach them responsibility, time management, prioritizing and accountability

Applauding and affirming the adolescents when they do well or improve on behaviour will go a long way in boosting their self-esteem. This needs to be done from an early age, and the guardians need to learn how to separate the mistake from the person.  It helps to embrace change as the adolescent is growing and changing, correct them and give them reasons for punishment.  Guardians need to adjust punishment and curfews according to the age of the adolescent. The protection hold should get to a lesser degree as they grow older.

Adolescents need to be involved in family decision making as this makes them feel more as part of the family and they will be proud to know that they contribute to it. This also boosts their self-esteem as they feel factored in and accepted.

Also, the guardians need to spend adequate quality time with their children, engaging them and even playing games with them. Guardians should offer confidentiality to their children as this creates a sense of trust

Emmah Kanyara is a counseling psychologist based in Nairobi.



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