Walk the talk with teenagers

GROWING PAINS Fears, doubts, queries and crushes, adolescence can be a period of confusion

GROWING PAINS Fears, doubts, queries and crushes, adolescence can be a period of confusion  

Talk to your teenager openly about the physical and emotional changes he/she is facing

Adolescence is a difficult phase for children growing up in orthodox societies. Here the bridge between parents and teenagers, when it comes to talking about puberty, and related issues, leaves a lot to be desired. A generation ago, most girls did not know what a `period' was till an embarrassing situation cropped up. It was a topic shrouded in secrecy and mystery as it made a girl, `impure'. Sadly, some of these myths continue. Says Dr. Yamuna, consultant paediatrician and adolescent physician from Chennai, "sexual development and reproductive health must become a subject of everyday discussion. This will prevent the youngsters from accessing sources, which may not give them the appropriate information. In the absence of openness, youngsters are prone to hide their feelings, possessions, conversations, concerns, friends and their whereabouts. This is dangerous as the adults are totally kept in the dark. The body image issues occupy the thoughts of our adolescents all over the world. The girls are left with no one to get their doubts clarified. Unfortunately boys in our country too are not informed about the various changes in their body by parents. It has been proved that information to adolescents on reproductive health and sexuality postpones sexual activity."

The divide

One wonders if there really is a divide between boys and girls in terms of growing up. Researchers emphatically state that it is a complex internalisation of new cultural and hormonal changes for both sexes. "Both boys and girls go through a difficult time during the puberty phase," observes Anna, a high school teacher in Mattancherry who has spent considerable time interacting with them. "In school, I notice that they are vulnerable about their emotions. Just as their bodies grow, their feelings also grow. It is a confusing emotion because it is so fleeting and not real. These kids can't talk about all this at home. So they often turn to movies or friends for advice. That often leads them to make a mess of the whole issue. School crushes are mistaken for real love, studies are neglected, parents are called in, schools are changed and so many things happen to scar the mental make-up of a girl and boy. This happens across most schools. It can be avoided if parents and children share the ups and downs of growing up together." She adds, cautiously as though not sure whether she should say this at all. "What happens when you discourage boys and girls from interacting is that they turn to their respective sexes. Boy to boy, girl to girl and that leads to greater trouble for the parents. It is so common in school these days." And how seriously do parents take the threat of `crushes'? Jaya, a housewife and mother of two kids, says, "In my time, the word couldn't be spoken out aloud. It meant inviting the wrath of the elders, dishonour of the family name and beating the kid and threatening never to send her/him back to school. If parents adopt an understanding attitude, listen to what their kids have to say, a lot can be achieved in strengthening the bond in the process of growing up. Children will close up and freeze out their parents unless they are encouraged to discuss their feelings openly." In modern day parenting do children discuss everything about their growing up process with their parents or is it a selective sharing? "Of course, it is selective," says Shipra*,(name changed ) a working wife who has been married for over five years and lives in Kochi. "Without being directly told by my parents, I grew up believing it was wrong for a girl to have a healthy friendship with a boy. Even now, I am just not comfortable if a guy talks to me. I feel guilty." It is deemed sinful to even talk about the body or look at the changes in the body." A peek into any of the umpteen cyber cafes in the city will reveal teenagers huddled together before adult sites soaking up `wrong' information like gospel. Is it really their fault that they have no access to confide in their lders? Is it their mistake that parents don't want to discuss the nitty-gritty details of growing up? Maybe parents need to take the initiative in helping their kids grow up with healthy knowledge. SWAPNA

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