Hormones are not the Real Culprits for Teen Troubles

Hormones are not the Real Culprits for Teen Troubles

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Parents tend to blame hormones for the "stormy" teen years. Are hormones really the culprit in instigating rebellion, defiance, and volatility or, are we barking up the wrong tree?

Barking up the wrong tree reminds me of a story about a couple who were "blessed" with many children. Year after year, with remarkable regularity, the husband would bring his laboring wife to their doctor and after the birth the man would apologize and promise the doctor, "This is the last one. No more." The doctor after delivering the 12th baby for this couple, took the man aside and told him, "You should really do something about it." The man realizing that this deserved more than just an apology, promised the doctor, "If she were to be pregnant one more time, the Lord as my witness, I will hang myself." The doctor sighed with relief.

But, the following year, at the predicted time of the "annual ritual," the man once again brought his laboring wife. The doctor after quietly delivering the baby, took him aside, only to say, "You promised me that if this were to happen again, you will hang yourself? The man said, "I remembered my promise. I even took the rope and went up to the tree to hang myself. Just when I was ready to kick the stool under my feet, it struck me that I might be hanging the wrong man!"

So, the moral of the story is that hormones are not the ones to be blamed for teens' temper tantrums, dare devil behaviors or stormy fights with parents. Stress is. If hormones were responsible for it, teens in all cultures would've exhibited similar problems and conflicts. We know for a fact that in some tribal and agrarian societies, the so called stormy behavior during teen years is practically non-existent. Parent-teen conflicts and teen rebellion are more prevalent in societies that place a high premium on independence and individualism. Another fact that flies in the face of hormone theory is that the rush of hormones is the greatest around early adolescence. But, the peak of risk taking behaviors, tempestuous emotions and conflict with parents is in middle and late adolescence. Hormones may play some part in teen troubles but they don't tell the whole story.

Teens' conflicts with parents often occur because parents still see their teenagers as "kids," while the teenagers see themselves as all grown up and ready to take charge of their lives. This sets a stage for parent-child conflict which happens to be at its peak during the mid-teens. On average, parents and teens clash 20 times a month, about one and one-half times a day. As daily conflicts increase, the amount of time that parents and teens spend together decreases. As parents and teens spend less time together and clash when they are together, family fun goes out the window.

It's not as bad as it seems. A majority of teens and their parents report that overall their relationships are good and they retain a considerable amount of mutual affection and love. Even teens who exhibit high conflict with their parents report that they share a lot of values, ideas and principles with their parents. Conflicts tend to be over mundane things, such as personal appearance, curfews, or friends. Teens and parents experience a great deal of stress as they hassle daily over such matters.

As children step into adolescence, they tend to become highly self-conscious and easily embarrassed. As a result, they become more moody and unhappy. Their ability to enjoy daily and ordinary things of life takes a dip. Compared to fifth graders (average age 11), ninth graders (average age 15) don't feel as much happiness. Ninth graders report 50 % less time feeling "very happy." Likewise, they experience fewer moments of feeling "great" or "proud" of themselves. The "childhood happiness" that we adults envy, declines. Adolescence brings with it the proverbial loss of paradise, not because of hormones, but because of emotional and mental growth.

Changing schools, friendship woes and ups and downs of dating contribute to teenagers' mood fluctuations. Stressful events are seen as serious threats. When faced with such stressful events as relocation, breakup of a friendship or a personal failure, adolescents report more extreme and negative moods than do preadolescents and adults. As a result, one in three adolescents are depressed at any given time.

Risk behaviors such as binge drinking, reckless driving or indiscriminate sexual behavior peak in late adolescence and young adulthood rather than early or middle adolescence. Most types of substance use peak at about age 20. Adolescents feel most powerful and strong during these years. One can make them anxious about their appearance but one can't scare them about death or any other form of physical harm.

We want children to become fully independent by the end of the adolescence. They want it, perhaps, more than we do, and therein lies the rub. Clashes occur daily, often about trivial matters. Stress mounts. Choose your battles carefully. Avoid a power struggle.

So, the next time you see an adolescent fretting and fuming and raging a war against the rest of the world, don't blame the hormones. Something else might be the matter.

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Copyright 2000, Mind Publications 


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