Children

Problems, Decisions - The rebels around your home

For you, as a parent, what meaning lies in the tragic stories about teen-agers: the runaway cases, the senseless car crashes, the school failures, the school drop-outs, and the "hard-drug" parties?

All have a point in common: They are distorted and destructive expressions of what otherwise would be normal teen-age emotional tensions. Teen-age rebellion against parents and the adult world has been around a long time; it's when it grows excessive and bitter that it becomes a menace to the family and to the child. Specialists in child psychology and guidance say this: You, as a parent, must expect the rebellion, be able to channel it - and know what to do if it gets out of hand.

Look first at the sensational cases. "We're going to see more runaways, more frightening drug abuses," says Harvard psychiatrist Graham Blaine, Jr. "One reason is, the teen-ager now has a sanctuary, a place to go - the Greenwich Villages around the country." And, indeed the town pizza parlours and town parks. Their locales may change; the "hoody kids" and dropouts may go by another name. But teen-age motivations - and their sometimes desperate conduct - will not change.

What are the motivations that underlie violent instead of "normal" rebellion? The specialists sum it up: feelings of insecurity and inadequacy; anxiety over evidence of excessive violence in British life; maybe most important, a misguided quest for things not found at home, such as enough love, respect, or guidance. "There's a desperate search under way," says Dr. Richard Sallick of the National Institute of Mental Health. Unhappily, the specialists point out, the Watergate affair and its implications of corruption haven't added to the stability of teenagers.

What about drugs? By far the most common one used by teenagers is marijuana, which is available around many - if not most - sixth form colleges. Why smoke marijuana when alcohol is so easy to come by, and the effects are similar? "The kids don't want to copy the adults," says Scarsdale (N.Y.) psychiatrist Gerard Fountain. "Besides, they want the risk that goes with flaunting the law." Their lack of respect for a legal system created by their elders may have something to do with it, say the experts. And affairs such as Watergate add fuel to this fire.

Some slight reassurance: A marijuana cigarette (or "joint") is thought by many experts to be no more harmful than a beer. So, a bit of experimentation, may not be dire - so long as it doesn't become excessive. LSD, less available than marijuana, may produce very serious and long-lasting effects, however,

Outlandish (not just different) clothing shows excessive teenage revolt - it isn't just fun and games. Dress and behaviour in boys that seem to border on the effeminate may show more of the same, plus possible confusion over sex. But note: This confusion generally is outgrown by the late teens.

Unexplained flunking in school may be part of the same emotional pattern. "When a bright boy fails in school," says Dr. Fountain, "he may be doing the same thing, in a sense, that another boy does by smoking pot."

What can a parent do? First, say the specialists, understand that the teen-ager must assert himself, and it means competition with his parents. If he fails at this, he will never grow up. The rebellion is almost bound to be distorted if staunchly resisted. But this doesn�t mean a father should sit at dinner and be willing to look at a boy who is unkempt, ill-dressed, with hair that hasn't been washed in a month. The father must react and set firm, though reasonable, standards.

And note: If a father habitually lets infractions go ignored, then the boy - seeking guidance - may resort to more and more drastic conduct. A father needs to keep things in a delicate balance. He needs flexibility and a sense of humour.

Go a step further. Start communications early and keep them flowing. This means two-way talk with the youngster, without lecturing, if possible, and without any self-righteousness about the established order. It also means not underestimating a bright teen-ager who is apt to be far more adult than his father was at, say, age 14. A Columbia psychologist adds: "Don't give lip service to talking with the kids. Mean it, and be willing to listen - and willing to learn something from them."

Prolonged problems at school or at home may signal the need for professional help. But generally, say the experts, "symptoms" in youngsters are hard to separate from normal growing pains. Don't, like some parents, read too much into the teen-ager's "symptoms."

If you do decide to seek outside help, first contact the school psychologist or psychiatrist. Don't be too surprised if he suggests, first, some changes at home, and don't be alarmed if he suggests a private therapist for the youngster. This may not mean serious trouble. In many cases, therapy for six months provides the answer.

Books: A good starter on this subject is Graham Blaine, Jr.'s, The Parent's Guide to Adolescence (Little, Brown).


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