Focus on the Family: Adolescence can be hard for kids, parents

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dear Dr. Dobson: My teenage son is becoming increasingly difficult to get along with. Isn't there some way to avoid this blackout period and the other stresses associated with the adolescent voyage?

Dear Reader: Not with some teenagers, perhaps not with the majority. Tension occurs in the most loving and intelligent of families. It is driven by powerful hormonal forces that overtake and possess boys and girls in the early pubescent years. I believe parents and even some behavioral scientists have underestimated the effect of the biochemical changes occurring in puberty. We can see the effect of these hormones on the physical body, but something equally dynamic is occurring in the brain. How else can we explain why a happy, contented, cooperative 12-year-old suddenly becomes a sullen, angry, depressed 13-year-old? Some authorities would contend that social pressure alone accounts for this transformation. I simply don't believe that.

If the upheaval were caused entirely by environmental factors, its onset would not be so predictable in puberty. The emotional changes I have described arrive right on schedule, timed to coincide precisely with the arrival of sexual maturation. Both characteristics, I contend, are driven by a common hormonal assault. Human chemistry apparently goes haywire for a few years, in some more than others, affecting mind as much as body.

Dear Dr. Dobson: I have a 2-year-old boy who is as cute as a bug's ear and I love him dearly, but he nearly drives me crazy. He throws the most violent temper tantrums and gets into everything. Why is he like this and are other toddlers so difficult?

Dear Reader: Your description of your toddler comes right out of the child development textbooks. That time of life begins with a bang (like the crash of a lamp or a porcelain vase) at about 18 months of age and runs until about age 3. A toddler is the most hard-nosed opponent of law and order, and he honestly believes the universe circles around him. In his cute little way, he is curious, charming, funny, lovable, exciting, selfish, demanding, rebellious and destructive. Comedian Bill Cosby must have had some experience with toddlers. He is quoted as saying, "Give me 200 active 2-year-olds and I could conquer the world."

Children between 15 and 36 months of age do not want to be restricted or inhibited in any manner, nor are they inclined to conceal their opinions. Bedtime becomes an exhausting ordeal each night. They want to play with everything in reach, particularly fragile and expensive ornaments. They prefer using their pants rather than the potty and insist on eating with their hands. And most of what goes in their mouths is not food. When they break loose in a store, they run as fast as their legs will carry them. They pick up the kitty by its ears and then scream when scratched. They want mom within three feet of them all day, preferably in the role of their full-time playmate. Truly, the toddler is a tiger -- but a precious one.

I hope you won't get too distressed by the frustrations of the toddler years. It is a brief period of development that will be over before you know it. With all its challenges, it is also a delightful time when your little boy is at his cutest. Approach him with a smile and a hug. But don't fail to establish yourself as the boss during this period. All the years to come will be influenced by the relationship you build during this 18-month window.

Send your questions to Dr. James Dobson, c/o Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903. Dobson is the chairman of the board for Focus on the Family.

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