Sunday, May 6, 2012

The underwolrd exists--not just in the adult world

The Herald today had an article about a brave man who has been forced to move from the Hawkes Bay because he fears for his safety. That he feels he has to do this is sad enough and I wish him well wherever he goes.
The treatment he has received highlights the difference between the world most of us inhabit and those who live in some sort of twilight zone. Every so often an event like I have described arises to remind us of the delicate balance between living a mainstream life and one that has you looking over your shoulder all the time.
In the teenage world, this feeling can be just as influential on a young person’s life chances. Adults find it hard to put themselves in the shoes of their children or students. We often tell out ‘charges’ that they should do the right thing and ‘tell’ us about the transgressions of their peers. We tell them that they will be safe from retribution or undue pressure when they do the right thing.
Most teenagers mange this difficult period in their lives and learn from the experiences, but a significant number are pushed or pulled aside from the mainstream, simply to survive. I am not being overly dramatic in making that statement. The peer pressures on most teenagers are hard enough, without adding more when the ‘rule of silence and not complaining’ come into force.
The desire to be part of the group is often far stronger than complying with adult and parental expectations. It takes a very strong parent to keep their teenager from the call of collective peer pressure.
You can be sure that many of your teenage sons and daughters know a good deal more about life and its darker side than you think. Whether it is through friendship groups and issues around drugs, alcohol and low level crime, or young street gangs, your children are under a great deal of pressure.
You may say---‘but my kids are fine--- what do you mean?’
Yes, for the most part--- they do survive this ‘rite of passage,’ and learn from the experience, but the fact remains--- we have many casualties along the way.
It will be worse if the ‘models for good behaviour’ do not exist in the family home. When a family lacks balance and alcohol, drugs, criminal activity and parental disputes rule, then young people search for a ‘place’ where they feel they belong. Unfortunately, this may often be more of the same--- the very thing they are trying to avoid.
Sometimes, teenage culture turns on itself. In order to be part of the group, a young person will deviate from the norms most of us accept. They will then be exposed to a deeper level of existence; one that they secretly wish to escape from. I am not talking about pushing the boundaries in a classroom, but that level of activity that is encroaching on and around the school.
Knowing where your teenagers are at any time, but still having a level of trust in them, is a difficult balance. You will be assailed with the ‘it’s not fair mantra,’ but regular conversations can help with that. They don’t say it, but your teenagers would like to spend more time with you, but not always doing the activities that you choose--- there has to be negotiation around this.
‘What--- talk to my teenagers--- they are on another planet!’  Maybe that state of affairs has arisen because you gave up talking long ago, because ‘life is just too busy,’ or ‘it’s just too hard.’
OK---- remember--- when you talk to your children, you will at least be in a better situation, when it comes to understanding their world. It is not all like the silly sit-coms and perfect Bradley Bunch family. The real world is a mixture of the strange, bad, good and outlandish.
If your teenager comes home from school, looking like he/she has the world on their shoulders--- well they do--- that is when the ‘not giving up on them’ comes into force. Give your children what they most need--- your time and your love---- Then you get understanding.

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