Not quite a child, not yet an adult
Twins Luke (left) and Josh van Ratingen. hat adult would willingly revisit their tortuous teenage years? All that uncertainty, the erratic and dramatic physical development, the emotional rollercoaster, a desire for freedom and independence, the inevitable conflict with parents and siblings, an awkward sexual awakening, longing for school to end and real life to begin. It was hard enough living through it ourselves but for parents of teens today, the road seems rockier and more treacherous than ever before. Understanding the timing and the process of teenage transformation goes some way to helping parents navigate the adolescence minefield. Leading child psychologists agree 14 is the crucial age for teenagers. It’s the beginning of the biggest developmental phase outside the first year of life: physically, cognitively, behaviourally and emotionally. Warren Cann, chief executive of the Parenting Research Centre, says the growth surge in adolescence leads to an array of challenges for kids and their parents. “The average girl will grow 24cm and the average boy will grow 25cm — t think about that.” It’s rapid, he says, a and unfair, with the extremities of the b body growing faster or first, often
LukeL van Ratingen, 14, Josh van Ratingen,R 14
TwinsT Luke and Josh van Ratingen bothbo agree the best thing about being 14 is that they are considered mature but canca still be kids when they want.
“I’m at an age where you’re mature bu but you can still act like a kid and have fu fun,” says Josh.
Luke adds: “The best thing is the fact yo you’re half mature. You get the respect yo you need from older people but you can st still goof around and be a child.” giving teens a gangly look. “This is rather unfortunate because kids’ bodies are doing terrible things to them at the same time as they hit this period of intense self-consciousness.” High-profile teen psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg says sense of self is particularly fragile at this age. “It’s very difficult if you happen to be a 14-year-old girl because you’re born into a giant beauty contest and if you don’t look like Kim Kardashian then you’re stuffed,” Carr-Gregg says. Carr-Gregg says one of the many challenges is that physical development outstrips psychological development at this age. “A lot of 14-year-olds look 18,” he says. “(But) their brains aren’t all wired up yet. So ... they look so much older and more confident than they actually are, when in fact that couldn’t be further from the truth.” ann says while young adolescents often have similar capacities of reasoning as their parents in terms of logic and argument, their judgment doesn’t match. “That’s why teenagers are prone to making a number of cognitive errors like they’re poor at judging risk, they pay less attention to longer-term negative outcomes. It will be some time, as their brain continues to develop and particularly the frontal part, but also intellectually, before they
When it comes to the challenges of this in-between age, Luke says peer pressure is ever-present.
“At 14, you reach a crossroads where you have to make choices and there’s pressure to do the wrong thing,” he says.
“I know that, as we get older, peer pressure gets more intense and we’re all bracing ourselves for the future, that might involve drugs or alcohol.”
Both boys are aware of the potential pitfalls of social media, which Josh says can sometimes become a negative experience. have exactly the same thinking capacity as an adult.” Child development and parenting expert Michael Grose says beyond the enormous developmental changes, it is a tricky time because 14-year-olds are no longer little kids, but don’t have the independence or freedom of later teens. He describes that age as like being in a holding pattern. “There are not many opportunities for them to have power or control over their own lives. I’ve got a theory that most kids at 14 think they’re three years older than what they are and most parents think they’re three years younger.” Cann says the hormonal growth spurt at this stage has a huge impact on self-confidence and behaviour. “Boys are going to have 18 times the level of testosterone circulating through their body, which is enormous, and girls have a significant increase in oestrogen, but it is not as dramatic — three or four times more.” He says kids at this age put a lot of pressure on themselves to fit in, and look more than ever to their peers for reassurance and support. “You begin to form a sense of yourself, a sense of identity. You also become very conscious of social judgment and comparison. You desperately want to fit in, to be accepted. All of that leaves you almost 24/7 with this potentially critical imaginary audience and that’s quite a hard thing to live by.”
“Fourteen is the beginning of social media and I don’t have a smart phone yet but I’m aware that you should only post nice or sensible photos of yourself because anybody can screenshot a silly photo and send it to people who can bully you,” Josh says.
Luke adds: “It’s an age where a person is defined not by what they do, but how many followers they have (on social media).
“You’re trying to be a picture perfect teen with the best Instagram feed and most Facebook likes.”