While discussing the issues of adolescence, clinical psychologist Wade Horn of Gaithersburg, Md., discussed a group of male juvenile elephants that were moved from one game preserve to another in Africa. Soon after being moved, they began “wilding” — throwing sticks and stones, stomping on other animals and becoming sexually aggressive toward the female elephants. But when larger and stronger adult male elephants were added to the herd, order was soon restored.
If you sometimes feel like you’ve got a pack of wild animals roaming through your life, you may just be experiencing the human equivalent of young elephants in transition. It’s called puberty.
“Simply put, puberty is the transition from being a child to being an adult,” said Dr. Latha Chandran, director of the division of general pediatric and adolescent medicine at the University Medical Center in Stony Brook, N.Y.
And that transition means everything is changing — physically, psychologically and socially.
What is most important, said Horn, author of “The Better Homes and Gardens New Teen Book” (Better Homes and Gardens, 1999, $16.95) is to understand that the primary task of children during puberty — and beyond — is their search for identity. “Adolescents are struggling to figure out who they are, what they believe in, what they value and what they want to accomplish.” To do that “they need to have a sense of separation from their parents.”
Puberty used to start at age about 11, but it now often starts as young as 9 or 10, said Ann Vernon, an adolescent counselor and professor of education at the University of Iowa. She is the author of several books on child development, including “What Growing up is All About: A Parent’s Guide to Child and Adolescent Development” (Research Press, 1995, $13.95) It is a time when, other than infancy, “the most rapid changes occur in a person’s life,” Vernon said.
“During puberty, there are enormous mood shifts,” Vernon said. “Kids are silly one minute, crying the next. These extreme emotional states can be very confusing for them. They don’t understand it and they don’t know why it’s happening. They often think they’re going crazy.” So do parents.
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