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Teens overestimate their maturity

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I AND my neighbour confronted a group of girls on Thursday night that were milling around a house in the neighbourhood where music was being played at high volume.

I could hardly concentrate on what I was doing on the Internet because the music was just too loud that my windows actually reverberated to the sound.

The girls, who were skimpily dressed, were not from the neighbourhood and as I walked towards the house, I asked them why they were standing at the noisy house smoking what I thought was marijuana.

They apologised and walked away when I quickly skipped into the house and turned the volume down, then I suddenly found myself in a heated argument with the youth who is renting the house.

It’s a vulnerable time of life as teens attempt to navigate the precarious bridge between childhood and adulthood. And one of the most challenging decisions, for an age group that’s ill-prepared to make difficult choices, is whether to start using alcohol or drugs.

On the one hand, adolescence is a time of self-exploration. One could argue that it’s perfectly natural and normal to want to try new things, such as getting high or drunk for the first time.

However, others would argue – and wisely so – that adolescents, by virtue of their young age and lack of life experience, aren’t prepared for the consequences that often follow.

Regardless of which side of the argument you find yourself, most teens or young adults will experiment with alcohol and / or drugs at some point – for many different reasons.

I got some very interesting data from a website called Promises Treatment Centre, which has lots of information about youths and alcoholism.

The website says peer pressure is a powerful force at any stage of life, but it’s especially influential during adolescence. At a time when kids are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in –when insecurities can be fierce – the desire to be accepted and liked makes saying “no” extremely difficult. Saying no can also have painful consequences, ranging from being laughed at or mildly teased, to being humiliated, rejected, and even bullied.

Adolescents often want to be treated like adults. “I’m not a kid anymore” is a frequent mantra, especially when they want privileges that come with age – like using alcohol. It’s no surprise that they’re drawn to things that make them feel like an adult – older, more mature, more sophisticated. Drinking, smoking, and drug use can all boost that feeling,

They overestimate their maturity and underestimate their vulnerability.

Teens that grow up with parents who abuse alcohol often follow suit. After all, that’s what they know and what they’ve learned. Not to mention, if one or both parents are actively using alcohol they often have easy access as well. Not only does the apple often not fall far from the tree, kids often mimic their parents’ behaviours – both good and bad.

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Curiosity not only “killed the cat,” it also can be a very seductive temptress. The desire to try new things and explore the world didn’t suddenly shut off when puberty commenced. In fact, it often becomes even stronger.

Unfortunately, far too many kids end up in trouble or mental institutions like the one at Parirenyatwa Hospital popularly known as Ward13.

Teens who struggle with a lot of emotional pain are especially vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse. They use these substances – just like many adults – as a way to self-medicate. They know that getting high or getting drunk will, at least temporarily, numb or ease their pain and provide them with a means of escape. These substances can also appear to ease the problem. For example, a socially awkward or extremely shy teen may use alcohol in a desperate attempt to feel more comfortable around others. A teen living in a conflicted home environment may resort to drugs to shut out the world for a while – or at least make it feel a little more bearable.

The website continues and says that teens like to assert their budding maturity and test the limits with their parents. Those with nagging, overprotective, or strict parents often lash out in a passive-aggressive manner. Rather than talking to mom and dad about their frustrations, such as what they perceive as overly strict rules, religious hypocrisy, or constant nagging, they may rebel by using alcohol or drugs — especially if they know that doing so will make their parents angry or embarrassed.

Let’s face it…most teens don’t know what’s good for them and what’s not. Not because they’re not bright, but because they simply don’t have enough information or experience. Experimenting with alcohol or drugs often seems innocent enough– in fact, it’s often regarded as a sort of adolescent “rite of passage.” Many teens feel entitled to experiment at this age, as if they’re expected to do so and therefore should do so. What many don’t realise is that it’s neither innocent nor harmless.

If you’re the parent of a pre-teen or adolescent, talk to him or her today about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. Don’t lecture. Don’t condescend. Don’t be dramatic. Just talk – openly and directly.

Talk to your child from a place of unconditional love, genuine concern, understanding, and heartfelt compassion, recognising the challenges and temptations that are so insidious and prevalent at that age. Understand just how vulnerable and easily influenced teens are.

After a long talk with this young man, I discovered that he was lonely, and was dependent on his brother who lives overseas who sends him cash and cars to sell. My neighbour and I decided we would “adopt him” and be his guardians.

It was clear from our discussions with him that he was falling into the hands of well-known drug addicts in the area who were actually benefiting from his fortunes, and people who often stole his money and food.

I am very sure that this young man, who hardly knows much about Harare, was slowly being drafted into prostitution by some older men living in the area who would have eventually turned his lodgings into a brothel.

Alcoholism and peer pressure is what has destroyed many promising youths that have crumbled to become societal rejects.

●Feedback: ropa2002za@yahoo.co.uk

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