Growing up as a little boy, life was more or less stress free. Not only did I not to have to bother myself with working for my upkeep (my parents were glad to help out in that aspect) but the hardest thing I had to do then was to read for those annoying exams and come home with a befitting result card. Life couldn’t have been better with this care free life one lived as a child, not having a care in the World about keeping up appearances, working hard to make money, looking good or even taking care of the home. Life was good.
Life with this laize faire attitude continued up until the morning that I consider changed my life forever. I woke up on this beautiful morning about to prepare for school when I noticed a sticky white substance on my pyjamas. I was about 11 or 12 years old. I had (after asking my friends) just witnessed my first wet dream and saw my first sperm and that realization that I was finally a MAN changed my life forever.
As an adolescent, I faced many challenges from accepting the rapid changes in my body to recognizing and respecting the opposite sex. Below are a few problems I and other adolescents face:
1. Recognizing body changes: A boy suddenly goes from having a childish voice to a more masculine bass voice. He wakes up everyday to realize that his manhood or should I tell it boyhood because of his age is getting bigger day by day and pubic hair is beginning to sprout and surround it. His chest is beginning to get broader and hair is growing around it like weed on a plantation. These changes coupled with the increase in testosterone levels connives to give a young boy sleepless nights and arouses the question “what’s really going on?”.
2. Independence: Life with a disciplinarian mother was like walking bar footed on a ground with broken bottles hidden in unsuspecting places. You take the wrong step and you get what African’s call “an ass whopping”. Mum wasn’t all that bad, she was adorable must times but the quest to become a “big boy” who couldn’t be flogged anymore plagued my young mind more times than I could remember.
As adolescents, the crave for independence, the kind of independence an ill prepared Nigeria demanded from United Kingdom. The I-don’t-think-I-am-ready-but-I-want-out type of independence plaques every adolescent. We craved for the right to be treated as semi adults, to make our own decisions, to come back home late, to sleep whenever and play video games forever.
3. Peer pressure: Peer pressure is simply influence from members of one’s peer group and it’s no secret that this has led a countless number of adolescents to committing social vices. Although peer pressure could be termed positive wherein influence from members of one’s peer group causes ripples of positive effects in a teenager, its negatives clearly outweighs the positives.
As a teenager, the upright upbringing of my parents and my resolve to make them proud gave me this disciplined and not easily ‘swayable’ nature which helped me evade the negative tentacles of peer pressure. I was deemed a weakling because I refused to experiment with smoking and other vices. Many adolescents don’t have such resolve and have been caught pants down committing atrocities like drug and substance abuse that even some grown ups would be ashamed of.
4. Acceptance: The bittersweet recollections of life in boarding school still lingers in my memory. One aspect I readily recall was resuming to school from home one new term with half a box of provisions and staring at my roommate with his two boxes full of provisions and wondering if his parents loved him more than mine loved me. “How come he had so much more provisions than I did”, I recall thinking.
To add insult into injury, his “pocket money” was over 5 times mine. It took sometime for me to accept that our families had different financial standing and as the saying goes “all fingers are not equal”.
Most adolescents have struggled with acceptance on issues like the financial capability of their parents which has resulted in seeking money elsewhere and have gotten themselves burnt in the process. Other areas teenagers have struggled with acceptance include their body physique, their looks, the height, their complexion, their sporting ability and many more.
5. Self image: Adolescents that have struggled with acceptance have also struggled to maintain a positive self image. Cases abound where teenagers tend to seek self affirmation from the opposite sex and would do anything to feel important and loved instead of loving themselves first. With this quest for “outside love” comes a great risk of hurt which could result in heartbreak which could lead to depression and in some cases, suicidal thoughts.
6. Career direction: Most adolescents grow up without a distinctive plan for their lives. All they know is that they want to grow up, get some education, make some money, live independent, have families and live happily ever after.
As a teenager, I grew up watching sports stars like David Beckham and Kobe Bryant make so much money and bask in the euphoria of stardom that my quest to become a sports star grew but after staring at my thin frame in the mirror at my old age, I realized sports wasn’t for me. The next best thing was Engineering, Medicine or Law or even Politics which were and still are the most cherished professions in Nigeria.
Choosing a career path out of the above was as tricky was choosing what to eat from a 5 star buffet but my determination to learn how to make things work prompted my decision to study Engineering. Most teenagers aren’t always this lucky and this debacle has led to countless sleepless nights, wrong career choices and failed courses.
7. Spirituality: Children are usually brought up in the faith of their parents/guardians and have no choice but to follow suit. These adolescents no matter their conviction or spiritually inclination risk being labeled a rebel if they as little as entertained the idea of changing their faith or denomination. A girl who is more comfortable wearing trousers is forced to wear skirts because according to her parents “its a sin for a girl to wear trousers in our church”. This problem has affected many adolescent’s spiritual life and life in general because they are forced to abide by rules they don’t believe in.
8. Divided homes: One of the hidden but definitely the biggest problems adolescents face while growing up is what I’ll term “the divided family” syndrome. This ranges from wrestling parents (the type that fight with each other every single day) to Mike Tyson fathers (the type of men that beat their wives at every provocation) and ultimately to home fronts without either of the parents.
Put yourself in the shoes a little girl growing up into a lady but living with just her father and two male siblings. Your parents have been living separately with daddy left to take care of you. You continuously face girl related challenges and there it mother figure to confide in. Another example is that of a boy living with his mother and three younger siblings. He’s facing girl and sex related issues with no father figure to provide support.
Parenting is usually a two way thing, no parent has the monopoly of child upbringing skills and would usually require the help of the other partner to bring up their children. But when marital crisis brings an abrupt end to this Heavenly partnership, it takes Heaven’s help to remedy the situation. To further buttress the importance of joint parenting, a 1994 study by Winsconsin juveniles and a 1987 “Survey of Youth in Custody” will be taken into account. While the first report concluded that 67% of juveniles didn’t grow up with their married parents, the second came up with even bleaker findings, which stated that 70% of youths in custody in the U.S did not grow up with both parents.
9. Undue attention (for girls): According Amaka, an undergraduate studying Economics in Delta State University, “Growing up as a girl was baffling to say the least”. She continues “Life as a little girl was fun and being the baby of the house got be pampered with favors and helped me escape punishment times without number. As a 13 year old skinny and smallish girl, I was not as physically mature as my mates of the same age and that bothered me as first because I taught I was abnormal but after speaking to my parents, I saw it as a blessing in disguise. Whereas my mates were getting unduly approached and pestered by boys and older men, I was left alone to read my books. It all changed as I approached 15 years and my body features started sprouting as if awoken from a deep slumber. This made me an envy amongst fellow girls and caused an increase in the stares received from boys/men. This unwanted attention bothered me and upon consultation with my elder sisters decided to “grow into the attention of men”. I am of the opinion that many young girls have been overwhelmed by such attention and without proper guidance have made mistakes.
10. Sex: One of the most critical issues bothering adolescents is sex related. For this chapter, we will discuss 5 categories and 4 sub categories.
A. Sexual feelings: Adolescents grow up to discover that they are becoming attracted to the opposite sex in many different ways. The feelings seem to be getting stronger as they get older and if unchecked could lead to:
B. Premarital sex: Due to the sexual hormones ravaging an adolescent’s system, the undiluted display of sexuality in movies nowadays, public display of nudity as a perverted form of fashion and the lack of proper sex education, adolescents run the risk of experimenting with sex from an early age. This could lead to:
C. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD): As a result of lack of sexual awareness, these adolescents tend to experiment with sex without taking precautionary measures which could lead to contacting STDs like gonorrhoea, syphilis and even HIV.
D. Pregnancy: Again due to lack of adherence to preventive measures while having sex, adolescent girls are susceptible to getting pregnant out of wedlock which could result in one or all of the following:
I. Childbirth: A little girl without the mental and physical maturity of a grownup is forced by her mistakes to mother a child. A task she is evidently ill-prepared for.
II. Shame: The shame that accompanies teenage pregnancy is enormous in Africa. Most adolescent girls are impregnated by teenage boys who either deny paternity or aren’t prepared to become fathers themselves. The parents are often too ashamed to be grandparents so soon and treat the young mother with disregard.
III. School dropout: Such premature mothers are forced to drop out of school in order to give birth and nurture the child to certain age which would affect their upbringing and career prospects if not handled properly.
IV. Public ridicule: Teenage mothers are often ridiculed in public and termed wayward and promiscuous and in the African context would find it harder to get married to a suitor for marriage because most families would kick against single mother spouses for their sons.
E. Abortion: A scared adolescent girl discovers she’s pregnant and fears the damage it would have on her parents ad family opts for abortion which could result in one or all of the following:
I. Physical scar: Depending on the authenticity of the medical license of the doctor tasked with the undertaking the abortion procedure with most simply “quack doctors”. If the procedure is not managed properly, the womb of the little girl could be damaged leading to problems with childbirth in the future.
II. Mental scar: Many girls have admitted crying out of regret for aborting a child. The mental torture remains with them for life and could lead to suicidal thoughts or an unhappy life.
These problems associated with sex has led to shattered lives and even aborted dreams when not handled properly.
Adolescents are precious and should be handled as such. For continuous study, read:
1. Survey of Youth in Custody, 1987 by Bureau of Justice Statistics.
2. Family Statistics of Delinquents in Juvenile Correctional Facilities in Wisconsin by The Department.