So one of the greatest upheavals of change that a child will face is the journey into adolescence. A period of intense physical, psychological and cognitive development with the discovery of their own secret powers of wisdom and compassion.
Historically we have seen the impulsiveness of an adolescent both hated & applauded, their emotional unpredictability scoffed at and praised, and their vitality has been mocked or resented – so what is it that makes our teenage years so enigmatic??? – I think TRANSFORMATION!!
If we look at the ancient wisdom of The Taoist phrase, bianhua (變化), often used to describe things transforming from one type to another – such as a caterpillar to a butterfly – captures the spirit of adolescence.
Bian – meaning “transition” – is the pause that permits a kind of necessary chaos that will shake things up in order for transformation and maturation into adulthood to take place. One minute our child wants a hug, the next minute they don’t want to be seen in public with us.
The Taoist pictogram writings above of Hua – means “transformation” – show a person flipping upside down, demonstrating perfectly the topsy-turvy quality of adolescence (Dr Stephen Cowan).
So how do we set up our children to enter the adolescent years as capable, giving, joyful, young members of society, which seems to be behind the façade of “teens war against authority.”
I am sure most parents out there approach the transformation of a child into an adolescent with a mixture of dread and inquisitive excitement. Questions running through their head - How rebellious will they be? How am I going to deal with their hormones and moods, and mine too? What illegal or legal substances will they be lured by? And so forth…
We can learn a lot about the journey into the teen years by exploring some of the ancient cycles or transits that have been followed by ancient cultures. One of the first transitions is at the cusp of adolescence, aging from 10 -13 years old – described as the archetype as the seeker, meaning maker & joyful traveller with the shadow of these been narcissism, entitlement and debauchery. This is the time in which teens start to find one’s place in the family and community. In ancient times, this was accompanied with the rituals of initiation that ushered a child into adulthood and gave them important roles & expectations within their tribe (Dr Jennifer Freed).
This is the time they crave spiritual guidance and teachers for advice about the meaning of their existence, why they are here and what they need to seek. Modern education has failed to address this need, instead emphasizing one’s life based on material success and achievement rather than delving into the soul’s quest.
This is a great opportunity for parents to help your child find joy, humor & fun in life and learn about what actually brings their soul happiness such as taking them on relevant adventures that focus on inner knowing and service rather than consumption. Examples - volunteer at place that engages there interest (SPCA, Sport Event, Bird & Rescue etc.), go together to supermarket and let them make up a food box to be delivered to the Salvation army, go on a holiday or weekend away that involves nature or an outdoor location that interests your child.
Another important change that happens during this time is sleep – the transition into adolescent requires more hours of sleep for growth & repair plus accessing our inner wisdom. Hours of dreamful sleeping allow the teen to reform and tighten neural connections between our conscious and unconscious brain. You may find changes in sleep time due to hormonal changes in their pineal gland (circadian regulation site). So let them sleep!!!! Let them sleep in during weekends especially if haven’t achieved enough sleep during the week (10 hours a night at least). Sleep will allow them time to process and balance those roaring hormones & overwhelming emotions from the unconscious brain.
The next transit stage is probably the most influential cycle of a teenager’s life as they move into the ages of 14-16 years. A stage representing the archetypes of discipline, authority, responsibility and maturity. And with that the shadows that it also brings is depression, righteousness, resentment and/or stuckness.
This is the time they are ready to have their own opinions and challenge authority. You may find this is the time of them polishing their verbal swords…and yes you will probably be the victim of this. Firstly just acknowledge that the teenage brain & soul is going through a reforming and remapping phase, so the one’s they love and draw strength from will always be those facing the sword.
Encouraging your teen to build an inner authority on a subject or skill is by far the most rewarding way to establish character during this phase of life. Whatever pursuit they choose it demands perseverance and structure, cultivating the ability to learn to fail and practice in resilience and recovery. With this stage encompassing the development of maturity & authority communication between parents and teens is usually at the forefront of every parents mind.
A powerful way to solidify family bonds and honor their ancestors plus explore topics or subjects that may interest your teen is to tell stories of things that happened to the family or ancestors. Stories about your experiences as a teenager, or times of failing can help them feel less alone as they move through this stage of life.
Create occasions for your teenagers where they can open up naturally with out feeling compelled to, things that avoid constant intense eye contact such as going for a walk, bike ride, surf, reading a book on the beach or even a drive will present the space for them if ready.
Be around to be the voice of compassionate reason, rather than one of judgment. As there is a lot of misinformation being passed around between teenagers. If you allow a place of security in your conversations then you and your teenager can explore ideas, subjects and answers together.
Practice what your preach is an important thing to remember with teenagers. If you want to create and maintain a bond with your teenager, treat them like another adult asking for advice or even an opinion about a problem or thing you yourself are struggling with. Ask them for solutions in matters you are feeling overwhelmed with. What a way to create respect with a teenager than to ask for their opinion!
With ages 14-16 years there is a lot of focus on social and emotional communication. If a teen can master empathy, can master a hard won skill or subject of their choice, learn to challenge others with respect and dignity, and recover well from inevitable setbacks and mistakes, then they can enter the next phase of life with substantial, dependable character and a backbone that will assure ongoing resilience and social success (Dr Jennifer Freed).
So the journey through adolescence is one of many changing paths filled with mystery, danger and thrills. I am sure for all you parents out there nothing is more satisfying than seeing your children flourish in to capable young adults who are not only kind, respectful and competent, but who know their inner light, their inner wisdom and how to sustain it.
Dr Alison Parkes
“Don’t laugh at a youth for his affections, he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own.” Logan Pearsall Smith
For more information based on Ancient Eastern practices with adolescences can look at this website http://www.tcmworld.org/adolescence/phases/#phase2