Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ch-ch-ch Changes

Post #3 - "Ch-ch-ch-ch changes . . .

I ask the question that many mothers do  . . . what happened to my boy.  I called my son today and was not sure I dialed the right number.  A deep, throaty, voice on the other end of the phone said, "hi".  It was flat, monotone, lacking any interest and/or feeling.  I said, "who is this?"  He said his name, but let me tell you that the first time a mother hears her son's voice change it is hard to believe that it is the same little boy we left just hours earlier.

Yes, bodies change.  We have to transition into the underworld of adolescence.  We need to forage our way through friendships, break-ups, right decisions, wrong decisions.  It is kind of a dense forest where there is a dull machete and a water-soaked map.  You just have to start at point A and find your way out.  You know you are not alone, you have tools, but really they are completely useless in the quest to make it out alive.

The question I raise is that if I am having a hard time recognizing my son --what does he see?  Are we both lost, confused, perplexed?  Why can't it be as simple as the Brady Bunch episode (When it's time to Change) when Peter's voice starts cracking just as the kids are going to be recording their hit single?  Did five other siblings really understand and empathize with Peter's changes and make him feel that is was really "natural" so don't worry?

I can remember how much I felt out of my body during adolescence.  I know that giving love to the animal known as a tween/teenager is a precarious situation.  One minute there is absolute anger and disgust with your parent, "don't be upset, but I really want to stab you" to "mommy, please rub my back until I fall asleep".   There is a duality that seems to be so confusing to all involved.

Parenting during this time is no gentle ride.  You dive head first into the monster's mouth like you would have at Disneyland.  There are no gimicky tricks of lighting and paint to scare the riders.  This is real life, with real feelings.  You are dealing with a fragile and vulnerable person who is developing and taking risks so they can keep what is meaningful and discard what is not.  Unfortunately, this process is a prolonged one and frequently there are victims scattered along the way.  You only hope that as a parent, you are not one of them. 

So where does on go for support?  Clearly, educational programs designed for adolescents are not the be-all, end-all that the ad agency has hoped for.  Indeed, well over a billion dollars each year are spent educating adolescents about the dangers of smoking, drinking, drug use, unprotected sex, and reckless driving – all with surprisingly little impact.

There has been over 25 years of study in adolescent risk-taking and the research is starting to show that there is not an age difference between higher risk-taking in adolescence versus adulthood.  Laurence Steinberg, is beginning to create a framework on how the development of risk-taking in adolescence, can be approached from a psychological perspective (focusing on increases in emotional reactivity that may underlie risky decision-making), a contextual perspective (focusing on interpersonal processes that influence risky behavior), or a biological perspective (focusing on the endocrinology, neurobiology, or genetics of sensation-seeking).  "All of these levels of analysis are potentially informative, and most scholars of adolescent psychopathology agree that the study of psychological disorder has profited from cross-fertilization among these various approaches."  Steinberg is looking at two fundamental questions about the development of risk-taking in adolescence. First, why does risk-taking increase between childhood and adolescence? Second, why does risk-taking decline between adolescence and adulthood? He believes that developmental neuroscience provides clues that may lead us toward an answer to both questions.

I am not a scientist, but Steinberg does think that educational programs alone cannot stem the flow risky behavior in a 12 year old.  Interesting enough, he advocates acknowledging the neuroscience of adolescence and then create policy around those biological aspects. 

"The research reviewed here suggests that heightened risk-taking during adolescence is likely to be normative, biologically driven, and, to some extent, inevitable. There is probably very little we can or ought to do to either attenuate or delay the shift in reward sensitivity that takes place at puberty, a developmental shift that likely has evolutionary origins."

So we know that education alone is useless, that family structure is helpful, and that what happens in the brain is really what is missing to giving us insight.  Now--I am back at biology.

Turn and face the strange
Oh, look out you rock 'n' rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch changes
Turn and face the strange
Pretty soon now you're going to get older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can't trace time

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