We as adults often tend to see adolescents either as children or young adults. The transitory but crucial phase of passage from childhood to adulthood goes unrecognized. Adolescent population is a positive and vibrant force to nurture and preserve and this necessitates a better understanding on the concerns of ‘growing-up’.
- Adolescents are persons between the age group of 10-19 years
- Growth phases can be demarcated as early adolescence (10-13 years),
middle adolescence (14-16 years) and late adolescence (17-19 years)
Adolescence is Marked By:
- Rapid physical, psychological and social maturation
- A need to extend relationships beyond the immediate family
- A sense of idealism, curiosity and adventure
- Willingness to take greater risks and experiment
A. Psychological Concerns
Developing An Identity
- Self – awareness helps adolescents understand themselves and establish their personal identity. Lack of information and skills prevent them from effectively exploring their potential and establishing a positive image
- Adolescent girls are brought up with several stereotype gender roles. Boys build their ‘egos’ to assume masculine roles. “ Suffering in silence” is seen as a virtue among women and girls
- Adolescents have frequent mood changes reflecting feelings of anger, sadness, happiness, fear, shame, guilt, and love. Very often, they are unable to understand the emotional turmoil
- Sex hormones secreted during puberty affect changes in sexual and emotional behaviour. Lack of knowledge regarding bodily and emotional change cause stress
- They do not have a supportive environment in order to share their concerns with others. Counseling facilities are not available.
- As a part of growing up, adolescents redefine their relationships with parents, peers and members of the opposite sex. Adults have high expectations from them and do not understand their feelings
- Adults do not recognise their right to choose with dignity and participate in decision- making processes
- Adolescents need social skills for building positive and healthy relationships with others including peer of opposite sex. They need to understand the importance of mutual respect and socially defined boundaries of every relationship
Resisting Peer Pressure
- Adolescents find it difficult to resist peer pressure. They often lack skills to say ‘No’ to unsafe practices. Some of them may yield to these pressures and take on to experimentation at greater risk
- Aggressive self conduct (includes rash -driving, eve-teasing); unsafe sexual behaviour and drug use involve greater risks with regard to physical and mental health
- The experiment with smoking and milder drugs often leads to switching over to hard drugs and addiction in later stage
- The risk of contracting HIV; unintended pregnancy and getting involved in anti-social behaviour are serious consequences of drug abuse
B. Health Concerns
Understanding the process of growing up
- Body image and rate of growth in relation to peers is a major concern of young adolescents
- Misconceptions about menstruation, masturbation and nocturnal emissions cause stress
- Social norms and inability to share their concerns with others make it even more stressful
Acquiring Information, Education and Services on Reproductive and Sexual Health
- Exposure to media and mixed messages from the fast changing world have left adolescents with many unanswered questions
- The widening gap in communication between adolescents and parents especially on sexual and reproductive health is a matter of great concern
- Teachers still feel inhibited to discuss issues frankly, sensitively and interestingly
- Services providers are judgmental and do not ensure confidentiality
- Adolescents seek information from sources that have mostly incorrect or exaggerated information
- Peer groups are also ill informed and some adolescents fall prey to quacks
- Fear and hesitation prevent them from seeking knowledge on preventive methods and medical help if suffering with RTIs and STIs
Communicating and Negotiating Safe Sexual Practices
- Sexually active adolescents face greater health risks within and outside marriage
- Their knowledge of contraceptives and use of condom to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is limited
- They have poor access to contraceptives and condom
- They have poor skills to communicate, negotiate and assert. These increase vulnerability to STIs / HIV infection
- The power relation (lower status within gender relationship; lack of financial power) in a sexual relationship makes it difficult for female adolescents to negotiate for condom use
Sexual and Reproductive Health of Female Adolescent
- In females, the surface of vagina that is exposed is larger and more vulnerable than the skin-covered penis of male reproductive organ making females more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections/HIV
- Adolescent female have greater biological vulnerability because of less mature tissues (in the vagina and over the cervix)
- Young women are less likely than men to experience symptoms, so some STIs go undiagnosed until a major health problem develops
- Once a young woman has STI, she is at greater risk of reproductive cancers and infertility
- Other health problems can include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and spontaneous abortion.
Nutritional Status of Adolescents
Nutritional intake among adolescents especially girls is still a matter of concern. Several families do not yet recognize food intake needs of a girl. Girls are not served adequate/ nutritious food incomparision to male members/ siblings in the family etc. Besides, over nutrition and other lifestyle diseases like obesity; diabetes are emerging fast as major health problems among adolescents.
C. Social practices: Avoiding Early Marriage and Early Pregnancy
- Adolescents, both girls and boys are forced into early marriage and have very little say in selecting their marriage partners
- Early marriage has far reaching consequences in terms of their development, fertility rate and reproductive health
- Marriage curtails education and alters their choice of careers
- Cultural norms may encourage early child bearing, posing risks to both infants and mother. If girls who are not fully developed become pregnant, they can experience damage to their reproductive tracts, delayed or obstructed labour, ruptures in the birth canal and increased risks of maternal mortality
- Girls may also face mental and emotional problems related to too early sexual initiation
- Teenage parents lack experience, skills and resources needed to raise their children
The ability to effectively navigate the unpredictable passage from childhood to adolescence is highly dependent on the presence of positive relationships with peers, adults, and institutions that provide a safety net to support healthy development. These relations serve as a foundation upon which young people enter adulthood. Families that provide love, nurture and care equally to their children ensure healthier development for all children. However parents may not always have all the answers but an open communication can help one gather right support and help for their children.
We as ‘Responsible Parents’ can…
- Appreciate the significance of the period of adolescence, its problems and challenges
- Express our respect, love and care equally to all children irrespective of their gender and sexuality
- Help them learn basic values to live by
- Encourage decision-making skills among adolescents by providing them with age-appropriate opportunities
- Refrain from thrusting goals on them; rather help them to channelise their energies in constructive ways
- Find out about their friends and help them identify and make friends with those who have a positive influence on them
- Be aware of and understand childrens’ inquisitiveness about life and relationships
- Offer correct, age-appropriate and scientific information and counselling in a comfortable setting as and when required: it is important to communicate the importance of emotional and physical changes that they experience; relationships; sexual abstinence; marriage; spacing of children; accessing healthcare
- It is important to understand that parents own behaviour has determining impact on adolescent children.
Teachers are the most important determinant of success of Adolescence Education Programme. Teachers/ educationists can help in creating an enabling environment for integration of AEP in school system and implementation in a proper way. Besides, teachers are also responsible for explaining the content of AEP effectively and sensitively.
We as ‘Teachers’ can…
- Express our respect for adolescents. Let them know that teachers trust them
- Never be judgmental and refrain from forcing personal values while interacting with adolescents (preaching proves counter productive)
- Create a supportive school environment: the human factor is personified in the teacher
- Work towards integrating gender and rights perspective in the school system
- Contribute to development of their self-esteem and positive body image.
- Help adolescents to become responsible adults by changing negative attitudes and perceptions
- Help adolescents adopt responsible and safe behaviour
- Promote health seeking behaviour; breaking down the taboo attached with it.
- Protect them from sexual exploitation or sexual abuse.
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