Letter from Elisabeth d’Ornano
Which path will they take?
In this new school year we shall continue focusing on helping children with hyperactivity, impulsiveness and lack of concentration problems , specifically in the adolescent stage. If last year we dedicated it to the emotional development before birth, this year through our dedication, we want to continue talking about emotional development during the adolescent stage and help you to understand better your child. In spite of being a difficult period, this stage fulfils a purpose as a transition between childhood and the adult age, and it involves multiple changes at all levels.
A pre-adolescent child is starting to live under the influence of his or her emotions, without yet having a thorough analytic capacity, due to a lack of brain maturity. The experiences they live throughout their development in this stage will allow them to widen their perception and form their own identity. At the end of pre-adolescence a child’s world is limited to his family and school, but little by little as time goes on, school provides them with greater possibilities, and their social life pushes them beyond the scope of the family. Their main challenge is to build up their identity, making the right decisions, because their search for independence masks a great deal of insecurity and the need to be liked and valued by their companions. Their capacity for self-esteem will allow them to define themselves as a person without letting others influence them.
Thus far the opinions of others were the main influence on their view of the world. When reaching adolescence they are prompted to creating their own opinions on life and on their life. Their mind begins to awaken and their intellect becomes more active, they start to question what they have learned and to choose what is best aligned with their being. This is when children begin to rationalise. They identify with their emotions and their body, and they begin to doubt their intuition, and, sadly, they set aside the genuine inner child that guided them. It is also the time when there is a greater risk of no longer living in the present and becoming conditioned by the established beliefs instilled by those around them. Although they have the possibility of perceiving their extraordinary capacities, their mind reflects the lack of appraisal by others, drawing out their fear and anguish, and they can feel the conflict issuing from their desire to be part of the herd. Children who are different suffer more. That is why it is so important to encourage their virtues, what they truly are so that they can express it.
Adolescents start to identify with their body and their emotions, that is why they attach so much importance to their appearance. How their body is perceived by others, especially by those who exert attraction on them, allows them to define themselves, but sometimes they do so while doubting their own appeal, strength and capacity. They constantly compare themselves with their surroundings and they face the difficulty of wanting to be accepted and valued.
Their emotional body is mature to start to live though this stage of greater independence. Maturity also entails substantial physical, psychological and hormonal changes, as well as changes linked to seeing life in a different light. An adolescent child is vulnerable in this stage of change, increasingly so in the case of children with ADHD, because of their impulsiveness, a possible lack of self-esteem and greater difficulty when it comes to setting limits for themselves.
Today I would like to encourage you to try to have a positive relationship with your adolescent child. I know it is exhausting to keep your cool and be patient, because these kids test us day after day. I have two boys aged 14 and 16 and I’m always trying to understand them, trying to recall what I was like at their age, because we cannot expect them to think and react as adults because they are not adults. They are looking for their own space, seeking to develop their own personality through the development of their emotional and mental energy field. They are consistently seeking to break barriers to feel freer at every moment, to feel alive. The danger lies in their losing control and it is convenient to warn them against this. Sometimes, precisely in order to live their own experiences and feel euphoria, they resort to alcohol and other substances to get lost and jump into the abyss to enjoy freedom, in the belief that in this way they will find out who they are. They are highly conditioned by the need for social recognition and this may lead them to take excessive risks. Adolescents need to be accompanied and they need limits, even if they don’t want them. They want to make their own decisions alone, but then they feel abandoned when they make the wrong decision, that is why it so important to guide them at a distance.
I am personally a bit afraid of the pre-eminence of social networks. I know they are a sign of the times and that they have a positive side, but we must be aware that it is important to warn adolescents of the risk of becoming trapped by them, without leaving themselves any time for relating with others and learning through human contact and contact with the outer world. As with everything, we must foster balance and their overall development: their physical, emotional and mental development. Through my children I can see that sports help them to establish healthy relationships with other children, enjoying contact with nature, allowing them to overcome their shortfalls while depending on discipline, something that is so necessary in this stage. If on top of this they are interested in developing artistic or musical qualities, these activities will boost their brain balance. If none of this motivates them, there are also social assistance activities that can motivate and help certain children to find themselves. As stated by Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor and winner of the Prince of Asturias Award, ‘Do you want to develop your child’s intelligence? Find out what interests him/her.”
Adolescence is also a necessary stage that is rich in emotions that need to be channelled, and to this end we have to start to show them how to understand those emotions. The search for experiences makes one develop through imagination and creativity, using the emotional as a springboard to discover the world outside home and the family. It is normal for parents no longer to be the centre of attention, because in this stage their friends are very important. But we must take care of our communication with them, letting them bring their friends home so that we can see and know who their friends are, as they will be an influence on our children. I am happy to have lunch with my children’s friends, talking with them and finding out what the outlook is. Although not all children are pleasant, especially at those ages, we need to be capable of fostering the good things in them so that they too can see them.
This difficult stage for parents makes us be aware of the roadblocks that are set up by our own emotional reactions and how we are often conditioned by these when educating our children. These emotions may be linked to our past, and to our anxiety when looking towards the future. We have to learn to educate without applying a mould to a person, evolving to be more peaceful and coherent, leaving behind the need to exert authority and trying to control everything. Although adolescents need more space and they need to stretch their independence, this does not mean they do not need affection and happiness. Sometimes we need to resort to tricks when the atmosphere is overcharged, in order to create a positive ambience. Not too long ago I happened to come across a box of cards with short jokes, and when we told a few jokes we broke away from our everyday difficulties, we all relaxed, and that made it easier to arrive to an attitude of affection, which is an advantage when it comes to talking about the subjects that need to be discussed.
We think it is essential, through the activity we are going to carry out this year, to team up with all those who are disseminating and implementing the importance of a more emotional education, taking into account a person’s abilities in a global manner, boosting a program of responsible education that will facilitate emotional and social development, furthering creativity, bringing together parents and teachers in a joint effort to make the most of a child’s potential.
Education must not focus only on schooling—it also depends on the family. We must watch over our conduct, our patience, our tone, encouraging respect towards the world in general, because parents dealing with this adolescent stage continue to act as a benchmark for children to shape their character. Emotions can shape your reality. Let’s foster a healthy emotional development to avoid arriving at pathological developments and their complications, knowing that children with ADHD are more prone to suffering them. Let’s try to find time and share it with them, a positive time in an upward spiral, taking care of our own emotions and attitudes to underscore their courage and talent, empowering the individual and releasing the harness so that they can take off and fly on their own without encountering too much turbulence.