A major task confronting pre-teens and teens is to develop a sense of individual identity; to find answers to the questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where am I going?’ The search for personal identity involves deciding what is important or worth doing and formulating standards of conduct for evaluating one’s own behaviour, as well as the behaviour of others. It also involves feelings about self worth and competence.
How Children Vary
The Balanced Child. For some, the identity crisis never occurs at all. Their identity ‘crystallized’ early in life. They accept or adopt their parents’ values without questions and proceed towards adult roles that are consistent with their parents’ beliefs.
The Rebellious Child. Others adopt a deviant identity and rebel against their family and society. This is particularly true of intolerant overbearing parents who try to force a programmed life on their children and those raised on constant criticism. This also applies to neglected children, some orphaned, who may react negatively to their circumstances. Street children would definitely fall under this category.
The Confused Child. Many others go through a prolonged period of identity confusion and have great difficulty finding themselves. The trial and error experience continues and the person may never have a strong sense of personal identity, even as an adult. This individual never develops any commitments or loyalties and is tossed around by every wind of doctrine.
The Ignorant Child. Yet, some go through a short process of trial and error and ‘find’ themselves soon enough. These people usually have ‘present’ parents who were there for them in many ways but who usually out of ignorance, did not really help them develop a sense of direction and purpose early in life.
An individual’s personal identity once formed is not necessarily static. People can acquire new interests and skills and be greatly influenced by some role or a role model that may change the sense of who they are or bring out who they really are.
How To Help Your Pre-teen & Teen
1. PLANT them among people who will influence them positively. Let them attend camps, seminars, excursions and encourage them to form and join clubs with positive vision and purpose.
2. Generally encourage them to pick up skills regularly and help them see the importance of doing that. If you can’t afford fees at training centers, hook them up with relatives and friends who would be willing to train them for free or at discounted rates.
3. Mentorship! As mentioned earlier, connect them to worthy mentors who will take time out to guide them.
4. Help them deal with rejection from others. Let them know that rejection is part of life and yes, they may hurt from any act of rejection for a while, but let them know it’s temporary. In Africa particularly, we tend to ignore the emotions of our children and this does not augur well for their psycho-social development; a crucial part of identity formation.
5. At any age, affirm them regularly. Children need love and attention, not neglect and emotional or physical abuse which are detrimental to developing a healthy identity. We must not be too strict and unapproachable.
6. Help them discover and develop their gifts and talents. A professional counsellor can help with this. Allow them to express themselves. If your son loves singing, let him sing. If your daughter loves baking, let her bake.
Don’t put them in that strait jacket plan of yours. Once this is established, pair it up with their academic performance and together, draw up a list of courses that are appropriate. We must not appear ‘domineering’ and should lovingly guide them into careers they have the ability and enthusiasm for.
Remember to show them the hierarchy/progression of different jobs they might be interested in. Teach them about CVs; when they know each step they take is to be documented (as a CV), they will be encouraged to be more active and not lead a lazy life.
7. Tell them stories of great men and world changers. Surround them with life transforming books, audio and video materials. Keep them tuned in to God through prayers, worship and service in the house of God. Surround them with words of inspiration, idioms and proverbs.
Remember, what you model to your children is equally important. You don’t have to be a high flying professional (Doctor, Lawyer or Engineer) to model excellent life skills. Even an illiterate housewife, tailor, hair stylist or a trader, can model vital life skills and impact their children positively.
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