Promoting Empathy With Your Teen

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Can Adolescents Conceptualize Meaningfulness and Purpose in their lives?

Do The Stories Fathers' Tell, Influence Their Sons' Emotional Growth?

In my ten years of working with adolescents and young adults, every now and then I encounter a youth who is dead set on making a foolish decision. It's usually a male, and for some reason he believes he has figured life out. In recent years, I have also noticed a familiar pattern with these males, they usually view their fathers or a male guardians in their lives as not having experienced the same issues they are experiencing and as larger than life. I can understand if this bit of information will not surprise a significant number of people, after all some fathers who present as larger than life in the presence of their sons, have perhaps exaggerated their paths to various successes. Also it should come as no surprise that some fathers have significantly minimized their personal struggles and embarrassments- at least for those who bothered to share.

The point is, children do pay attention to these stories, especially sons who aspire to be like their dads or male guardians. It is understandable that males have a tendency to tell exaggerated stories of grandeur to impress their peers, for the sole purposes of improving their perception of rank in any given hierarchy, real or perceived. Adolescent males are most notorious for this, as well as young adult males. As a matter of fact, there are males who will go out of their way to engaged in a risky experience, just for the sake of having "bragging rights". With fathers of young sons, it makes sense that certain stories are told and framed for boosting the confidence of a young child, whose mental capacities are limited by concrete thinking, and is relatively new to the process of learning and mastery. However, for an adolescent with a more abstract thinking process, at what point is it okay for fathers and male guardians to get real?

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Whether it be through subtle or blatant messages, the habit of fathers to only share with their children the stories surrounding their successes is a hindrance to the emotional development of an adolescent. Inevitably, all people at some point in their lives will encounter difficult circumstances that trump any designed solutions and problem solving experience he or she may bring to the table. This is always a humbling experience, from which a new perspective on life is forged and new meaning is born. Sometimes these experiences are painful in nature, but they need to be shared. Sometimes no solutions or happy endings ever happened as a result of these experiences, sometimes these were simply life altering experiences. nevertheless, these stories still need to be shared.

I have found in my experience that the adolescent and young adult males whose fathers who had the courage to tell them their life stories as it was, pertaining the youth's specific struggles, show dramatic improvement in the course of their therapy. Yes, there have been a number of studies with results to support the belief that the human brain does not reach full maturation until a person's mid twenties, in regards to self control, judgments, emotions and organization. To what extent, these attributes matter with the full maturation of the human brain in a person's adult hood is still up for discussion. Yes adolescents, especially adolescent males, due to hormonal changes, are more likely to engage in high risk thinking and behaviors. I agree with all these, but experience has also taught me that adolescents are also very capable of understanding the concept of what it means to be powerless under any circumstance and still have a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Stories based on success alone, can be intimidating for an adolescent who is going through a rough period. Believe it or not most adolescents who go through tough times will defer, to what an adult in his or her life would do. This adult is usually a parent and if all an adolescent has vicariously learned from his father's experience is machismo and grandeur, it can become a set up for distancing in the relationship between father and son, as the adolescent feels inadequate to measure up to his father or male guardian and becomes secretly resentful.

 

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Ugo Uche is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in adolescents and young adults.

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