Teen Talk: Hormone Hell...
Teen Talk - Live
Chris is taking “Teen Talk” on the road. If you are a member of a parent group or responsible for finding engaging speakers for student or youth groups, please contact Chris at www.chrislincoln-speaker.com
Egg - Caterpillar - Chrysalis - Butterfly?
With my students, I used the life cycle of the butterfly, as an example, to help the changelings understand the drama being played out in their bodies. I use the analogy that, as little kids, they are just like the eggs, clustered under the leaf, that then becomes their first meal as caterpillars. (This generation all grew up with Eric Carle’s seminal work, The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar as part of their kindergarten or first grade experience.)
The caterpillars represent their early years, devouring everything in their path, facts, as well as food, and the world is clear and ordered.
The next stage is perhaps the hardest for all but the most biologically minded individuals to understand. The caterpillar finds a place to hang out, (literally,) wraps itself into a shell that hardens, (talk about self absorbed,) and as a chrysalis; every cell in its body reabsorbs into a soup. This mush, hangs out in its protective shell, until every cell is reassigned, then breaks out, not without a little pain, as a butterfly and takes wing.
This chrysalis period is, of course, the middle school years. Physical, social, and emotional changes, take place behind, what can appear to be, an impenetrable shell of attitude or secrecy. What is very important for us adults to understand, is how incredibly intertwined these three components are. None of the three change without the other two being involved. A social change, such as a spat with a friend, has both an emotional impact and a physical one. (Zits, bad hair, digestive upset.) It is also at such a level of intensity that is very hard for us to remember.
The changelings’ world is a world with no security. No fixed points, no certainty. Every single cell of their being can play tricks on them. Imagine any animal in the same situation, you would expect them to snap, snarl and bite, right?
Although it bothers us beyond belief when they appear self-absorbed, rude, uncommunicative, unhelpful and irritating, it is important to remember that it is all a defense system, hiding confusion and uncertainty. Their thought processes are not rational, for the most part. They are ‘thinking’ at a base level ,driven by hormones, that swing wildly, between too much and too little. Bottom line, they are on drugs. Powerful, mood altering drugs, and they have absolutely no control over that.
The effects of these drugs seem to be modified by being around others sharing the same nightmare. For the child, there is security, or a sense of normality, to be found, by being around their peers. For the adults, it seems that the antisocial components in their armory, simply become magnified.
Adrenaline is a good example of the impact of a burst of a hormone on the body. Most of us have experienced it, and all of us have absolutely no control over it. The dose, or shot is not measured in any way; it is a reaction to danger, and if it gets you away from the danger, the later side effects are no big deal, (when compared to death or dismemberment by a large animal, for example.) Most hormones do not act in this way. Most hormones carefully secrete the tiny amounts that determine our metabolism, growth and general body maintenance. This is the norm; smooth, measured, controlled, and unremarkable. This is the norm before puberty. This is the norm after puberty. The catch here is that during adolescence the entire system goes crazy.
The best way I can describe it is with an analogy of a mixer tap or shower controls. You want a stream of warm water, you manipulate the cold faucet, and the hot faucet, to get the balance you need. Most people learn to do this very quickly, and have good results most of the time, even in new situations. But, what happens if someone flushes the toilet elsewhere in the building? Now translate that experience to our poor adolescents, as they get a hormonal scalding.
The entire system is, then, upset by new and potent hormones, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. Although these chemicals have been around in trace amounts in the pre-pubescent body, suddenly, they enter the mix in irregular and uncontrolled amounts. For some (very fortunate) individuals, the introduction is un-dramatic, with their endocrine system absorbing the new components in a reasonably benign way. The other extreme is almost like the adrenaline shot; with these additives being put into the system in a way that produces something akin to shock. The dominating effect of these hormones is what we witness during adolescence.
These events are incredibly powerful, including a primal drive to reproduce that we ignore at our peril, and easily overcome the rational brain. It is a very unfair contest; logic loses out to emotion. It was this fact that led to me never asking, “What were you thinking?” to the contrite middle school child in my office, following some transgression or another. The truth is, ‘thinking’ was not in charge, in fact , “thinking” may not have been happening at all. The child was responding on a purely instinctual level, and if you ask, “What were you thinking?” the only response you can get is a rationalization of the irrational act. Some are very good at this, learning quickly to tell us what we want to hear. Most will either sit there with a blank expression, waiting out the storm, or they get defensive. This is why you get that look, combined with a shoulder shrug and a mumbled “I don’t know” – because they don’t.
The hormones run rampant through most adolescents, until a degree of control and balance, is achieved. In both men and women, these resolve into cycles, with the cycles having the most notable impact, on women. They are not fixed for life, as any pregnant woman can attest in graphic detail. The impact of the hormonal changes is also modified by environment and personality, with some individuals seeming to go through a full-blown personality transplant, and others feeling marginally under the weather. There is no nice neat rubric that can be followed, each child will change in his or her own way and in their own time. There are, however, stages and universal components that we can observe.
It is a simplification, but helpful, to think of the first stage as simply a change order. The message is sent to prepare the body for reproduction. The purpose of the hormones in this setting is clear and the physiological changes ultimately serve that purpose. The side effect is the impact these hormones have on behavior.