During the years 12 to 14 very marked changes in habits come over most boys and girls. These changes are often very distressing to parents, because their general effect is to transform what has been a quite normal, reasonably tidy and obedient child into rather a puzzling and mutinous ragamuffin.
The adolescent, in short, is feeling the need to try his wings. Young birds, as soon as they have the power to fly, leave the nest; young humans cannot, for many reasons, but the desire to do so is none the less in them. They find home dull, they long to get away, they resent authority and refuse to accept discipline. They want to be up and doing things on their own.
In the ordinary cases ail this expresses itself in insubordination to parents, in disobedience, in tempers and tears when crossed, in sulky irritable fits, in a reluctance to take part in formal and social activities arranged by parents, in secrecy and f urtiveness. In extreme cases, where 17 parental control is very severe or very Jax, children run away or engage in crime. Thousands of boys of 14 are restored to their parents every year by the British police. Thousands more are dealt with gently by the magistrates; usually for stealing, easily the most frequent crime.
Rapid physical growth during these years, and the emotions resulting therefrom, give rise to habits and mannerisms that are frequently unpleasant. Boys particularly become extremely clumsy (though this is hardly a habit, but rather a temporary physical disability), and this clumsiness, annoying them, makes them peevish and irritable. Girls are inclined to become furtive and secret, and given to little meannesses and back-bitings.
We have emphasized undesirable traits which appear during these years because great numbers of parents dread at this time lest their boy is going wrong, their girl losing all her charm and developing undesirably. This period of loose ends, however, in which everything, from tidiness in dress to morals, seems to be going to pieces, is quite natural and to be expected, more or less, in the life of every boy and girl. It is a period in which, of all times, kind and sympathetic help is required from parents, for it is the period of resolution without the power to carry resolves into permanent action.
The boy or girl is perpetually making up his or her mind to do this, that or the other, to conquer this fault, to take that line of action recommended by parents, teachers or books ; and no one is more disappointed and self-critical and abusive when the inevitable failure comes. The will is not yet strong enough. For parents or teachers to abuse without understanding just now is to rub salt into already smarting wounds.
Towards fifteen another remarkable change takes place. Disorder is replaced by extreme order, at any rate so far as personal adornment and care of the person is concerned. Any exercise, device, or preparation for increasing the beauty and attractiveness of the face and body is eagerly seized upon. The attraction of the opposite sex has begun.
Hero-Worship. Every young adolescent has a hero, whom he worships in secret, and often in ludicrous ways. A boy of fourteen developed a pronounced limp in his walk because his here (a school prefect) was slightly lame. A boy of seventeen woke himself regularly at one a.m. To go for a walk because his hero, Goethe, used to walk about at that hour.
This hero-worship is quite idolatrous; it will admit no fault in the hero. It is also capable of rapid enthronements and dethronements. It may centre upon a person of either sex, upon a youth only slightly older than the worshipper, upon an adult, upon an historical or fictitious character. It is capable of doing great good, for it can clear in the worshippers mind the desirable attributes in character, and give him a model to work upon, and guiding lines with which to direct his own life.
By the time a boy or a girl is mentally fourteen years old parents can afford them great service by putting within their reach biographies of men and women whose fives are worthy to be imitated, and fiction containing the portraits of such men and women.
In its undesirable forms hero-worship can resolve itself into a blind copying of someone else, a mere imitation of, a reliance upon, the personality of another.
Hobbies. The hobbies of adolescence are closely related to intelligence. In later childhood the boy or the girl flits from one interest to another, tasting here, sipping there, unconsciously making up his or her mind that this pleased, that bored, the other repelled. Now, as in the choice of companions, the young ado- lescent selects the hobbies most nearly allied to his type and quality of mind. Of course, free and unrestricted choice is impossible in all but very well-to-do houses, but some choice is possible almost everywhere, and in that choice ought to be seen an indication of the mind that makes it.
The child most to be feared is the one who has no hobbies at all, who can never find anything to do, and is bored by every occupation that is suggested. That childs mind is either of low quality, or there is something wrong with it. Next, the adolescent who flits restlessly from one hobby to another, never mastering any, but becoming bored as soon as difficulties arise, is to be suspected of being unstable, shallow and of no great mental ability.
On the other hand a very clever child may pass rapidly from one hobby to another, absorbing quickly all that is of interest to his eager mind, and passing on because the hobby does not satisfy, or because there is so much that is interesting in the world, and it is a shame to miss any of it.
Hobbies are a useful, but much neglected, guide to future careers. As a result of the watertight division of mans activities into work and recreation, hobbies have got securely locked up in the recreation compartment, and parents are consequently inclined to look upon their childrens hobbies as mere devices for passing the time away.
Far from that; they show more accurately than almost anything the bent of the mind, and so indicate the type of work suitable. It is necessary first to consider the actual hobby, and then the way in which it is tackled.
If we divide hobbies roughly as follows: (I) Scientific – wireless, photography, chemistry, etc. (ii) Mechanical – engines, aeroplanes, motor-cars, etc. (iii) Constructional – making boats, cabinets, dresses, cookery, etc. (iv) Collecting – stamps, birds-eggs, flowers, etc. (v) Artistic – sketching, painting, music, acting, etc. (vi) Literary – reading, writing prose or poetry. (vii) Protective – nursing, care of pets. (viii) Athletic – all forms of athletic games and feats.
We get, of course, classes that overlap in all directions, and which one can criticize as leaving gaps. But no classification would be entirely satisfactory; this serves its purpose if it shows that a boy absorbed in a scientific hobby, such as the study of electricity as revealed in wireless, is the last fellow to be sent into a bank or an office, the girl who spends her evenings in V.A.D. And ambulance classes is quite unfitted to become a shorthand typist.
Generally speaking, it will be advisable to choose an occupation of the same type as the hobby, always provided that the boy or girl shows real knowledge a nd skill. A merely superficial interest in a hobby is a poor guide.
Home Influence. Among savage tribes of primitive people there is almost always an elaborate and traditional ceremony of initiation of boys and girls at puberty into manhood and womanhood. In some of these the boy is openly transferred from the care of his mother to the care of his tribe, in others the girl is trained in the duties of womanhood. All signify the acceptance of the youth as a responsible and adult member of the tribe.
Among civilized races things are very different. As a rule, the higher the degree of civilization, the longer and more complete the period of dependency of the young upon their parents. Children tend to stay longer and longer in the homes of their parents; frequently these are not left until marriage.
But the desire to leave the home, to become an independent adult, persists, and manifests itself in curious and often perverted ways. For this reason, the home influence during the earlier years of adolescence is most important; and it is most difficult to preserve exactly the right atmosphere.
The home must not be so attractive that it overshadows all other interests. It is right that boys and girls should gradually face and assimilate the idea that the moment is approaching when they must leave home and strike out for themselves, must create for themselves their own home. By this is not meant that home should be unattractive, but many parents, in their love of their children, surround them at home with every comfort, guide, protect and care for them to such a degree that they retain the children in a state of childish dependency, and so actually unfit them for making their way in the world.
On the other hand, it is utterly undesirable that home should become the scene of conflict between parents and children. This often happens when restrictions and regulations, quite necessary and normal for childhood, are persisted in during adolescence. If parents would discuss with their children hours of bedtime and of rising, evening recreation, clothes, etc. instead of continuing to lay down laws upon these subjects, conflict would be avoided.
The business of the parent during these years is to help children towards a realization of their manhood or womanhood. This includes deliberately training them to want to leave home by gradually releasing them from protcctedness, from regulations and prohibitions, by treating them more and more as responsible adult3 – despite their failures and mistakes due to inexperience. These call not for a return to former methods of treatment, but for guidance that will prevent a repetition.
Children kept in a state of dependency during these years not only react immediately by tempers and robehion or retention of childish habits, but their mental growth is arrested, so much so that many people never grow up mentally; they remain children in thought and action, and so incapable of any high-grade work, all their lives.
A home that in itself presents many attractions – tasteful decorations, books , games, amusements – so that the child, while learning to leave it, will remember it with affection, and use it as a model to build Ids own upon. A home that the adolescent, when away at camp or visiting friends, feels he can talk about and praise with pleasure, without experiencing that depressing loneliness called homesickness.