Puberty and Adolescence
Puberty and Adolescence
4. Puberty and Adolescence
Encouraging effort in the name of deferred gratification
Some evolutionary biologists go as far as to claim that an individual’s singular journey through life is a mere illusion: that our entire body works solely for the benefit of our species. Even if this claim seems ludicrous, it’s worth considering in light of the power of hormones, which can deeply affect children’s personalities and behaviors.
When the reproductive system begins to function, sexual hormones induce changes and veritable upheavals on every level. The brain is deeply impacted, and several interests and character traits can change considerably.
Puberty is itself influenced by numerous biological, psychological, cognitive, sociological, and chemical factors. We are seeing an increasingly early onset of puberty as a result of synthetic chemical substances called endocrine disruptors.
Exposure to media outlets and the internet plays a role in this as well: sexualized content that is increasingly accessible to young people contributes to directing their central nervous and hormonal systems (consciously or not) toward competition, seduction, aggression, and sexual impulses—in short, toward the survival of the species.
The immediate pursuit of pleasure is encouraged prematurely in pre-adolescents by advertising, magazines, films, TV, and the internet. Social norms also push in this direction: sports personalities, artists, educators, and psychologists talk more about pleasure than they do about effort. Yet, we have seen that, at the age when puberty starts, reasoning and formal logic gradually start to take root through practice and intellectual effort.
Case Study 3
There are two opposing movements at play. On the one hand, we have the development of knowledge and understanding (language, reasoning, problem solving). This takes place through school, family, sports, the arts, and certain media outlets that can aid the development of the faculties of reasoning and critical argumentation.
On the other hand, puberty and the norms of immediate gratification and freedom for all tend to direct thoughts and behavior toward rapidly attained pleasures that require the least possible effort—far from the demands of critical thinking.
It is therefore wise to start training children as early as possible (from earliest childhood) to use their faculties of reasoning. Once this habit has taken root, not even puberty or phases of adolescent conflict can destroy these critical faculties. They become something akin to a second language.
Teenagers do not destroy their mother tongue even if they reject virtually everything associated with their family and society. They may use terms and expressions specific to their age group, but these remain rooted to the language they learned when they were younger.
Likewise attitudes, behavior, and understanding acquired prior to their adolescence may be called into question during this critical period. But they are not wholly eliminated, and they also return at the end of adolescence. This is, in fact, how our culture is passed down.
The window between the ages of 10 and 12—the pivotal moment between childhood and adolescence—is an optimal time for developing and consolidating critical faculties.
In fact, intellectual curiosity is often high as students reach the end of primary school. Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein called this thirst for learning, “the epistemophilic instinct.” Freud spoke of the sublimation of impulses at this stage, that is, the diverting of energy from unconscious sexual impulses toward sporting or intellectual activities.
We should seize this moment before puberty to direct children toward intellectual pleasure and critical reasoning. Children from ages 10 to 12 have the capacity to hone their critical faculties for reasoning and argumentation. They must be exposed to a multitude of subjects and be encouraged not to accept everything they read or hear. In a majority of cases, this works well. The influence of parents and schools remains solid even as the need to affirm and distinguish oneself develops.