Evolving and Emerging
How often have we heard it said that the teen years are the “formative years”? Your child's brain and body are undergoing an extraordinary transformation, and changes in your child's development may seem rapid-fire. Your son sprouts whiskers and his voice deepens, seemingly overnight. Your daughter's breasts blossom and her menstrual cycle begins. Additionally, peer relationships fluctuate and change and may become more typical of adult interests and activities. Pressure to achieve in school mounts as classroom subjects, homework, and projects comprise a full workload. Teens, more than ever, are pressed to pinpoint how they envision their futures. Extracurricular opportunities present themselves in the form of social events, sports and clubs, or after-school employment.
Perhaps the greatest of these changes is that of peer pressure to conform and comply. Some of this peer pressure may come in the form of temptations to experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex, or illegal activity. For the child who feels “different” or has been singled out by others, this can be perhaps the most challenging time of life.
In keeping with the concept of prevention before intervention, practicing a program of health and balance is critical as your child enters the teen years. At this time, more than ever, it is important that you put into motion a whole plan of wellness for your child that may include a lot of the ideas and strategies offered in this book. This plan may address the following:
Overall physical health
Hygiene and grooming
Adequate leisure or downtime
Good sleep habits
Strong study habits
Healthy social opportunities
If your entire family adopts healthy habits in keeping with this or a similar list, it will be easier for your child to comply as opposed to setting a double standard by doing one thing and expecting another of your child. (“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn't often fly with today's streetwise kids.) As a child who is bipolar, your son is naturally more fragile than his peers; your daughter may be an easy target because other kids think she's “weird” or “psycho.” Your child is also at risk for being set up by peers. Tim explains:
When I was seventeen, I felt like a nobody. I wasn't a jock and I wasn't a geek. I was just that Goth kid that didn't really fit in with any crowd. I know now that a lot of my moodiness and isolation came from depression. I felt like a failure at school. There were some guys that told me they wanted to hang out after school so I checked it out. Turns out they wanted me to be the one to approach a dealer for them. Luckily I knew enough to tell them to shove it, but it made me think. If I didn't have God in my life at that time, I probably would've done it and, knowing me, I would've been busted. I would've taken the rap not them because who's gonna listen to a funky-looking guy who looks like he's already on drugs?
We can only speculate how many other kids like Tim have been the patsy for others who manipulated them into stealing, vandalizing, or worse with the promise they would fit in and be accepted. It's important that you stress to everyone with whom you are required to discuss your child's mental health that she is not her diagnosis. Strive to highlight, nurture, and promote her gifts, talents, and passions. Encourage her self-advocacy wherever possible. And, of course, enter into the same kinds of teen-years discussions that you would with any of your children on the precautions of safe sex, alcohol, and drug use.
As you've read, the manic child experiencing grandiosity has the potential to throw all caution to the wind and engage in some risky behavior (not to mention risk serious side effects by mixing alcohol or illegal drugs with prescription medication). Without a sturdy moral sense, or one that wavers depending on your mood, your child has no guide by which to measure an intuitive sense of right and wrong.