Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Awkward Years

In the Science Section of the New York Times of April 24 an article appeared entitled Treating The Awkward Years, describing a slew of physical and emotional issues which may beset kids during their adolescent years, ranging generally from ages 10 to 19. There’s even a new field specializing in adolescent medicine dealing with anything from shyness to sexual activities to eating disorders to pimples. During those years kids are “mystified and embarrassed by their changing bodies.”

The article’s main point, however, was the inadequate number of doctors who are trained and willing to treat this age group (sound familiar?) – about 40 million youths. One doctor described them as “they’re not big children and they’re not little adults.” Not many doctors want to deal with them because they take up a lot more office time and are more challenging than the "cute little kids." And the doctors don’t make any more money off the teenagers than they do in treating the younger kids. 75 % of pediatricians surveyed said they didn’t really want more patients from the adolescent group.

Prabhupada explains how there are three different stages in the first part of life ( from ages 1-5, 6-10, and 11 –16) and how a parent should relate to each of those age groups. Of course, this all has to be done in love and with the self-control and wisdom of a sage. At one point in the 1970’s and 80’s the prevailing philosophy in society was to let kids do what they wanted (on book distribution at O’Hare Airport in the 70’s I even met a scholar who was very adamant about this point). One comedian joked about this saying – “When I was a kid I had to do what my parents wanted and now that I’m a parent I’m told to do what my kids want. When do I get to do what I want???"

Some doctors are heeding the call and actually taking the time to listen to and talk with their teenage patients to develop trust and confidentiality. One doctor observes, "Adolescents are incredibly thoughtful, creative and absolutely challenging. They get when you're insincere really quickly." We may think we're teaching them, but in actuality, Krishna is using them to teach us. I think the trick is to have the ability to appreciate them and learn from the kids themselves; to learn who we are; to learn to make the endeavor but to be detached from the results; to learn tolerance and patience; and to not be afraid to see our own imperfections and shortcomings. That's why it's so scary being a parent or a teacher.

As we journey through the diverse stages of life, we grapple (sometimes desperately) with the various problems and issues of our minds, emotions and bodies. When we’re five years old we have a particular set of problems, and when we’re 15 and 45 and 65 we encounter different issues and problems, usually each one more perplexing then the next. And in the end we see that our lives have been consumed with all these intermediate or transitional problems, but never really understanding and addressing the root source of the problems. We need help in crossing this dangerous terrain to not be bewildered by the many changes our bodies go through, otherwise we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. When we understand that Krishna is sending that help in many shapes and forms then our precarious journey will take on a wonderous new meaning.

“As the embodied soul continually passes in this body from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” Bhagavad Gita 2:13