A recent caller to my syndicated radio show (Saturdays, 6 p.m. EST, American Family Radio) objected to advice I dispensed concerning a teenage girl who was exhibiting a number of narcissistic and even sociopathic behaviors, including lying and the abuse of animals.
The caller — a young lady in her 20s — pointed out that the girl’s behavior could be due to hormones and other biological factors. She accused me of not being sufficiently sensitive to the biological stresses that girls in their early to mid-teenage years have to deal with. These stresses, she claimed, predispose tantrums, rebelliousness, disrespect, and a general lack of emotional control.
No, they do not. Teenage girls may have some difficulty adjusting to the onset of puberty, some more than others. And puberty may be a very difficult time for some teenage girls. But there is nothing about puberty (specifically, the onset of menstruation, however troublesome) that entitles a teenage girl to be rebellious, disrespectful, and an emotional tyrant, much less devious and abusive to animals.
Furthermore, there is nothing about puberty that explains the level of drama that is currently associated with female adolescence. The norm may involve occasional moodiness, anxiety and emotional outbursts — the operative qualifier being “occasional.” But believing and acting as if one is playing the lead role in a perpetual soap opera has nothing to do with puberty.
Up until fairly recently, the young teenage girl had not been a drama queen. She did not act as if one’s life was only significant to the degree it was infused with crisis, plots, conspiracies and other melodramatic elements. Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, the typical teenage girl was preparing herself for responsible adulthood. She regarded the lingering immaturity of boys with disapproval bordering on disdain.
Even today, there are plenty of teenage girls in America who fit that traditional description. Are they biologically abnormal? They may be in the minority in the U.S., but they are definitely not when judged against broader norms. According to reliable reports, girls in underdeveloped countries do not seem captive to emotion.
My theory is that in this regard (as in numerous other regards) America is reaping what was sown in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That is when mental-health professionals, in chorus, announced that children had a right to express their feelings freely. Supposedly, this allowance was essential to the liberation of the child from the fetters of authoritarian control at home and at school.
It was in fact true that pre-1970s children had not been allowed to freely express their feelings. Adults were training children for responsible citizenship, and the responsible citizen does not express emotion without regard for context.
But it was not long before everything traditional yielded to parenting progressivism, the seductive propaganda of new ideas under the sun.
There have been many victims of the children’s liberation movement, but the most aggrieved have been children themselves.
A family psychologist, John Rosemond is available at johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.