Exploring the Trials and Tribulations of Teenagers

Cape Times (South Africa), November 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Trials and Tribulations of Teenagers


AS PARENTS of three teenagers between us, my best friend and I have whiled away many hours pondering their many mysteries.

We've given each other advice and support when issues such as tongue piercing and safe sex came up and watched in wonder as our little babies blossomed into young adults.

On the whole we have agreed that we have been marvellously lucky to have made this transition with relative ease and having watched the first episode of Teen Angels (BBC Prime, Mondays 7.30pm) - a deliberate oxymoron if ever there was one - I know we have been more than blessed.

The programme starred 16-year-old Tom, an unfortunate-looking lad with bright orange hair and blond eyelashes. His mom and step-dad had been at their wits' end with him since he dropped out of school and spent all his time smoking dagga. Except they call it cannabis in England.

If they wanted to make the point about how bad it is to smoke dope, they certainly succeeded. Slack-jawed and droopy eyed, Tom's speech was slurred and incoherent and I couldn't understand a word he said.

I yearned for the subtitles that would have been there if the programme had been screened in America, where they don't understand anyone but themselves.

On top of that, Tom was aggressive, violent and moody. He slam-med doors, ranted and raved, and shoved his poor mum around. He threw tantrums that a child half his age has already grown out of.

Every time he came home from smoking a bong in the woods, he'd raid the fridge, shovelling burgers, sausage rolls and other junk food down his gullet, all drenched in tomato sauce.

Teen Angels is not just about showcasing horror stories though; it brings in two psychologists, Stephen Briers and Laverne Antrobus, who try to help the family sort out their problems - and this couple truly had the patience of saints.

The shrinks reason that there is so much pressure to be successful at the time of their lives when they feel most insecure and awkward, that adolescents deliberately stuff up instead.

The parents' mistake was to either be shocked into doing nothing, or to nag too much. Stephen and Laverne explained that the family had to build up a culture of mutual respect. They had them sit down and talk. They tried all sorts of reward and punishment schemes, involving chores and allowance money. They tried giving him things, they tried taking them away.

Tom slouched on the sofa and picked his pimples.

Still not being able to make out what he said, I got the general impression that he wasn't in agreement with any of it. Laverne eventually asked him if he wanted to stop or change his lifestyle and he gave the only clear answer of the hour: "No, not really."

Tom's poor mum, who had said at the beginning of the programme that she was scared of doing this exercise under public scrutiny, finally lost it. In a particularly ugly incident involving a lot of screaming, she chucked him out the house.

Tom went to his room and ap-peared to put on all his clothes in layers and then he left. He went as far as the garage where he prompt-ly fired up the bong.

His mother was devastated. "I never thought I would see the day I threw my own child out of home," she wept, as the screen filled with happy childhood photographs of Tom and his little brother playing in the bath. …

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