The Changing “Age” of the Kenyan Adolescent
For a long time Parents and teachers in Kenya were unanimous about one thing: adolescence started at thirteen and came to an end at nineteen. Thereafter or even earlier one was considered an adult and was free to take up adult responsibilities: Like getting a job and having kids. My mother was actually married at sixteen, and that was the norm. Many years later the church and schools in Kenya offered programs and lessons geared towards guiding & counseling this age group. Most importantly for parents their concerns about sexuality, alcohol consumption (cigarette smoking at the time) were on the most part postponed until their “adorable” sons and daughters got to upper primary or high school.
Not so any more. I recently heard a distraught parent seek counsel from another equally distraught parent about her daughters’ behavior. The nine year old girl was spending too much time in her room, listening to music, talking to her friends, applying makeup and …yes trying out the latest fashion. “This cannot be”, the mother complained; “my daughter is but a small child to behave this way, something must be wrong with her”. This woman was therefore seeking advice on the best counseling service in Nairobi. For her nine year old needed immediate therapy to correct her ways.
Well as research indicates the girl is not the only person who needed counseling-today’s parent also needs counseling and education to make sense of the new pre-teen. Let’s face it; the teen today is not the one of yester years and anyone who doesn’t see this runs the risk of mishandling relationships with their kids or worse still pushing them to engage in risky behaviors.
Psychologists will tell you that in the last 500 years the onset of adolescent has come one year earlier than it used to and ended an year later, every 100 years. In other words in the last half a century the beginning of adolescent has gradually shifted from 13 years to almost 9 yrs and ended at approximately 25 years.
This explains why this age group shares similar taste in clothing, music and interests. But it also explains the many cases of early sexual engagement, the emotional reaction not seen before and in worst case scenario the depression and suicide attempts being witnessed amongst the 10 year olds to 25 year olds-For adolescents are by nature “rebellious’ and impulsive.
While it is true that the biological parameters that used to define adolescent still apply, a reliance on chronological measures can be misleading.
Kenyan Parents ,teachers and adolescents themselves therefore not only need knowledge about the changes but also need counseling and guidance to appreciate the “rebellion” they see in pre-teens, the secretiveness of the 15 year old ,the delay in leaving the “nest” of the 24 year old working boy and of course the seeming “ immaturity” witnessed amongst the post university graduate.
The reason behind this could very well be that the age of adolescents has shifted.