The following checklist is useful to a parent and social worker working with young people. These points outline some of the things to do to monitor the behaviour and psychosocial wellbeing of young people
- At home, he prefers to stay locked up in his room. He doesn’t wish other people to gain access to his room. What could s/h be keeping secret in the room? Use your sense of smell to check if he abuses drugs. If he uses drugs, evidence could be found carefully hidden under his bed or inside his wardrobe or in the extreme case, in the ceiling.
- He keeps friends he does not wish to introduce to you especially if he originally used to. His friends stop at the fence and signal to him to go to them, and they do not wish that you see them. More often than not, such friends are bad peers. Try to find out about their behaviour and determine if he’s in good company.
- He comes back late and becomes defensive when asked where he has been. Sometimes he pretends to be coming from school when he actually dodges classes. Check his books; you can learn a lot about his academic attitude and a possibility of diversionary activities in his life. A truant child will have scanty or no notes at all, and at times several different handwritings. Your early realisation of this can offer a starting point in your intervention.
- Declining grades without a clear cause. His books show regular attendance and teachers’ reports may be positive but his grades are going down. Can you check the written reports to confirm they actually come from school and not printed on the street? Could it be that he doesn’t appear at school but a friend writes his notes? Is the handwriting the same or there are several of them in his book? Please investigate. He might have a serious problem he’s keeping secret and feels guilty about. Draw him out and seek to lovingly or empathically handle his troubles without judging or blaming him. And remain firm but fair.
- A change of dressing style to what is annoying and seductive for girls or to what is gang-like for boys. Check his clothes; they can tell a lot if you care to look well. Clothes define social identity and a change in clothing may be innocent and influenced by the general social trends. You need not make baseless assumptions. Instead investigate and better be sure than sorry.
- He tries to keep a distance from you to prevent you from sensing his smell (signs of drinking, smoking or abusing other drugs). If he suddenly starts to chew gums or wear ‘bell bottom or pipes, try to find out the motivation behind the sudden change.
- Reports from school concerning his/her regular indiscipline. A child can behave well at home to cover up his mischief while away. When misconduct is reported about your child (that your child is a devil’s disciple on the streets or at school), don’t become defensive because you know he’s angel at home. Establish the facts. Seek the opinion of the friends, neighbours and the school about his behaviour. Remain open-minded and objective in listening and handling issues related to your adolescent child.
- Look out for changes in temperament; sign of depression, elated emotions or mood swings not typical of your particular child or without explainable cause. Could your child be undergoing a serious life threatening situation s/he fears to disclose to you? Many youth under cultic influence and those who discover they have HIV look to their parents last as the confidants. Check how s/he walks; a change in walking style for a boy may be characteristic of some known gang in the community and you need to take quick steps to rescue your child before he becomes deeply involved in the group. A sexually abused child (especially a victim of homosexual rape) may walk in a painful jerky style but, in order to hide it from you, s/he may try to disguise his/her walking so that you associate it with the ‘adolescent swagger’.
- Study his eating habits; a lot can be construed from his attitude to food. For instance, overeating may suggest that he is taking drugs that, as a side effect, induce appetite. That your child refuses to take alcoholic drinks at home doesn’t mean he doesn’t while with peers. Depression especially in girls will be accompanied by loss of appetite and don’t just assume she doesn’t want to eat. Investigate the observed changes and take action. A drinking or smoking child may slowly show dislike for food.
- A rise or increase in aggressive behaviours. Children taking elicit drugs and those experiencing depression or related emotions tend to become aggressive or seriously withdrawn in behaviour. Check his sociability at home and try to notice any change in the way he relates with each family member. A child who was sexually abused may communicate via body language but it may require interest and alertness for you to infer her painful messages.
- Observe his sleep patterns and behaviours. Check his moods and general disposition as soon as he wakes up. Does he appear to sleep well? Does he appear disturbed, guilty or apprehensive in the waking hours? Does he have scary dreams or hallucinations during sleep? These behaviours can help you initiate a talk with him/her and get to the bottom of the problem.
Look him in the face; if he doesn’t wish to look you back in the face, be concerned if it’s not his usual nature. Notice any change in his talking. If you know him as an extrovert or sanguine and lately shows an inclination towards introversion (withholding feelings, becoming less talkative), find out why? Terrorist and cult leaders tend to train their novices to become restrained in what they say. On the other hand, his restraint from talk may be a result of depression and you need to establish the rot cause.
Take your pregnant daughter for pregnancy test, and HIV tests if you can persuade her to accept. While there are legal issues involved in imposing these tests on the child, if you succeed to have your family to agree to tests, it will help monitor and direct their behaviour. Note that girls hide pregnancies from their parents for as long as six months, even when they sleep under the same roof. The anticipation of a pregnancy test can to an extent act as a deterrent to fornication.
Talk to the child and hear him out. Listen empathically to draw your trust from him or her. Indicate your wish to help and not to judge the child. Some times, you do not need to take your child for counselling if you can build trust and listen to him/her so well as to help him/her share his/her troubles with you for a solution.
Finally know that all the signs above may just be stages of adolescence with no serious impact on h….As a parent, you need to exhibit foresight, insight and instinct so as to discern the true meaning of your child’s weird behaviour. Don’t not take for granted any behaviours that seem out of the ordinary. It may reflect his cry for help from a difficult situation he can’t talk about easily. Note also that in more than half the time, the youth especially the girls, may not know exactly the cause of his behaviours. You need to know that your child is bombarded with confusing information coupled with
By Joseph Ssebunya