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Many people argue that the period of adolescence years often define our adulthood. The impact of social, physical, mental and environment change and happenings within this phase of life will affect our personality. The debate of "nature versus nurture" will always persist and I doubt that one can never find an answer to that. Looking at Brendon's life, we will see an adolescent struggle in this growing up phase and we will try to sieve out the possible issues that cause the struggle and try to come up with solutions.
"Born with a golden spoon", this aptly describe Brendon's privileged life since the day he was born. His Father is the director of a profitable family business shared among his Uncles. His mother, with an accounting degree, helped out with the company's accounts and finance. While other family often squabbles and quarrel over money, his family certainly did not have this problem. However, they did have their problems, one that is common among dual working parents with children; the lack of parental guidance and love. His parents often worked late into the night even have to bring work home sometimes. Companion comes in truckloads of toys and his aunty lily, a maid that they hired since he was a baby. Life has been smooth sailing for him and he gets whatever he asks for that money can buy but he certainly lacks one, love.
When he was older, he begins to yearn for his parents' attention and love, making trouble being the main tool. He will often wreck havoc in the house, be it breaking a cup, throwing food all over or pee in his pants. These, however, did not really get him what he really wants; instead, his parents view him as a rebellious boy and even sought medical attention for him. Never did they know that the cure that they were seeking is simply, their love and concern.
Being the rebellious boy in school, he gathered a lot of attention and surprisingly, he is Mr. Popular in school. Thus, having a growing social circle takes his mind off the lack of love within his family; he can easily seek "love" within his circle of friends.
Brendon soon find himself in the company of booze and cigarettes, he was only 15 when he first smoked his first "stick". However, Brendon did not see the wrong in what he was doing, his moral reasoning is already perverted, as long as it gives him pleasure and escapism, it is morally right for him. He did not care whether it is morally right or wrong, he do things to be accepted by friends so that he will not be outcast and earn his rights to stay in his group.
His experiences in school certainly did nothing to help; he simply did not enjoy his experiences in school. Brendon was enrolled into a top primary school in Singapore, not by merit but with the "donations" of his parents. Most people had their best memories during their primary school days but not Brendon, he was a constant menace to the teacher, always forgetting to do his homework, making noise in class and was seen as a "hyper-active" child who seeks attention constantly. With the help of his various tuition teachers, almost one for each subject, Brendon manages to squeeze into a top secondary school with an aggregate of around 250++. This is to be another crucial turning point of his life.
His experience in secondary school as he described to me is the final straw for him as he became totally disinterested in school and there were no motivation to study. His rebellious nature soon got over him as he gets into one trouble after another. His was infamous in school and teachers soon gave up on him. During class, being the slower learning ones, he was cast aside as the teacher has prejudice against him often criticizing him in full-view of the class and labeling him as "hopeless". He gave up in his studies and it became a vicious cycle where the lack of parental love and guidance causes his wayward behavior, seeking attention and with the complaints that his parents received, they soon gave up on their child. The distance between his parents and him grew even further.
The decision of his father to do a 1 year field study in Hong Kong for their upcoming expansion into that region did not help either. Feeling helpless, it was during this time that he turns to friends and his reliance on them grew ever since. It was with them that he found his identity and self-esteem. His friends adore him as he was often giving them treats and most of the time "sponsoring" the alcohol and cigarette. Thus, he found a false sense of love, status and belonging with this group of friends. He would hang out with them after school, often till late into the night and when his parents nag at him, it will end up in quarrels and him often on the losing side.
Issues significant to his case study
His parents ' negligence will bring about developmental problems in the child as the transitional years of his adolescence years are the forming years of his adulthood. Looking at his life story, one can easily pick up many issues that were significant to his adolescent stage but there were 3 crucial ones.
Lack of parental love and guidance
Lack of self-esteem and identity crisis
The main culprit in my opinion is the lack of parental love and guidance. According to Bronfrenbrenner's eco system, family which falls in the Micro-system has a direct input towards the child and will have a direct impact on his interaction with his surroundings and behavior. "Familial relationship has far-reaching implications for adolescents' relations with peers, teachers and other adults" (Richard M. Lerner, p. 332) In Brendon's context, the negative or rather lack of familial relationship lead to him being rebellious towards authoritative figure like his parents and teachers, often for the sake of attention. In comparisons, toward peers whom he can connect more, he tends to put more trust, love and time in this relationship and disregard any authority due to the lack of it when he was growing up.
Parental guidance is minimal as there were little interaction thus little teaching opportunity for the parents in terms of morals and behavioral discipline. With no expectations, Brendon is given "a high degree of freedom to act as him or her wishes" (Steinberg, 2005, p. 140) The lack of authority and expectations for moral and discipline enables Brendon to disregard authority and gives him too much autonomy and perhaps explain the disruptive behavior in school. With no guidance, Brendon did not know how to behave and thus, he behave in a way he was used to since he was young, disruptive though it was mainly to gain attention that he so sorely lack since he was a child.
The impact of Parental love and guidance cannot be undermined as they are supposed to be "one's source of guidance, support and self esteem." (Kroger, 2004, p. 53). Thus, its effect is far-reaching, not only towards his personal guidance, moral reasoning it also contribute to the fact that it did not satisfy Brendon's self-esteem. Brendon did not understand why his parents did not want to spend time with him, feeling unloved he inevitable develop low self-esteem as his worth to the people closest to him is undermined. Being unable to feel love and concern, he embrace the new found attention, love and esteem among his multiple girlfriends and friends. These friends however, befriend him because of his over-reliance on them thus making it easier for them to squeeze out benefits from him. Often, he will be the one paying for meals, alcohol and even cigarettes, he did not feel compelled to, but he mentioned that it is alright as long as his friends are happy.
Proving that all issues are inter-linked, we can link his lack of familial love to his seeking for love in his social order. Citing a research by (Santrock, 2001), he found out that people in their adolescent stage have lower self-esteem from ages 13 to 18. It was also mentioned that due to his lack of interest in studies and his rebellious nature, teachers gave up on him and he was an outcast in school. This also contributes to his low self-esteem. Thus making things worse is his lack of self-worth from his experiences at home coupled with this difficult period; it forms a desperate search in ways to boost his self-esteem. To satisfy his esteem needs, he sought to be respected within his friends, in other words, drinking alcohol and smoking are accepted by his social group thus, naturally, he follows suit in return of self-esteem. This participation of clique membership is "pivotal in the adolescent's maintenance of self-esteem and development of a sense of identity." (Santrock, 2001, p. 270).
This period of time according to Eric Erikson's fifth developmental stage is the fidelity stage. This is the stage where the main question to be asked is "Who am I and where am I going?" This is the stage where they need the most guidance and in Brendon's case, the lack of guidance by the parents and teachers forces him find answers within his friends, many whom are lost as well. They are not given a chance for a positive search for identity and thus indulge in things that they were told not to at their age. However, the significance of a clique membership is crucial in the search of self-identity. It is the possession of group identity that somehow gives identity to an individual, "group identity often over-rides personal identity" (Santrock, 2001, p. 203) lacking of personal identity, Brendon went for a shared identity with his clique and though it is not self-identity, he still will get the sense of belonging to something that he feels significant. Last but not least, Brendon being outcast in school and is unable to find his standing in the society, thus his clique, though is smaller than a community, gives him a pseudo existential satisfaction that he could not get in the society.
Coming into the last point of moral reasoning, one can say that Brendon's moral development has been negative and the ones that catalyses his development are mainly his interaction with peers. The lack of quality time spent with parents does not give his parents opportunity for positive influence on his moral development. Though peer influence can be positive and negative, Brendon's choices of friends are clearly negative influences as they expose him to alcohol, cigarettes and hedonistic obsessions. In his social circle, moral reasoning is simple, whatever that gives you pleasure and makes you look "cool" are morally right.
Report accurately conveys the impact of peer pressure as seen from the subordinate court research in Singapore (http://app.subcourts.gov.sg/Data/Files/File/Research/issue26.pdf) that 65.8% reason for juvenile crimes are due to peer influence or pressure. According to Jean Piaget, Brendon is undergoing a period known as autonomous morality. It is this period when she begins to be independent in her moral judgments about right and wrong due to the perception of the people around her. For Brendon, he was in constant interaction with his group of friends thus, moral reasoning were more influenced by peer acceptance than people of authority. Whatever that the group subscribe to, it forms a development into his moral development and his definition will be one that is thwarted. Linking back to the most important point, the lack of parental guidance and love somehow led to his as "the relation between peer pressure and reported drug use was stronger among adolescents with problematic relationships with their parents" (Bornstein, 2002, p. 102)
After identifying the three main issues pertaining to his developmental problems, we can thus, apply suitable solutions in order to solve the problems.
As shown from Maslow's hierarchy of needs as shown above, Brendon's parents clearly did not fulfill the third and second layer of the pyramid. Although they provide with him materialistic needs, psychological needs were not met. Thus, if I were Brendon's parents, I will spend more time with him and give him the attention that he craved. I will be more authoritative as it serves as guidance and this guidance will become his self-regulation when moral conflicts arise. Being authoritative, Brendon will have high-regard for authority and also for "adults in their lives who were more likely to say that antisocial acts were wrong" (Bornstein, 2002, p. 103) Thus, they were less likely to disobey teachers and authority, which most of the time help in setting his moral reasoning in regard to what is right and wrong. Brendon clearly shows a lack of self-regulation as he lacks family warmth and love, both essential as they provide support and guidance when he encounter moral conflicts during his adolescent years. Thus, by using a warm but yet firm approach in my parenting methods, I can provide him with both love and at the same time, an authoritative figure that guide his moral compass. (Bornstein, 2002, p. 15)
In the environment of school, if I were Brendon's teacher, I will seek to understand his constant demand of attention and not put him off as "hopeless". Encouragement will be given to increase his self-esteem and I will also induce more participation of him in class so that he will be accepted within the class where I have greater control rather than him in a negative social circle. Arranging a three way meeting between Brendon, his parents and the teacher will help as I can act as an effective medium to convey whatever message that Brendon is unable to. I will also provide with him more remedial classes as a deterrent to him straying around and also to improve his schoolwork.
If his indulgence with alcohol and cigarettes has become an addiction, I will send him for rehabilitation and counseling in order to curb his addiction. I will also spend more time in monitoring his behavior.
However, these solutions were to be unnecessary if the root problem of parental love and guidance were solved. "Parents remain the most influential of all adolescent relationship and shape most of the important decision" (Richard M. Lerner, 2004, p. 337) Thus, good parenting will enable a child journey in his adolescence period to be much more positive and familial love also provide self-regulation for the child whenever he meet with moral conflicts. The influence of school has to be taken into consideration as school should seek to provide a supportive environment as teacher learns to teach not only in academic area but also personal and character development.