“We are not a bunch of kids,” said a driver in his early 20s as his car blocked the one-way street in Cairo where he was driving in the wrong direction. “We drive this way every day,” he repeated over and over again, refusing to go back to the chagrin of the line-up of drivers facing him.
There are many cases when adolescents, and even older individuals in their early 20s, may exhibit violence against older people, lashing out or scolding them for no obvious reason. One such example happened to Doaa Abdel-Rahman, a Cairo resident in her 50s, when she was driving her car accompanied by her two four-year-old daughters. Suddenly, a young man obstructed her, saying she had “intercepted” him. Somewhat scared, Abdel-Rahman said she could not understand why he had behaved in this manner.
Heba Adel, a consultant in psychiatry and addiction management, said that young people’s violent or impudent behaviour may be the result of several causes. However, there are cases when psychological or even genetic disturbances are to blame. In such cases, behavioural management is not enough, and medical or psychiatric intervention may be needed, she said.
Several such disorders may affect children and adolescents, prime among them Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which can manifest as a patient being unable to focus, acting without premeditation, and not understanding the consequences of his or her actions.
Adel said that it is of prime importance to detect and treat ADHD at an early stage. She added that all parents should also be aware that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning, making decisions, and calculating the consequences of actions, does not fully develop until the age of 20 to 25 years.
Controlling their behaviour is one of the biggest problems that youngsters face, she explained, saying that what is self-evident for adults may not be so for teenagers, who look at things differently because their brain works differently.
Therefore, strict rules must be set for adolescents in order to control their sometimes illogical behaviour. However, these rules should not come in the form of orders because teenagers may not listen to orders. As adults, parents should work to gain their trust and be patient until their children respond to the rules willingly, Adel said.
One of the main reasons that young people may behave in a violent or impudent manner is a lack of appropriate role models, Adel said. Children imitate their parents, and when they see their parents acting violently, they consider this behaviour to be normal and imitate them. As a result, it is important to raise the awareness of parents through campaigns on television, social media, and in schools, she added.
Youngsters may also try to imitate public figures in their community, such as TV presenters, actors, football players, influencers, and bloggers. For this reason, the media in general, including social media, greatly affects the conduct of the young. In short, Adel continued, the media plays a leading role in shaping the characters of adolescents.
Bullying or sexual and verbal abuse are other factors that may affect the behaviour of children and adolescents, Adel said, sometimes rendering them rude, impulsive, or violent.
Society at large, including the school, family, and friends, plays an important role in shaping the personality of children and adolescents, and as a result it is important to provide proper standards of behaviour. A child’s belief that someone else will clean up their mess may cause them to become violent or indifferent, she said.
Adel noted that parents’ disregard for their children’s problems and their not giving them enough care may also drive their children to seek attention in a different way. Such children may believe that their parents will not give them attention unless they do something wrong.
Schools should also work hard to prevent bullying between students and students and teachers. It is the role of schools and universities to raise a mentally healthy generation, not only to offer education, Adel stressed.
Meanwhile, adults should be more aware of what provokes adolescents. One of the things that bothers the young is their parents’ occasional inability to understand and communicate with them, not caring about what they think and how they feel, and imposing opinions on them, she said. Parents are advised to build their children’s self-confidence through activities that help them develop their identities, allowing them to control their behaviour and reactions better.
It is also important to find common ground between parents and adolescents and teach children about the value of freedom, which is tightly linked to being responsible. Children must understand that actions have consequences.
Ghada Sobhi, a certified coach and member of the International Coach Federation, said that impudent and violent behaviour is mostly seen in the 18 to 23 age bracket. “There is a big difference between courage, bravado, and violence. Courage is a measure of a person’s ability to face challenges and is tied to the level of the cortisol hormone,” she said.
“There is a fine line between courage and bravado, and many adolescents mistake the one for the other. Having courage makes a person express himself in a respectful way, even if some people may disagree with him, and he will apologise if he errs. An impudent person thinks he is right even if he errs, demands what is not rightfully his, does not respect others, and does not take into account other’s feelings,” Sobhi explained.
“Youngsters may not be able to control their temper for many reasons, including their inability to express their emotions and their desire to prove their worth. For them, the safest zone in which to lose their temper is the circle of their parents, which is why we see a lot of challenging behaviour between children and their parents,” she added.
“How people treat others is a reflection of how they feel about themselves,” Sobhi noted, adding that “to correct erratic behavior, there has to be a common language and constant communication between parents and children.”
“Parent love to see their children as they imagine them to be, ignoring the desire of their children to have their own personalities and not to see themselves as smaller versions of their parents. The problem here will end with the parents’ acceptance of this notion,” Sobhi pointed out.
“Communication allows children to be confident that they do exist, that they are heard, and that their parents accept that they may form their own desires,” she said. “We should listen to children and not belittle their opinions. We should encourage them to express their minds more, give them time and attention, and, more importantly, encourage them to be confident and know that they can trust their parents and resort to them when they lose their way.”
“This creates harmony between parents and their children, who will then grow up to be emotionally stable,” she said.
The best thing is for children to have a reliable role model. If adults preach what they don’t do and don’t respect others, how can children grow up to do the opposite, Sobhi asked.
Children and adolescents often complain that they are not understood, valued, or heard enough, and the only way to end this problem is through dialogue. “Our children are our best investment. They should be our priority. The most valuable thing we can give them is our time and to really be there for them,” Sobhi concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.