At this time the youth or maiden is exceedingly resentful of arbitrary restraint or punishment. There is a super-sensitiveness and a keen self-consciousness which cannot brook harshness and coercion. Sympathy and reasonableness must take the place of censure and punishment. Years ago I remember seeing a father start to whip his boy who was just emerging into the adolescent stage, a heavy stick was raised to strike, but the boy looked his father in the eye without flinching and quietly remarked: “You may whip one devil out, Father, but I promise you that you’ll whip seven devils in.” The stick dropped from the astonished parent’s hand; the boy was never again punished by whipping.
The runaway curve for boys reaches its highest point at this time, and the girl is likely to be insolent and unmanageable probably for the first and only time in her life. The greatest crises of life arise at this time because of the almost criminal ignorance of parents respecting these revolutionary changes and also because children who may never before have caused the parents the least trouble or heartache are now as unruly and unmanageable as a volcano in eruption. This is the time when the youth is driven from home by the irate father, the time when the rebellious daughter is condemned without mercy, the critical period when most vices are begun and most juvenile crimes committed. The parent is apt to exclaim here: “In Heaven’s name, what can be done?” Not even the wisdom of a Solomon could answer completely; a few suggestions, however, may be offered which will help to bridge over this critical period.
If the child has had positive training up to this time, the period of “storm and stress” will be briefer and less severe than it would be otherwise; but if the negative training has prevailed, there is less hope that the storm will be weathered. The youth may be caught in the stream of dissipation and whirled to destruction. At the very least, the parent must expect fitful and obstinate behavior, and unreasonable action. In boys, the beginning of the use of tobacco and liquor usually comes at this time. This is the time, too, of sexual temptation, if not actual indulgence. The temptation to do something startling is almost irresistible; robberies will be planned, hold-ups thought of, abductions contemplated; the life of a desperado entertained. The moral character seems to be in a state of eruption.
On the other hand, his sympathies and affections may be appealed to as never before. The parent who has made a confident of his boy or girl, who has infinite patience and affection, and who fully senses what to except, may, if other factors are favorable, help tide over this danger zone without serious results. A steady chum, a little older than the boy, and a companion more stable than the girl are a most fortunate aid to the parent. There seems to be a brief time in the career of every youth or maiden when the influence of his chum or companion is more potent for good or evil than is the combined influence of parents and relatives.