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Friday, August 9, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Teen v. Adult Reactions and Guilt Trips

Dear Jeannie,

How might teenagers react to realizing they're in an end of the world (EMP) situation? They are away from adults but in a familiar home, so it might even take a while for them to realize how dire the situation is, but what sorts of emotions and behaviors would be possible? Would they fall along the grieving types of reactions possibly, denial, bargaining, and the sort? How do teenagers react to disaster, possibly childishly, and being forced to act like an adult? I'm afraid I've made them too 'adult' and non reactive. 

Worried in Wisconsin

Dear Worried,

Teenagers and even children feel the same way adults feel when faced with challenges and hardships. They have all the same hardware and wiring that adults's the software that's different (i.e., how the hardware is utilized). Children act out when scared or angry, while adults might be more "mature" about it and get even or punch a boxing bag. The rule of thumb with teens and kids in general is that they are less likely to be able to communicate their feelings effectively, so they will resort to more physical ways of coping, whether that's fighting, running around like hoodlums, being verbally aggressive, etc. They will likely have heightened reactions as far as intensity and duration go (i.e., they cry/yell longer and louder). So yes, they'll feel denial, shock...all of it. You might have them acting "too adult" if you have them sitting in a circle, calmly discussing options. Hope that helps!

Dear Jeannie,

My MC idolized his father as a child until, as a late teen, his younger sister killed herself with a drug overdose from a narcotic/alcohol mix she'd gotten hold of from her physician father's stash. He had a previously hidden drug abuse problem. Although my MC followed in his father's footsteps professionally, the devastating events of his childhood have caused issues in his adult life. What might those issues look like? He is 34 years old and his father passed away several years ago, having never gotten over his guilt and failure as a father.

Home in the Heartland 

Dear Heartland,

Oooh. Like this backstory. You could go a lot of different ways. Perhaps he becomes obsessive-compulsive in how he handles/locks up drugs, keeps files, maintains his office, etc., so as to avoid any possibly accidents such as what happened to his sister. He might have a difficult time treating addicts, or closet addicts, especially those who are fathers, as they remind him of his own and the counter-transference is too great. You didn't mention if your MC has a family, but if not, he might be extremely reluctant to engage with a woman who had any kind of alcohol/drug background..even if not her own, but a family member's. (Which would be the perfect heroine to give him, by the way.) He likely got into medicine not only to follow in his father's footsteps, but maybe somehow to absolve himself of his ignorance when, as a young teen, he didn't know what to do for his sister (say, if he found her dying or something). His motivation is to be better than his father, which gives him great amounts of pressure, which, ironically, would make him susceptible to the same things his father did to relieve stress (i.e, drug addiction). His greatest fear could likely be to be like his father in every way, not just as a physician. Lots to work with there. I'd be interested in assessing him for real. :-)


I hope so, because I'm officially OUT. The queue is empty, so first two responders will definitely have your questions answered next week!