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Spending the Quarantine With a Quaranteen; An Intergenerational Learning Experience

A Teen Psychiatrist learns lessons from her 15-year-old nephew

I started my career in Psychiatry formally in 2011, for which I permanently moved to Karachi from Hyderabad in 2011. I have been close to my niece and nephews. This was when they were 7ish 👦 , 6ish 👦 , and 4ish 👧 years old. With this background, my interaction became limited to them. I have millions of stories to share about all three, especially the lessons they have taught me that help me be a better aunt and a physician.

My 15-year-old nephew, Mubsam — the middle child, a very bright and curious Quaranteen, likes to believe that he outsmarts his aunt — Aisha Ana — with witty answers he probably learns from Instagram posts. To flaunt my professionalism, I sought permission (no coercion) from my Bhaijan and Bhabhi. I have included some of my tangent reflections, a few references to get my facts straight, and finally concluded it with a word from Muby.

Mubsam came to visit me recently. Due to accelerated COVID Crises leading to lockdown and restricted intercity mobilization, his stay got prolonged. He has a very well-adjusted social life and is adored by his friends. This forced stay was much harder for him than anyone else.

Our interactions have unfolded into many new discoveries and rejuvenating old connections. I realized there was a lot to catch up with. In nine years, from Latent to the Genital stage, the struggle for Industry has now been directed towards Identity, and previously Concrete Operational Stage is now Formal.

I have always gotten along with Muby very well. I can say our relationship has more of a nerd-elder-sister and annoying-younger-brother kind of vibe. Like a 15-year-old teen, Muby likes to believe that he knows it all now that he has a deeper voice and facial hair. He idealizes what it would be like to live out on his own, which is totally at par for the course for 15-year-olds.

My favorite is when I ignore his attempts to get attention, and he even uses that as an attack: ‘Oh, you are a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist… You probably learned this trick in your books…’

Our day was usually spent with him asking questions. We discussed things ranging from how schools are fantastic for socialization, but they suck for learning and studying. I explained the difference between both, and I think I was okay. This led us to a discussion of how and why to teach.

Then we discussed how our brains are not geared to think or learn, which again was a piece of news to him. We explored the world of Teen Brain together and how everything that looks like a restriction to teens has a science to it.

When I told him how I feel uneasy and anxious before presentations and talks, he thought it was one of my tactics taught in the curriculum of Teen Psychiatry.

He posed all sorts of questions; ones that I usually never am asked by my mother and sister when I get home from work. His questions usually sounded more like a challenge to quiz me with a spark in his eyes. It was almost like scanning my face for a hint of confusion or to see if I’m wrong.

I figured this is his favorite game. He would make presumptuous statements like: you have not dealt with teens like my friends and me. I would agree with him on that: yes, I do not know how to deal with that. Because I know what was to come next: oh, you are a Teen Psychiatrist, I know what you’re doing.

To be honest, it was annoying initially, and he knew it, but he continued to do so. Because he is a teen who knows COVID is more of a threat of adults and less to teens. Basically, teens are suffering because of us! I thought to myself: Point hai! Right or wrong is not today's battle!

Teens tend to think they are immortal, invincible, and tend to be impulsive. During these interactions, he questioned (more like provocation) how adults like to control teens.

It was a massive learning for both of us when we organically started discussing why it is essential to set rules that promote safety. It came from curiosity from his side and humility from mine. It was not a lecture but a discussion where I asked him questions about teen culture, and I explained the age-appropriate explanation. It was not a trick or a strategy.

He really is an expert in teen culture, and I am not ashamed or embarrassed by admitting this to him, which to him was a little disorienting.

Muby annoyed the hell out of me by showing quotes from Thomas Shelby and adding the cheesy deeeep in his deep voice while forcing me to watch his Instagram stories. Now my deeeep in italics might sound mischievous. Most 15-year-olds can communicate in an adult-like fashion and can engage with appropriate conversations. Reading and social experiences play a significant role in a teen’s language and vocabulary pool.

While many teens his age struggle with peer pressure, I am glad he has found good friends. I won’t be surprised if Muby has an interest in romantic relationships and shows a more profound capacity for caring and developing more intimate relationships.

At this age, most teens struggle in their own way while building friendships and budding romantic interests. We, as adults, need to make sure that our teen is hanging out with healthy people and establish clear dating rules.

Yes, dating rules!

I might sound very western, but let’s face it. Your teen is going to date and watch porn even if you like it or not. Do you remember, when you found out about sexual intercourse for the first time, and the first instinct was, “my parents can not do this — eww gross!”

Well, if you still do not get this, let me spell it out for you. Your teen will date!

When I asked for his permission to write this, he couldn’t comprehend what I was asking. You know, in an ideal situation, I need to take his parent’s permission (consent) and his permission (ascent). That stuff! This was all new to him.

I started to realize what a fresh breath of air this experience was for me. It got me into reflecting that there are so many unanswered questions in the teen brain that just go unanswered.

When I see teens in my clinic, I try to maximize the potential and impact in that one hour, but there is so much that goes on between sessions. No matter how hard one tries, we can’t catch up within an hour session.

It is not an attempt of some self-disclosure of what has been happening in my house or personal life. This is how I have been raised, and perhaps many teens are till day being raised the same way. And I say this not just for my culture, city, tribe, social status, I say this for families across cultures, socioeconomic conditions, parenthoods (single, same-sex, married, unmarried couples) worldwide.

Hey… I am a Teen, and I can very much see the situations from another angle — here, this is my OPINION!!

It’s normal for teens to be rather argumentative at this age. No matter what you say, your teen may want to tire you out by debating the opposite. That’s your teen’s way of asserting his independence and showing off his reasoning skills.

Don’t be alarmed if your teen wants to spend a lot of time in his room by himself. Unless you see warning signs of mental distress or an excessive desire for privacy.

Unlike the popular misconception around the uncontrollable teenager, I tell you, most teens begin to engage in less conflict with their parents around age 15. We can not expect them to not be independent. But we can definitely mandate the compliance for rules and family values while they show independence.

The key to having your teen show greater respect for the rules is to align their privileges with their behaviors.

Fifteen can be a big year for teens, and while adults might be thinking he’s not ready for the rigors of the real world, keep in mind, they are waiting for 2 more years to pass eagerly. Most 15-year-olds can give reasons for their own choices, including what was right or wrong.

We, as adults, have to look out for barriers to why don’t teens achieve this capability of decision-making. For example, adult attitude and beliefs about the proper age for making decisions, peer pressures, and family conflicts.

I understand that it is tough for parents to stay at home and deal with all sorts of parenting issues — some predictable, some completely unpredictable — leaving parents in a state of awe. The pressure on adults (as a parent, a relative, a teacher) by media and experts (like myself) to use this COVID lockdown time as an opportunity to reconnect with your children could be overwhelming.

The reason for sharing this today is to assure you that, yes, it is hard but not impossible. But it is also vital for you to be in a receptive state of mind. I mean well-slept, well-fed, relaxed, calm, and being in the moment. It could be hard. I repeat it could be hard. But not impossible.

A word from Muby:

“This week I heard many words from u that I didn’t expect like “Scoring!” and like U also know about drug dealers, I was shocked that how do u know these things and especially about Scoring!! Another thing u told me was about a bully. In our culture everyone bullies, and I also didn’t know that bullying can cause many health matters that u told me… And means there were many questions to myself also that why we students misbehave with teachers and why we disturb the class and why we don’t wanna study and u told me, why students r doing this, and how to treat students… Btw u r very good at taunting..”


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Dr. Aisha Sanober Chachar

Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist; Co-founder & Director @synapsepk Mental Health Entrepreneur. Recycled Stardust.Balint Group.Psychoanalysis.Grit 🇵🇰