Teenage years

All children have problems at adolescence. The teenager searches for an identity, and it is a struggle. It can be more painful when your short-statured child sees friends suddenly shoot up past him. Most young people of short stature probably need the greatest encouragement and support during their teenage years. For then they face all the usual problems of adolescence, while they must also come to terms with their height and its consequences. Although there will be exceptions who seem to pass serenely through these years with no more than a few minor disturbances, many will have negative feelings about their self-image and will have phases of depression about their appearance, other people’s behaviour towards them, and their own apparently inadequate means of responding. Inevitably, they will also ponder the meaning of life and the reason they had to be so small.

Social developments and relationships

Some difficulties stem from the time when school friends are developing rapidly and taking an interest in the opposite sex. Additional problems are experienced in making friends, handling social contacts and in sexual development. Teenagers of short stature tend to be left behind, and they feel excluded from many discussions and activities. The pressure on young people of average stature to conform to certain rather strict social rules makes it difficult for them to go out with others who look drastically different from themselves. Short-statured persons may need to achieve more than is expected from them in order to counterbalance such problems in handling social opportunities. A willingness to accept social responsibilities helps to develop independence and a mature attitude toward others, as well as to break down any social barriers that may be encountered.

Open discussion

Teenagers should always be encouraged to talk openly about worries and unpleasant experiences. In some cases slow physical development may suggest to children of short stature that they will never attain adulthood, especially if they have never met adults like themselves. Teasing by other children may be another source of distress. Such worries will be compounded if short stature is treated as a taboo subject. Full and open discussion between parents and children is undoubtedly valuable. However, some teenagers may feel by admitting their worries, they are showing themselves to be defeatist. They should be encouraged gently to talk about their concerns. Of course there is unlikely to be any benefit in pressing them to explain themselves against their will, and, as in all relationships between parents and teenagers, flexibility and sympathy will be needed in large measure.

It can be very important for the young person to have someone outside the family to confide in. It may be another person of short stature of the same age, or an older person who can be a role model for their hopes and ambitions. This allows the sharing of feelings and experiences, the exchange of practical knowledge, and can be a great encouragement especially at times of low morale. Interaction with others of short stature at this time can be some consolation when they are feeling left-out of their peer group activities, and the ‘only ones’ without a boyfriend or girlfriend. In time many people of short stature make successful relationships and marriages, while others find that marriage is not a vital part of a busy and fulfilled life.

Social activities

Although little is known about the specific social experiences necessary for developing an adequate range of social skills it is important that persons of short stature use initiative and accept every opportunity to share in as wide a range of social and cultural activities as possible and develop friendships and social relationships from these activities.

Research in the area of social skills has pointed out that physically handicapped children are not exposed to nearly as wide a range of physical and social settings as their peers so that although many develop considerable social independence they are sometimes socially immature and isolated.

Family activities can compensate for some of this lack of social life. Teenagers of short stature who have plenty of opportunity to mix with other people at home will generally benefit later when they have to make their way in the world. A home that welcomes many visitors is likely to be a good base for a teenager with few other sources of social contact.

Activities such as sewing should be encouraged, among boys as well as girls if they show any aptitude and inclination. In these, as in all endeavours at this time, teenagers need compliments for their successes and common sense advice when things go wrong.

Participation in social activities

Generally, people with physical handicaps tend to avoid participating in activities which they feel will either draw attention to their disabilities or show them up as less capable than average-sized people. This can be a very real fear for some short-statured people and may tend to make them avoid situations where they could be involved in social activities.

Short-statured persons should exercise their own judgement when considering a particular activity so as to take account of any personal restrictions which may be involved.

There are many social activities that persons of short stature can undertake i.e. communal activities such as amateur dramatics and singing, where everybody has a function and is valued for that. All such interests should be encouraged, together with any special interests inspired at school, by the television or in any other way.

At this time teenagers may decide that they no longer wish to mix with other people of short stature, even if they have been doing so since birth. Maybe they have decided that all such people are boring, or they do not wish to be reminded of their own appearance or situation. If gentle persuasion has no effect, there is no value in trying to force determined teenagers to attend meetings of the SSPA or similar groups. At a later date they may well go spontaneously again. Meanwhile their parents may decide to maintain the relationship with their own friends of short stature.

Physical adjustment

Persons of short stature face many physical as well as emotional problems in adapting to their lack of height. Physical problems relate to the size of furniture and clothing, the use of toilets, public transport, opening and closing doors, sitting on chairs, reaching light switches, drinking fountains and so on.

Many young people of short stature have a tendency to put on extra weight if they do not control their diet carefully. Excess weight is not only unsightly, it also puts an undesirable burden on the legs and the rest of the body.

Teenagers should therefore be strict about their diet. A certain amount of exercise is also necessary. While team games may prove too exhausting and unsatisfactory, from the point of view of all participants, cycling, walking, swimming and golf are all eminently suitable for people of short stature.

When the time and opportunity are ripe for learning to drive, the modifications necessary to the car depend on the exact bodily dimensions of the novice driver. A platform for the feet may also be necessary and perhaps an extension to the gear lever. Usually it is necessary to purchase the car and modify it before learning to drive it, and a local mechanic can often help with the modifications. In Australia, the Department of Road Transport will supply details of parking privileges and how to apply for them.

Conclusion

In the end everyone wants to be well liked and acknowledged as worthy. Individuals with short stature learn at some time in childhood that they are different but hopefully also that they are valued nonetheless. Having come through the teenage years achieving a measure of independence and acceptance of themselves as people of short stature, the young person often feels that they have gained something positive as a result of these experiences, and that they are well-equipped to meet the many other challenges that life will bring.

(Source: Information Guide to Persons of Short Stature, edited by Stephen Pinnell, pp. 14-16)

© 2014 SSPA.