Why Size Matters: Childhood and Adolescent Sexuality

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However, although research on adolescent sexuality highlights issues of deception, coercion, intimidation, and violence, other studies have shown that both men and women may be victims of sexual coercion in heterosexual relationships [ 35 , 36 ]. According to Shefer et al. Attention has also been given to the nature of research that sought to document knowledge, attitudes, and practices of adolescents.

Hence, Izugbara [ 13 ] notes that traditional psychology based health behavior models have tended to dominate explanations of adolescent views and commentaries on sex and sexuality. A major criticism of these models is that they ignore the critical sociocultural context that shapes human sexual notions and behavior and the agency of human beings. As a result, within adolescent sexuality studies there is an increasing call to utilize the qualitative research methodology that is flexible and can capture the accounts of the youths [ 38 ].

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The research is designed under a qualitative paradigm. Gibson and Brown [ 39 ] define qualitative research as an array of attitudes toward and strategies for conducting inquiry that are aimed at discerning how human beings understand, experience, interpret, and produce the social world. According to Marshall and Rossman [ 40 ] qualitative research is pragmatic, interpretive, and grounded in the living experiences of people. A qualitative paradigm suits the goals of this study that are to solicit how adolescents perceive their sexuality and factors affecting their sexuality. It is consistent with the theoretical framework social constructionism which is primarily concerned with elucidating the processes by which people come to describe, explain, and otherwise account for the world in which they live; hence, it becomes important to listen to the participants own voices in studying adolescent boys perspectives on sexuality.

Qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews were better suited to explore and study meanings, experiences, and processes and provided male adolescents with the opportunity to give accounts of their experiences in their own words. Its methods are thus consistent with social constructionist theory. The study utilized convenience sampling to select the study site and purposive availability, snowballing, and self-selection sampling techniques to select respondents. According to Gibson and Brown [ 39 ] in purposive sampling, selection of participants, setting, and other sampling units are criterion based.

The sample units are chosen because they have particular features or characteristics that will enable a detailed exploration and understanding of the central puzzles that the researcher wishes to study. In essence, the sampling techniques used in this study enabled us to obtain the appropriate respondents who provided sufficient data to meet our research objectives. Kuwadzana Extension is a formally planned, low-income, high-density area on the western edge of the city of Harare. It is a housing project which began in the early s, shortly after the independence of Zimbabwe, and continued in fits and starts in phases [ 41 , 42 ].

The average monthly income for the area is US Dollars with an average household size of 6 [ 43 ]. The site was selected because it provided a population frame that was appropriate for the researchers to recruit and to capitalize on the familiarity the researchers have on the neighborhood as well as the prior networks that existed with some of the adolescent participants.

Hence for the researchers this was particularly advantageous given that sex and sexual behavior are sensitive topics; hence there could be difficulties in enlisting participants. The study population comprised 16—19 in-school adolescents. The World Health Organization defines adolescence as the period between the ages 10 and 19 years with further categorizations into three phases: early adolescence 10—13 years, middle adolescence years, and late adolescence 16—19 years.

Adolescence can also be conceptualized as the period of transition from childhood to adulthood describing the development to sexual maturity and to psychological and relative economic independence. The sample is comprised of 40 adolescent boys from the 16—19 age group, a number that was adequate in providing sufficient data required for the study. A key informant who is the Guidance and Counseling teacher at one of the local schools was also selected to participate in the study because of her vantage point in discussing such topics with adolescents.

The sample was small; hence it does not claim to be representative of the whole population of Kuwadzana Extension or adolescents in Zimbabwe in general. In-depth interviews were the principal method used in gathering data. In-depth interviewing is a qualitative research technique that involves conducting intensive individual interviews with a small number of respondents to explore their perspectives on a particular idea. However, because of the usually small samples of in-depth interviews it can be difficult to make generalizations about the whole population [ 40 ].

Key informant interviewing was also utilized with a Guidance and Counseling teacher at one of the local schools. Marshall [ 44 ] sees a key informant as an expert source of information and because of their personal skills or position within a society is able to provide more information and a deeper insight into what is going on around them. Since the study was concerned with soliciting the perceptions of adolescents on sexuality as well as their needs, in-depth interviewing was suitable as it could best answer the objectives of the study.

It was compatible with the theoretical inclinations of the study which was concerned with how people participate in the construction of their reality. All the interviews were carried out using an interview schedule containing open-ended questions. This gave the researchers room to explore emerging issues during the interviews. Qualitative data analysis is the search for general statements about relationships and underlying themes [ 40 ]. It involves using generalized themes to look at the relationships between components of data. According to Gibson and Brown [ 39 ] thematic analysis refers to the process of analyzing data according to commonalities, relationships, and differences across a data set.

In this study, themes were derived from the study objectives. One of the key features of thematic analysis is the examination of commonalities in the data ibid. Accordingly, through coding and labeling, the data was organized in order to identify data that fell under the various themes identified from the study objectives. To generate socioeconomic characteristics of the respondents from the open-ended questions, data was reorganized and then coded after data collection. Conducting research with young people is fraught with practical and ethical pitfalls McIlwaine and Datta, Sexuality is a sensitive issue in many cultures.

We sought consent from all of the participants before they were interviewed. They were briefed about the research topic and informed that they were not obliged in any way to answer any questions that they felt uncomfortable with. They were also informed that they were free to withdraw from the interview at any time of the research.

Participants were also assured of the confidentiality of the research and that the findings would be used for academic purposes only and their real names would not be used. Permission was also sought from guardians and parents of those who were below the legal age of majority 18 years.

As highlighted earlier, all of the adolescents who participated in our study reside in Kuwadzana Extension, which is a low-income, high-density residential area. The majority of the participants were aged 18 shown in Figure 1 and all of them reside with a guardian or parent s Figure 2. With regard to educational levels, the majority of them were high school students, currently studying for their advanced level certificates.

The rest were in secondary school. The majority of the adolescents interviewed reported concern about the nature of relationships with girlfriends. Respondents perceived adolescent girls as being careless and loose in relationships as well as easy to sleep with. The boys voiced concern about girls being unfaithful and at times deserting them particularly for the prospect of financial benefits in other relationships. Girls were accused of putting relationships at risk because of greediness and love for money. The general consensus in most of the responses was that girls in relationships were failing to decline sex because of love for monetary gains.

Girls were also accused of cheating on their boyfriends with commuter omnibus drivers who were considered risky partners. Some male respondents reported concern about being pressured into sex by girls. According to a key informant, boys actually complain about how girls pressure them into sex shortly after getting into relationships. Another respondent alluded to the fact that girls are too permissive to sexual advances and not decisive in fending them off. According to a boy interviewed girls actually enjoy being sexually intimate and long for sex. Girls were also reported to refuse to use protection during intercourse on the pretext that they were not prostitutes or that it was less pleasurable.

Some adolescents were of the notion that one must have sex with his partner and failure to do so highlights that the relationship would not be fruitful. Male adolescents thus perceived girls as putting them and their relationships in jeopardy and that relationships and love were based on sexual intimacy. Some respondents expressed concern about not being able to take care of their girlfriends financially.

Financial stability was thus perceived by most boys as being vital in maintaining relationships. They pointed to the cost of buying airtime as well as other financial obligations expected of them. One respondent pointed out that while parents provided for them financially they were oblivious of the fact that they had other obligations of maintaining their own relationships.

Those interviewed felt that parents and teachers were not doing much in advising adolescents in their relationships. Most of the respondents were concerned by how parents imposed themselves in their sexual relationships. Respondents reported that parents and teachers should advise them about sexual activity and relationships rather than dictate to them. Adolescent boys perceive parents as not being open when talking about issues of sexuality. Meanings attached to sexual performance emerged from respondents. A respondent alluded to the fact that sometimes girls mock those they perceive to be incapable of satisfying them sexually by demeaning their manhood.

Usually adolescent boys are reported to brag about their sexual prowess and duration they can last during intercourse. Boys in the study associated good sex skills with the ability to last long in the sexual act. Premature ejaculation was thus a major concern, was demeaned and considered embarrassing, and resembled weakness. Some adolescent boys reported concern about the size of their genitals. Those with small genitals were said to be ridiculed and perceived to be less potent sexually and unable to satisfy their partners while those with genitals considered being the ideal were perceived to be sexually potent and able to satisfy sexually during intercourse.

A big penis was thus viewed as a symbol of sexual strength and thought to be admired by girls. Some boys were reported to take mugondorosi herbs that are thought to enhance their penis sizes. Some reported frustration with girlfriends as they sought to be adventurous and engaged in some sexual practices that girls considered inappropriate. Some guys were reported to demand oral sex from their girlfriends and it was reported as a popular phenomenon among some boys.

Sources were adolescents who obtain information about sexuality issues that affect their perceptions and attitudes on sexuality. Respondents reported that the media was the main outlet of information where they leant about sex and relationships through films and music videos. It was highlighted that most boys try to imitate what they consume from the media. The consumption of pornographic material was reported to be very high in schools usually via mobile phone internet.

Some highlighted how music videos aroused sexual feelings usually through dance moves and type of dress worn.


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Respondents also reported peer influence as affecting decision making on issues relating to sexuality. Peer groups were reported to be a hive where adolescent boys discussed sexuality issues as well as boasting about sexual conquests. One respondent highlighted that most of the narratives told were fabrications to gain social recognition but some try to live up to those narratives usually putting their sexual health at risk.

Those who do not live up to the standards of the group are usually ridiculed and put under pressure and taunted for being cowards. Some peers were reported to influence others to engage in risky behaviors. Respondents also reported economic circumstances as having a bearing on sexuality. Respondents highlighted that most adolescents who were unemployed and no longer went to school usually indulged in substance abuse and alcoholism that usually influenced them to practice unprotected sex and have multiple partners especially when drunk or high.

Lack of knowledge and embarrassment reportedly deterred adolescent boys from seeking treatment for sexual health. Another respondent reported that it was difficult to convince a girl to go for HIV testing because she will be financially better. Ignorance and denial were cited during interviews as affecting sexual activity and behavior as well as risk perception. It was highlighted that some adolescent boys were aware of the consequences of having multiple partners and not using protection yet they continued to do so because of a carefree attitude about the consequences.

A key informant pointed out that adolescent boys usually could not contemplate that what has happened to a friend can also befall them. Respondents highlighted that parents should discuss openly with their children issues of sexuality. It was pointed out that failure to talk and inform boys about the dangers of sexual activity and how to mitigate them resulted in adolescents seeking information from media and peers. Lack of parental guidance and supervision was usually linked to poor sexual behavioral outcomes as adolescents are faced with conflicting messages from media and peers.

Respondents reported that those with relaxed parental supervision had more opportunities to indulge in adolescent sexual intercourse. Adolescents reported frustration as well. For example, all the boys were living with either parent s or guardians; hence they have no privacy or rooms to be sexually intimate. Those boys with absentee parents or guardians were the envy of some of the boys. Respondents expressed the need for parental guidance.

It was reported that there must be open communication between parents and children on sexuality issues. Adolescents interviewed felt that parents were reluctant to talk openly about issues of love, sex, and relationships. They pointed out that usually mothers and girls were the ones who usually could discuss issues of sexuality, but rarely with boys. Some were however reluctant to speak about sexual activity with parents or guardians but cited immediate family members like brothers and sisters as ideal to advise them about sexuality issues.

It was pointed out that parents should share their experiences as they had experienced such situations before; hence they are in a better position to offer advice. Some respondents reported the need for accurate information about sexual activity. During interviews it was reported that the main sources of information were the media and peers with a few acknowledging acquiring information from parents or school sex education.

A key informant interviewed pointed out that unless adolescents are taught at school they have poor or misleading knowledge about sexuality. Another respondent expressed the need for practical demonstrations in sexual education rather than just raw information. He alluded to the visual impact of videos, films, and pictures so they could understand better.

Adolescents need treatment for sexual health diseases in clinics to be affordable. A key informant interviewed noted that prices demanded at local clinics in Kuwadzana were a deterrent for adolescents seeking treatment. It is not that it is not that affordable, but many boys do not have access to such money even though it is not much. It was highlighted that it was very difficult for boys to ask for such money from parents without being questioned on their intentions. Easy access to condoms was also cited as problematic. During interviews accounts were narrated of some adolescents getting expired condoms from friends because they had no reliable sources to access condoms coupled with shyness to purchase condoms over the counter in shops.

Lack of privacy at home was also cited as a deterrent factor preventing boys from keeping condoms hence when they wanted some they have to ask from friends. Adolescents are also concerned about early treatment for sexual diseases at clinics and hospitals rather than trying to seek treatment amongst themselves. Some boys were reported to seek help and treatment from friends to cure syphilis. This section discusses the research findings in light of existing literature, theory, and concepts.

Mahcera [ 20 ] argues that in Africa male and female sexualities have been patterned by cultural definitions of masculinities and femininities. Hence, it can be argued that there is a close link between sexuality and masculinity in Africa. According to Connell [ 46 ] the term masculinity signifies a collective gender identity and not a natural attribute. It is socially constructed, fluid resulting in diverse forms across different times and contexts, and is mediated by sociocultural position, age, and other factors.

He further notes that masculinity also defines how boys and men should behave, be treated, dress, and appear and what attitudes and qualities they should have. Such definitions have influences on the construction of sexuality within a society. It is our argument that the behavior and attitudes of boys are consistent with traditional forms of heterosexual masculinity and that sexuality of adolescent boys in the study is mediated by prevalent discourses of masculinity which have been noted to be socially constructed [ 20 ]. Boys reported how important it was to be sexually active and powerful in relationships regardless of the socioeconomic context they exist in such as the context in which HIV and AIDS are highly prevalent.

Duration during intercourse was highlighted to be important and a source of pride; hence premature ejaculation was widely ridiculed and undesirable. Connell [ 46 ] notes that notions of masculinity are also closely associated with male virility, sexuality, and sexual performance. Sex for men is thus constructed as encompassing male virility, size of penis, and assumed potency in bed. Ratele [ 47 ] notes that in many parts if not all of postcolonial Africa, a significant theme of being a man revolves around sex.

He further observes that nearly everywhere in the world sex is closely associated with our sexual partners, sexual appeal of our partners, the size of our penis, the claims we make about our sexual stamina, and how virile we are. Meanings attached to the adolescent male body are essential in the construction of masculinity. Our findings reveal how some adolescent boys are concerned about the size of their penises.

As highlighted in the study a small penis is a source of ridicule and shame. Contrary to biological determinism, this is so because a big penis is socially constructed as demonstrating sexual potency and ability to fulfill a girl. Izugbara [ 12 ] observed how prevailing codes of sexuality and sexual conduct in contemporary Nigeria are socially produced and fed by oppressive patriarchal subjectivities and ideologies among them penis-centred i.

We argue that pressure to pursue sex in relationships also highlights influences of hegemonic discourses of male masculinity. Some adolescents in the study regard sex as an important aspect of relationships and something that must be pursued. It was generally agreed that one must have sex in a relationship before it is terminated for it to be labeled a success. Such notions are usually informed by social expectations of how males should behave sexually.


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  • The findings underscore that notions of sexuality and how adolescent boys perceive themselves are widely framed and located within the wider discourses of masculinity; hence, male adolescent sexuality is a social construction. Silberschimdt [ 48 ] alludes to the view that masculinity worldwide has increasingly been constructed from wage earning power. Our study results highlight that boys in the study conform to traditional gender roles in negotiating relationships, as they are concerned about financially maintaining relationships.

    From the narratives of some of the boys in the study it can be noted that boys are expected to take the breadwinner role in relationships whilst girls were regarded as predominantly materialistic and too demanding. The boys are actually anxious about desertion that results if one fails to provide financially in a relationship. This subscribes to expectations of males as providers.

    In this regard, sexuality is premised on the notion of prevailing ideas of male social roles in relationships. The pressure to provide might thus be explained by aligning to the socially constructed roles of men and women in society expectations of males as providers. Such expectations can thus be located within the social milieu in which adolescent boys live in and are socialized into.

    This study argues that male adolescents construct, celebrate, and venerate their sexuality as hegemonic as such they do not appreciate female agency in sexual encounters. Female coercion, pressure, or suggestions on nonuse of condoms during sexual encounters is perceived negatively. Such an approach resonates with wider societal ideologies on femininities and masculinities in Zimbabwe. Thus, female sexual agency is often denied in that young women are not expected to initiate or actively participate in sex but rather to let it happen to them [ 50 ].

    In relation to the above, Arnfred [ 23 ] also points out that although women are expected to provide sex, it is unacceptable for them to initiate it. Such notions give weight to assertions by Arnfred [ 23 ] that in African contexts, a culture of silence assumed by women indicates a socially accepted behavioral constraint dictating that women reserve modesty and discretion in sexual relations while men are constructed as sexually unrestrained, confident, and forthright. Attempts to move into an initiating role can have serious negative consequences for them, with the assumption being that they are sexually experienced, and have an experience that is reserved for men ibid.

    As Martino [ 18 ] argues, their perceptions are being guided by prevalent discourses in their culture. On the other hand, besides denial of female sexual agency, boys framed the pressure they get from their girlfriends in terms of sexual coercion. Subtle forms of coercion can also be noticed when girls ridicule and demean boys about poor sexual performance. Thus, although literature highlights sexual coercion and violence in adolescent heterosexual relationships as predominantly perpetuated against females by males, issues of coercion in heterosexual relationships are complex.

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    It can be argued that adolescent sexuality does not occur in a vacuum but is rather mediated by the context of everyday interaction with their environment. Responses from boys in the study point to the various influences that shape meanings and sexual attitudes of adolescents. Their sexual behavior and practices are framed in relation to peers, media, and economic circumstances. The media television, music, and internet and peers have become important parts of a repertoire of ideas and practices adolescents replicate.

    The rules, as best I can recollect, went like this: all but one of the boys lined up at one end of an outdoor basketball court, while the remaining boy stood in the middle of the court. At an agreed-upon signal, the mass of boys dashed toward the opposite end while the lone boy in the middle attempted to grasp, tackle, snag, impede, trip, dragoon, or otherwise wrestle to the ground one of the dozens of boys barreling across the court. Once a boy was tackled, he joined the growing group in the middle attempting to tackle the remaining participants.

    With each rush from end to end, more and more boys would get tackled and wind up in the middle. When there was no one left to tackle, that round of the game ended. And then it would start all over again - with the first boy tackled in the previous round standing alone in the middle. The distilled, stylized aggression of this game resembled a minimalist football game in which there were only fullbacks and linebackers, all colliding and scrapping and plowing through the snow.

    In retrospect, I realize that this brute-force exercise crystallized for me the parlous transition from boyhood to manhood. Like many games, it informally codified the cultural insistence on physical aggression even violence for boyhood "success. It thrived on the animating tension of isolation and exclusion, singling out one boy for ignominy and thus inadvertently accentuating the loneliness many boys feel on the cusp of adolescence. And of course this daily rite of passage was built around a mindless set of rules, legislated by children and enforced in the absence of adults.

    It was also, I hasten to add, a great deal of fun. Boys do like to collide. But the game always left me feeling chagrined for a completely different reason. The fundamental lesson I learned on the playground, rightly or wrongly, was that size matters. Children are acutely aware of who among them is "bigger. But for most of childhood, and especially during puberty and adolescence, this consciousness evolves into self- consciousness, an excruciatingly diligent examination of differences in physical size, pubertal maturation, shape, strength, and appearance.

    I remember this elementary school gauntlet-of-the-fittest so vividly because in this particular school population, two boys were notably smaller than the rest, and consequently were always the first to be tackled. Indeed, they usually took turns trying to tackle each other when each new game started - a kind of inside game of humiliation and desperation that satisfied the demands of schoolboy aesthetics, which call for entertainment seasoned with cruelty. One of the boys, Albert Destramps, was much smaller than all the other boys, with almost delicate, doll-like features.

    He endured the usual razzing, names such as shrimp and shortie, and I confess I probably lent my voice to the chorus of insults a time or two.

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    His size, however, didn't seem to diminish his zest for participation or the stream of acid, often witty insults he habitually spewed. To be tackled by Albert on this particular playing field was the height of preadolescent humiliation, and the desperation on the faces of those in danger of being brought down by this diminutive motor mouth remains etched in my memory still. The terrorized boys who found themselves even partially in his clutches had the look of farm animals striving to escape a burning barn, wide-eyed, thrashing, as if they were about to die - of embarrassment. An inability to tackle Albert, conversely, became an empty-handed trophy of failure.

    Thus are echelons of respect and fear, hierarchies of dominance, and psychological strategies of behavior incorporated into the deepest marrow of boyhood. It's a particularly intense form of emotional education, and each day's lesson was completed before the bell rang for the first class. It became something of a ritual in this primal exercise that Albert, because he was such an easy target, would always be grabbed, tackled, and smothered at the start of each game if he wasn't in the middle himself by the next-smallest boy in the school.

    That boy was me.

    Albert was the only kid I could pick on, the only kid over whom I could exercise even a nanosecond of physical mastery, and so, without regret and indeed almost with relief, that's what I did. I wasn't the only one to pick on him, of course, but I should have known better. Albert and I tormented each other down there on the lower rungs of the pecking order - and believe me, he gave as good as he got.

    But it was our shared destiny and bad fortune to be physically smaller than the rest of the boys at a time in male development when size becomes a prominent, even dominant, factor in status and self-esteem. The fact that I so vividly remember the casual humiliations of those frigid Massachusetts mornings after more than four decades attests to the raw power of such childhood encounters.

    Many male friends to whom I've mentioned my interest in size, including the tall ones, have unburdened themselves of similar tales of size-related tribulations if not traumas , which suggests that a child's experience of size disparity - and the sense of otherness it cultivates in the developing mind, the feeling of involuntary and unwanted citizenship in a despised land - is enduring, resilient, deep, almost universal.

    The playground, the lavatory, the cafeteria, the locker room, the hallways: to children during their formative years, and to boys in particular, these are fields of random cruelty, corridors of fear, chambers of dread.

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    They are makeshift arenas of physical confrontation, where incidents we forever remember from our childhood and adolescent years become incorporated, like knots in tree bark, into the adults we will become. Wherever boys play games, as on the playing fields of nature, where predation and aggression have shaped animal behavior for tens of millions of years, sheer size makes a difference. You won't find that fact in many textbooks, but it may be the single most important lesson of unsupervised schoolboy existence.

    The way those feelings of beleaguerment, insecurity, and behavioral adaptation live on in adult psychology has been insightfully captured by the cartoonist Garry Trudeau, the creator of Doonesbury. In a lovely essay called "My Inner Shrimp," Trudeau admits that "for the rest of my days, I shall be a recovering short person" with "the soul of a shrimp. But it's the feelings he experienced at age fourteen, when he was the third-smallest kid in his high school class, that still perfuse his adult soul.

    Trudeau sometimes pondered going to a high school reunion to show off all those postpubertal inches. But the Little Man Inside nixed the idea. View all New York Times newsletters. Turning the concept inward, "stature" also refers to how we view ourselves in the mirror as well as in that private chamber of self- identity where we really undress our hopes, fears, vanities, insecurities, and self-appraisals.

    If Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon is that mythical place where "all the children are above average," I have lived most of my life way south of Wobegon. At any stage of physical development and growth, from infancy to adulthood, in any country on the planet - and we could be talking here about the Netherlands, where the average Dutch citizen is taller than the average height anywhere else on earth, or those parts of equatorial Africa where pygmies still gather and hunt - about half of us are, by definition, below average in height for our particular tribe.

    That's not to suggest that this half of the population is abnormal. But in a social context that focuses on physical appearance and celebrates physical performance, size is an aspect of our identity on which we are constantly measured throughout life, even though the quantity measured lies almost totally outside our control. In ways subtle and blunt, physical stature affects who we are and who we become: the way people treat us, the activities we pursue, the games we play, the spouses we choose, the respect we command, even the salaries we receive.

    Although many men who were small as children or adolescents reach average or above-average height, the fear of remaining forever below average carves one of the deepest furrows in the otherwise hardscrabble surface of a man's emotional and psychological life. From a parent's point of view, size becomes one of the earliest areas in which we compare, as we all do, our own children against other children. They're all beautiful, of course, but we carry around in our heads our children's percentile positions on the growth chart just as proudly as we carry their photos in our wallets.

    Their height represents the signature of our genes scribbled, however briefly, on the unfurling scroll of human events.

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    During adolescence, a child's deep emotional frustration about being short can yank parents down into the disturbing world of teenage anguish and pain and remind us of our own limitations as parents. Trudeau recalls the night he fell sobbing into his father's arms: "We both knew," he writes, "it was one problem he couldn't fix. Having lived this experiment, I know the feeling. Of all the childhood terms of endearment I endured - shrimp, runt, peewee, pip-squeak, punk, peanut, bug, mouse, gnat, midget, Mr.

    Peabody - I had a particular favorite: squirt. It might seem odd to embrace an insult, but I loved the short, explosive burst of energy the word captured. Though intended to diminish me, it was at the same time subversive, irrepressible, and relentless, perhaps even avenging. Nonetheless, all the nicknames were diminutives; on the phylogenetic ladder of adolescence, I was down there with mice and mascots.