Ken & Elizabeth Mellor

Adolescence lasts from thirteen to about twenty-one years of age. Throughout that time, our children are still learning how to live in the world in fundamental ways and are still growing to adulthood. This is not always obvious, when we only relate to how physically big and well developed they are. The adolescent is taken into the bosom of the wider world, and bonds to the world. The wider world is the base of operations. It starts at about thirteen years of age with an emotional regression to babyhood, followed by a third birth at about fourteen years of age,ending in a self-contained, self-directing adult at about 21 years of age.

A time of great energy, growth, excitement and fulfilment, it can also be very challenging for parents and young people alike. In our experience, several generalizations are useful for all parents of adolescents.

  • They all have wonderful potential.
  • The are reworking the first twelve years of their lives, which give us all a second chance.
  • They have an enormous amount to learn about life and living.
  • In early adolescence their struggles are the contractions of a birth from childhood to adulthood.
  • We need to "win" most of these struggles so they complete the birth.
  • The struggles also help them to bond with the adult world and to adopt our values and approaches to life (with modifications).
  • They go through six recognizable stages in a predictable sequence.
  • Persistence is a wonderful asset for parents.

THE BABY (13 year-olds)
Typical qualities: Bodies are often changing and going through a growth spurt. Hormones are often stirring too. They become very focussed on body image, appearance and comparisons with their peers. Overnight become babies again. Very dependent, young, needy, very prone to upsets. Memories go, attention span becomes very limited. They often lack initiative. Live their feelings with no masking. Moods swing: when happy express it, when unhappy express it. Open, naive, vulnerable. They become incompetent - what they could do a few days before,seems impossible. Sit or stand around "for hours" spaced out and dreaming. Very sensitive to criticism.

Recycling: Conception to about two years of age. Beginning of the re-cycling years.

The learning: Learning how to cope in a bigger, much more demanding world. Their worlds are expanding. Often in secondary school. Moved from being on of the big boys/girls to one of the little ones again. Complete acceptance of themselves. Acceptance of vulnerability. Love for themselves and others. How to continue to act while feeling very vulnerable.

What they need: Need much primary nurturing. Holding, feeding, caring. They have a deep need for complete acceptance and guidance, in the same way as a baby. They are in big bodies,so it is easy to miss this need. Need us to take over and guide and direct them again. Normal consequences don't work. It is like punishing babies - it generally intensifies distress and confusion, and rarely works to modify behaviour. If they get the primary acceptance and nurturing, they will grow normally, correct and update the past, then move on to the next phase.

THE DISSENTER (14 year-olds)
Typical qualities: Willful, argumentative, uncooperative, passionate, inclined to tantrums. Self-centred, rebellious (thinking it is independence). Bodies continue to change and develop. Intensity can vary from day to day. Some young people very mild with this phase, some push it very hard. Early in this year, tend to get some extreme dependency and vulnerability mixed in with the other qualities. Appeasement does not work. The moment they have got what they want, they will be struggling over something else. Often go out and try and coerce parents by getting others involved, like the courts or the welfare. Divorce parents, go to court, claim sexual harassment, claim all sorts of untrue things to get others to act on behalf of them. Often push to expand their social lives, the freedoms they are allowed etc. Anger is now at the core, rather than vulnerability. Look at the position of the lower jaw.

Recycling: Two years of age. Rework the first and second birth, the patterns of which very commonly repeat themselves. Two-year-old struggles. The struggle is the thing.

The learning: Little self-control, although needing to learn it. Learning awareness of other people, their feelings etc. Learning to think, feel and act simultaneously. Learning in this to wait to get what they want. Feelings do not define reality though they can influence reality very much.

What they need: They need the struggle, to get themselves born. If we oblige they will thrive. If we do not, they will get stuck. Parents can choose the area of the struggle. Make it trivial and you will avoid them escalating to get you to take a stand. They need the shouting and excitement, the intensity. They understand significance much more from intensity than from discussion. They also need discussion, because that is what we are leading them towards, not because that is what will make the difference for a while. Keep at it until you win. Remember that they are taking in from what we do what they need so as to manage themselves without us there. If we pull out, they will not have it inside them. If you do not stand your ground, they will won't learn it either. Peace at any price will not work. Expect responsibility and provide freedoms within their capacities. Some areas remain non-negotiable.

THE FLEDGLING (15 year-olds)
Typical qualities: Calmness, availability, desire to help and cooperate, sensitivity to others, high level of interest in the world and how it works. Shift from the previous levels of struggle and wilfullness. This can be sudden although it may involve gradual change for many young people. Often enjoy intense discussion of issues, rather than feelings. Show intelligence and cognitive development. Much more aware of other people and hungry to learn. Companionship becomes possible Expanding circle of friends at school. Getting some consistent time sense back again. Genuinely interested in other people, what they are doing, how they got there, who they are as people. Kids will often search for people to identify with. There is a natural attraction to soap operas and movies at this stage as part of this search. It is well for parents to be aware of what they are using as models. Crushes on teachers, film stars, rock stars,neighbours etc. are common. Revisit old fears through horror movies, scarey rides at fun parks. Through the birth of the previous year and the struggle that went with it. Distinctive experience of relief and mutual satisfaction. Primed for bonding. Who am I? What sort of person do I want to be? This is part of their interest in and need for developing their own lives and senses of identity. A move on from self-seeking preoccupations and immediate pleasures and pains.

Recycling: Three years to four years of age. Chance to re-bond with the family. Chance to work out some of the thinking, feeling, doing, meaning issues. Chance to hone thinking skills and move to abstraction from concreteness. Chance to work out superstitious fears and magical thinking that may have been based at four.

The learning: Bonding with the adult world. Hungry for information and exposure to it. Expanding social circle. Often developing "fast friends" and enjoy long conversations with peers(on the telephone). To manage increasingly complex demands on time and skill at work or at school. They need to get jobs done that require planning, forethought, consistency of application etc.

What they need: Need us to help them bond. We need to organise the right exposure and contacts. We need to ensure that the necessary intensity is there. Make it a celebration. Have some signal that marks the occasion. Welcome them to the adult world. Provide the information, the discussions, the outings, the experiences that will feed this hungry young person. Continued need for practical limits on behaviour, social outings, expenditure etc. These are handed over to young people as they demonstrate the capacity to handle them. Increasing capacity to handle complex programming etc. We need to help them with schedules and keeping them up to the mark with them. They learn from us how to create them and how to keep using them. This is started earlier than this, however, they start to participate somewhat more easily than previously at this age. This is a good age for beginning part-time jobs. This gives many of them a sense of achievement, appropriate sense that they are growing up etc. Need to contribute something of what they earn back into the family. Parents can increase their own responsibility for managing their own money and lives in relation to money. Specify certain budgetary items for which they will be responsible. Cannot just leave them to these, though, because they need to guidance. We only leave them to things when they have proved that they can manage.

THE SWEET & SOUR (16 year-olds)
Typical qualities: Outrage is common: " How dare you interfere in my life. I am in charge of me; I am the boss of me." The " I know everything" syndrome, which is typical of the six and seven year old. Take a moral high ground at this age, but it is very young, naive and imitative, rather than the more grounded and powerful form that comes during to the world leaders. Increasing maturity etc. Thinking is coming to the fore very strongly now and can be called on as a resource. Wonderful to people outside the family, while very difficult inside the family. Reality and who determines it. How do I know what is real and what is not? Values and philosophy and who is in the right and what is wrong can be in the forefront. An exciting time, as the boundaries of thought and values are challenged and new approaches are tried. Heavy demands at school or work. Really needing a lot more self-management. Could be at work and having to cope with an adult world. This is a time for crushes on teachers and other significant adults, e.g., friends of parents. Now their sexuality is explicit and physical. Lot of triangulation. People are set up, they feel set up. "Jail bait" syndrome. It is a time when parents are told by other parents that their children are wonderful and they wonder why they "never" see this side of things.

Recycling: Five to seven year olds. Learning about triangles, cooperation, expanded thinking, etc.

The learning: Learning a lot about who is responsible. The sixteen-year-old is grappling with "It's me, but I don't want that responsibility, but I do want that responsibility." Still need limits and consequences. Can be more involved in setting the limits and negotiating the limits and the consequences. Often set up triangles and three-way competitions with parents. Fights,seductiveness, competitiveness are all common. Also, the kids try themselves out on the parents, teachers and other adults of the opposite sex. They are seeking confirmation of the OKness of their sexuality and coaching from the parent of the same sex. They find a new strength at this age. They start to flex their muscles and find there is power in them. Then they need to learn how to manage this power. Power is not just in the power play, it is in the power of persuasion, of personality, in negotiation.

What they need: Give them responsibility that they can manage, neither under-expect nor overload them. Some people think that parenting is no longer needed at this age, that these people are adults. But neither is true. These are very immature, young adults, who still need a great deal of guidance and counsel. We need to provide this to help them stay on track. They still need limits and consequences. Can be more involved in setting and negotiating the limits and the consequences. Sexual energy is now explicit, whereas when first appears at about five to six years of age, it is generalised. They now have genital sexual feelings. Parents need to deal with a full sexual response as a potential in themselves and in their children. One of the origins of the expression "Sweet Sixteen" is precisely this penchant to be seductive and sweet, to attract adult attention to the obvious and developing sexual nature of the young person. Quite a quality of mimicry of maturity that can fool adults who are not alert. This is not to be condemned nor encouraged. We need to tread the path between the two extremes. Parents need to discuss their reactions and feelings openly with each other, so they keep track of their own relationship and do not get into the competitiveness that is invited by the young people. They also can give consistent messages to their children, but from the perspective of the different sexes (where it is a two sex parental unit). Parents need to be patient, guiding towards the budding sexuality,tolerant to the exploration and the experimentation the young people will try with them, limit setting and clear on the limits, while confirming of the developing manhood and womanhood of the young person. Both parents have a part to play in this. The parent of the same sex models what to do as an adult and the person of the opposite sex models what responses are likely.Parents and adults generally need to understand that these young people are learning from a naive position and need both clear limits and gentle handling. It is a time of crushes. It is very inappropriate to respond sexually, although the adults may feel strongly sexual at times. These young people can get us to say and do things that we are very surprised about. We "find"things coming out of our mouths that we did not even know were in there. We can become very irrational, prejudiced, unthinking, out of balance etc. if we allow the passions involved in exchanges with them to dictate the content of out actions. This is not a good idea. It is, however, common and it is normal for parents of young people of this age to experience this sort of thing. It is also the way they are thinking and feeling, so we can get some idea of what is involved for them.

THE ROMANTIC/NOVICE (17 year-olds)
Typical qualities: Go through a threshold into maturity at this age. It can be a wonderful relief. Much maturity, but not yet tempered with experience. The a sense of the novice about this young person. Full of good intent and wanting to be fully adult, yet not quite able to do it yet. It is as if they grow up socially quite quickly. Prior to this may often relate to each other (and to adults) in unpleasant, prejudiced, sharp-tongued sorts of ways. Complaints and harshness are common. Very much in the triangle (Persecutor, Rescuer, Victim). "Suddenly" they become quite mature. They seem to respect others more, to be more assured in themselves. It can be as if a switch is thrown internally. They become more sociable, more inclined to link with people with warmth and depth. There is an increased awareness of others as individuals rather than as extensions of themselves. These changes accompany a greater inclination to take notice of the group, to want to spend time with groups of friends etc. Boyfriends and girl friends start to make their appearance at this point. They have much more one-on-one quality than previously. Some of the romantic behaviour (poetry, books etc.) are giving internal practice at this sort of thing. They are safe "objects". They have a lot to do with peers and want more active involvement with others. Their worlds are expanding rapidly and they want to expand with them. Much practice is done in how to be grown up. Added to this, life takes on a romantic aura for them. Poetry, romantic novels and the like may be attractive. Reading and going to movies. Concentration on romance. They may write their won poetry and short stories.

Recycling: Seven to nine year-olds. Learning who is "in" and who is "out" and how to get in and out.

The learning: About sexuality, the place of the group and personal positions, standing our ground, going along. Combining new capacity in many areas. Moving strongly from rules to values. Not what is the rule, what is right and wrong, but what is best now. The difference between trying to getting around a rule and what is the just or right thing to do. Distinguishing how to separate reality and fantasy. What is involved in obeying the expectations of others. Big concentration on the type of person I want to cultivate in myself.

What they need: Reinforcement for their developing maturity by appreciation from mothers and fathers. The parent of the opposite sex launches the young person into sexually mature adulthood through this appreciation. In relation to the person's sexual personhood, they may say, "Wow, you look great!" or "I wish I was twenty years younger", or "I bet you will have queues of people wanting to go out with you." Continued discussion of many issues. Being vehicles for them to test out their ideas and opinions. Reinforce their maturity, suggest other ways of thinking and acting. Ask questions that get them thinking about their own points of view. Keep discipline, but much more of the consequences are left with them. When you stop getting them up in the morning to ensure that they are on time for school or work (if you haven't done this already). When you gradually or suddenly decide that they need to take the initiative to talk about things. Time for a transition to giving reminders, but not taking responsibility to get things done.

THE WORLD LEADER (18 to 21 year-olds)
Typical qualities: Very concerned about the world and social issues, and very certain that they know what is needed. Many different possibilities: the take-over merchant, rebel,revolutionary, philosopher, sage, missionary, good citizen, renegade, rebel, or terrorist. Also, the conformist, who follows parental and societal standards, passionately and righteously. Time of causes. Lot of energy to take up issues and they really follow through on them and do a lot of good work, especially when they see an injustice is being done. Independence and taking on the responsibility for "my life". A time of exploration and taking steps into the outside world. This may be a series of steps out of the family and then back again. Testing the practices and values learned in the family and at school in a larger ballpark. Moving out to live away from home. Some will move out quickly, others will do it gradually. It is definitely a time for increasing autonomy and responsibility taking. This is a common time for emotional, mental and other upheavals. Due to the basic energy shift. It gives the young person time to regroup before striking out on his or her own into life.

Recycling: Ten to twelve year-olds. Revising old rule structures and updating them into new values and ethics.

The learning: Everything is drawing together, all the capacities, the things they've learned. A really beautiful maturity starts to flow through, a much more focussed look at what is going on in the world. Where's my place? What can I contribute to this? How can I change the things that I don't like? How can I make the things that I think are important happen? Starting to get a very practical focus. Most young people at this point are at a stage where they are ready to make decisions about things they are going to be doing in their lives. They also face the challenge of how practically to translate things that they value into their daily lives. They want to work out how to do so without letting go of what is important at the same time as not simply adjusting to a world that doesn't necessarily agree with them. Living with full responsibility in the world is now a forthcoming reality. Some are frightened of this, some are keen to embrace it as soon as possible.

What they need: Celebrate the adult maturity of the young. Encourage. Support bright ideas. Treat them with respect. Move fully into the consultant position. Become an optional extra in their lives. We need to let go of our perception of their need of us as parents. Very important that young adults be encouraged to live as other adults do in the society in which they are living. We need to mark the end of childhood and reaching adulthood in some way. 21st. birthday parties used to do this. It is an important time. Unemployment, tertiary study and the like can muddy the situation for some people, as they may stay at home, or in dependent positions for longer than is emotionally good for them. Parents can respond with availability, patience and determination to all of this. It is an exciting time and finding out where the young people are right in their perception, while adding our own to theirs is very important. In relation to leaving,we can encourage and celebrate their departures. "Go. By all means go. We celebrate your desire to go. And we do not have to be not-okay or to be made wrong, nor do you, for you to do it." Make sure that they leave and/or are taking full adult responsibility for their part in the household in direct proportion to the call they make on its resources.

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