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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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