Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old
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Do you sometimes wonder how your teen is ever going to survive on his or her own as an adult? Does your high school junior seem oblivious to the challenges that lie ahead? Does your academically successful nineteen-year-old still expect you to “just take care of” even the most basic life tasks?
Welcome to the stunted world of the Endless Adolescence. Recent studies show that today’s teenagers are more anxious and stressed and less independent and motivated to grow up than ever before. Twenty-five is rapidly becoming the new fifteen for a generation suffering from a debilitating “failure to launch.” Now two preeminent clinical psychologists tell us why and chart a groundbreaking escape route for teens and parents.
Drawing on their extensive research and practice, Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen show that most teen problems are not hardwired into teens’ brains and hormones but grow instead out of a “Nurture Paradox” in which our efforts to support our teens by shielding them from the growth-spurring rigors and rewards of the adult world have backfired badly. With compelling examples and practical and profound suggestions, the authors outline a novel approach for producing dramatic leaps forward in teen maturity, including
• Turn Consumers into Contributors Help teens experience adult maturity–its bumps and its joys–through the right kind of employment or volunteer activity.
• Feed Them with Feedback Let teens see and hear how the larger world perceives them. Shielding them from criticism–constructive or otherwise–will only leave them unequipped to deal with it when they get to the “real world.”
• Provide Adult Connections Even though they’ll deny it, teens desperately need to interact with adults (including parents) on a more mature level–and such interaction will help them blossom!
• Stretch the Teen Envelope Do fewer things for teens that they can do for themselves, and give them tasks just beyond their current level of competence and comfort.
Today’s teens are starved for the lost fundamentals they need to really grow: adult connections and the adult rewards of autonomy, competence, and mastery. Restoring these will help them unlearn their adolescent helplessness and grow into adults who can make you–and themselves–proud.
moved to the back of the booth to be ready to step in when things fell apart. But they didn’t. In fact, these kids put us to shame! They’d never done this before, but after five minutes they were doing it like they’d done it all their lives, and it barely seemed to tax their capacities. They kept up an animated chatter with each other. They took cell phone calls. They talked to friends who came up. And they rarely missed a beat. They simply had raw cognitive-processing power that left us
them truly function as adults. It’s a pseudoadulthood, and it serves young people poorly at whatever age it begins. Interestingly, juvenile crime represents one of the few domains in which we’ve moved toward seemingly treating teens more like adults, increasingly transferring young delinquents into adult courts and correctional systems at earlier and earlier ages. In reality, of course, we aren’t giving these juveniles any more freedom, responsibility, autonomy, or respect than in the past—we’re
We’ve seen this unfold in several ways in our own studies. For example, we’ve looked at the extent to which parents seek to exercise appropriate monitoring and control over their teens’ behaviors—a long-recognized marker of good parental discipline. What we’ve found is that parents who use these approaches tend to have teens who behave better, but only if their teens also have close emotional bonds with their parents. Otherwise, the efforts at monitoring and control appear to make little
parental proxy. As students learn exactly what’s expected of them from their teachers, with nothing lost in the translation, they are put in the position of conferring with adults about their role and taking direct responsibility for it. They are in the classroom with these teachers every day, of course, but for many underperforming students, a meeting during a parent-teacher conference may be one of the few times they get one-on-one time with a teacher to review their progress. We’ve found these
themselves feel some hope that the “old Ray” was back … until his next set of grades came in. Ray always said he “didn’t know what had happened” and he guessed he hadn’t worked hard enough. His teachers said it seemed as if he’d just stopped caring. In some sense he had. For many kids, the pressures of the Endless Adolescence gradually sap motivation to keep on “preparing for the future.” For Ray, these pressures also built gradually, but he could later recall the specific day and time when his