Social and Sexual Maturation - The prospect of adulthood

A s a youngster passes from childhood into adolescence, it is the psychological adjustments rather than the physical changes that are most likely to produce difficulties. The emotional problems, of course, are related to the hormonal activity of the developing body. However, the conflicts that frequently are upsetting to both the adolescent and other members of his family are the result of adjustments that must be made between the young person and the society in which he must live.

In our own culture, the teenager must continually adjust to a complex set of rules and regulations. He frequently may feel that he must accept the responsibilities of adulthood before he is entitled to the privileges of being treated as an adult. Childhood is only a step behind, but he has learned to suppress or ignore childhood relationships. He can easily forget the point of view of children and even resent the ability of his parents to recall the “cute” incidents of his earlier years. At the same time, he may be startled by the suggestion that within a few short years he and his teenage friends will face the selection of a career, marriage, establishment of a home, and a lifetime of responsibilities he may feel ill-prepared to assume.

Future Outlook for Teenagers

While a teenager may feel competent enough to handle adult responsibilities and decisions, he or she may have misgivings about what the future holds. Fear and uncertainty of the unknown can cause anxiety in teenagers, though they may not express it. They are aware that the choices they make—what college or vocational school they select, what profession they choose, who they marry, where they decide to live—can affect their entire lives.

An abundance of educational opportunities and careers choices is available for any teenager. It is the parents’ responsibility to expose teenagers to all of the options and to guide them toward attainable goals. Parents should recognize a teen's strengths and weakness and direct him or her to the most appropriate educational institution or profession. Career and college guidance counselors at high school are very helpful.

In the past few decades, the outlook for males and females have become nearly identical. There are virtually no educational or professional barriers that separate men and women. There are male nurses and female doctors, husbands who stay at home and wives who work.

The career options and lifestyles that teenagers may select are seemingly endless. Traditional social conventions are changing. Many marriages occur after both spouses have established careers, allowing for arrangements that were not possible for many parents of current teenagers. Given the professional opportunities for women, many families are dual-income, or, in some cases, the men choose to stay at home. Much of this depends on the economic needs of a particular family, but the options are there for nearly any kind of work situation and lifestyle. Such instances of role-reversal and dual-income families have provided a new and promising outlook for teenagers.

Advanced Education

The educational requirements for current jobs place an added strain on the pace of growing up. Many teenagers must have some vague professional goals in order to choose the proper means of attaining them. This primarily includes an appropriate education. All professions require a certain level of education and expertise. While much of the experience is learned on the job, many professions require college degrees and even graduate degrees. In many blue-collar professions, training is essential. It can be obtained through vocational schools, apprenticeships, or training programs.

Need for Independence

Adolescence is a time when a child slowly develops into an adult. With physical changes come psychological changes as well. As such, a teenager wants to be treated like an adult, not a child. These demands are often manifested in rebellious actions and disdainful remarks.

In a desire to act independently, a teenager may exhibit reclusive behavior in order to avoid contact with parents. He or she may be reluctant to divulge information. Sneaking out of the house is a common gesture. These are distinct attempts to dodge unsolicited advice from parents who are only too anxious to give it.

Parents should not be offended by these actions, rather they should allow their child to explore the world independently. Such an education will make them more confident and well-adjusted as adults. Teenagers who are not allowed much freedom are often more difficult to control and can cause more damage out of spite.

Conflicts between Parent and Teenager

Some conflicts between the generations are avoidable. The parents may be protective and slow to cut the apron strings because they love their children and want to prevent them from becoming involved in unhappy situations. The teenager resents the overprotective actions of the parents, regarding them as evidence that they are not trusted.

A keystone in the training for adulthood is the concept that being an adult entails more than just privileges and the authority to make decisions; along with decision-making goes a responsibility to the family and society for the consequences of one's decisions and actions.

Few parents, of course, would refuse to bail out a teenage son or daughter in real trouble. And even when a youngster is rebellious enough to leave home, he should know that the door will always be open to him when he decides to return. Again, limiting the options available to a teenager can lead to a snowballing of bad decisions and resulting complications.

In many cases, the conflicts between parents and teenagers derive from the illusion that a younger child has more freedom of choice. A small child may actually seem to have a freer choice of friends he can bring into his home and the games he can play with them. But there are always limitations to a child's choices, and parents are more understanding of the bad choices by attributing mistakes to the fact that “he's only a child.”

Older youngsters become involved in situations in which the decisions are more important. A boy and girl at the age of five can “play house” together in an atmosphere of innocence. However, the same boy and girl could hardly suggest to their parents that they intended to play house at the age of 15. If the boy and girl, although next-door neighbors, are of different social or ethnic backgrounds, they may become aware of parental prejudices in addition to new rules of propriety as they grow into their teenage years.

Decisions of the teen years can involve the use of tobacco, alcohol, owning an automobile, handling of money, overnight trips with friends, association with friends who use drugs illegally, and relationships with members of the opposite sex. The consequences of all alternatives should be outlined for the adolescent.

Search for Identity

Part of the youngster's struggle for independence will involve what sometimes is described as a search for identity. A child accepts without much questioning that he is a member of a certain family and lives in a certain neighborhood. But as he grows older, he becomes aware of his status in the family as well as the status of his family in society. A seven-year-old could not care less about the background of his family or that of his second-grade friends. As he becomes a teenager he learns that such subjects may be matters of concern to parents and their circle of friends. He may imitate the attitudes of his family or disregard them, perhaps inviting criticism that he is rebellious.

More important to the youngster, however, is a growing concern about his position and role in life and where it may lead. He is still in the so-called formative years and is sensitive to countless influences in the world about him. Teenagers become concerned with approaching education and career decisions. It is natural for them to identify with older members in the family, teachers, and celebrities.

Need for Privacy

For the teenage girl, party invitations, dances, and diaries are important and an increasing amount of privacy is required. Even if she must share a room with a sister, there should be a part of the room that is her territory. She should have personal belongings that are not shared by a parent or sibling. If she has her own room, everything in the room probably will be regarded as her property. Even her mother should respect her privacy by knocking on the door and getting permission to enter her private world.

Although sometimes less sensitive about such matters, boys also are likely to insist on a certain amount of privacy as they grow older. They may share a room with a brother but they need trunks or other containers with locks in which they can keep personal possessions. Proof that such desire for privacy is not a passing fad for young men is found in their adult compulsion for private offices and a den or workshop area at home.

Contacts with Older Friends

Young teenagers, through part-time jobs as babysitters or errand boys, usually come in contact with young adults outside the family circle for the first time. The young adults may accept the teenagers as peers, which is flattering to the youngsters, who may in turn admire and imitate the young adults. If the teenager has been able to identify closely with his family's sense of propriety, the contacts can be a good social experience. But if the youngster has not been able to identify effectively with his parents and family members, he may be vulnerable to misguiding influences. Because of the urge for adult status, the teenager may find a premature outlet for testing his abilities to live the adult life in the company of young adults. He (or she) can absorb a lot of information—and misinformation—about sex, alcohol, drugs, and other subjects.

Teenagers certainly should not be cautioned against contacts with all young adults, but they should also have a reliable older person aside from their parents with whom they can discuss matters they would not discuss with a mother or father. The alternate adult might be a clergyman, the family physician, a teacher, or even a favorite aunt or uncle. Such an arrangement provides the youngster with a means of learning a bit more about life in an independent manner and from a different point of view than could be obtained within his own immediate family circle.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: