When I was merely 23, I had been married for 4 years, had a professional job, a newborn baby, owned a house, 2 cars, 2 dogs and 1 cat. Certainly way too much responsibility for two still adolescents (my hubby was the same tender age), but back then who knew? And the big question my still developing adolescent brain was wondering was, “Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing in this world? Why am I here?” Yes, I was playing house, playing mom, playing grown-up – all with decidedly real ‘toys’ – yet I continuously wondered who I really was. (And would I be discovered as a fake?)
Today we know so much more than we knew a few decades ago. We know that the adolescent brain continues developing well beyond the teenage years, so older teens and young 20-something adults are not fully equipped to make truly rational decisions – they just don’t have the cognitive ability yet to do so. But they certainly think they do – how can you know what you don’t know?
The question of identity and who you will turn out to be, developing into your unique self, is a big part of adolescence. While this process develops sooner for some and later for others, it is a process that every adolescent must go through. And it necessarily must involve a pulling away from parents, often in painful ways, as the person embarks on this internal and uniquely personal journey.
We try to spare our children so much pain that we know they will face soon enough in the harsh real world, but we can’t grow up for them. They must do this alone, even though we may want to hold their hand through the rough spots. But in true independent form, they don’t want our hand and often won’t take it when it’s offered. This feels like rejection, but it’s really quite natural. “Why won’t he let me help him??” you wail. “It would be so much easier for her, but she just won’t take my help!” Of course she won’t – you forget that you represent all that she has ever known, the familiar, yes the kind, the comfortable. But to become an independent entity separate from you, which he must do, he necessarily must reject your help and forge his own unique path.
It takes some adolescents a very long time to figure things out, much to the impatience of their parents. “When I was your age, I was blah, blah, blah…” forgetting that it is a unique journey, and adolescence lasts much longer than previously recognized. For some, it can go to 30 years old until the brain is truly fully formed in rational capacity. Meanwhile life ticks on and many serious decisions are made.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: The ‘foolishness’ of youth, brought on by the brain not being fully developed for 100% rational thinking, lasts much longer than previously recognized, so forgive them these years. Also forgive them for not recognizing what they don’t know about themselves and not taking your help. The best way to help them is to have the kind of relationship where they let you in to be the rational brain they are lacking, by asking pointed questions to get them to consider things they would otherwise overlook and not consider. This ‘bouncing ideas’ off of you is the best help you can give, which lets them decide, with a little pointed guidance in their thinking.