Often asked by parents in frustration, the question is still a good one: “What’s the point of adolescence?” Or as one dad put it it: "If I can see the endgame, it's easier for me to keep playing."
So my response follows, describing one overall point, two major developmental objectives, and four stages of growth challenges to be met.
THE OVERALL POINT
Over ten to twelve years, usually starting in late elementary or early middle school and not winding down until a little after the college-age years, the overall point of Adolescence is to physiologically, psychologically, and socially transform the child into a young adult.
This transformation can only begin when the girl or boy, usually around ages 9 – 13, begins to break some of the childhood attachment and similarity that securely bonded the child to parents, this break causing necessary losses that create some freedom to grow toward two developmental objectives. In this process, as the adolescent changes, the parent changes in response, and the relationship between them changes as well.
TWO MAJOR DEVELOPMENTAL OBJECTIVES
One developmental objective is to sufficiently detach from parents and childhood so that by journey’s end the young person has acquired enough self-management freedom and responsibility to finally support a functional independence. “I can take care of myself.” A second, and equally important developmental objective, is to sufficiently differentiate from parents and childhood so that by journey’s end the young person has experimented with enough individual expression to claim a uniquely fitting identity. “I know the person I am.”
These parallel and interacting paths of growth require active effort, experience, and education. There is much work to accomplish, much experimentation to try, and much knowledge and skills to learn. The primary teachers for most young people are the parents who are always wrestling with a very hard decision: how much to hold on and when to start letting go?
The parent’s hard job is to stay caringly connected to the changing young person as adolescence grows them apart, which is what it is meant to do. As the young person grows older, they direct choice less and inform choice more as their daughter or son journeys through what I think of as four stages of growth, each posing growth challenges to be met.
FOUR STAGES OF GROWTH CHALLENGES
Stage One: The Point is to Separate from Childhood.
Early Adolescence (around ages 9 – 13) challenges are characterized by:
Stage Two: The Point is to Form a Family of Friends.
Mid Adolescence (around ages 13 – 15) challenges are characterized by:
Stage Three: The Point is to Act More Grown Up.
Late Adolescence (around ages 15 – 18) challenges are characterized by:
Stage Four: The Point is to Step Off on One’s Own.
Trial Independence (around ages 18 – 23) challenges are characterized by:
So for me, adolescence has lots of points -- from accomplishing the larger transformation, to reaching two developmental goals of growing up, to coping with challenges that can mark each stage of adolescence along the way.
The point of parenting adolescents is to foster this transformation, to support the goals of growth, and to help the young person responsibly meet and resolve the hard challenges that can arise.
For more information about parenting adolescents, see my book, “SURVIVING YOUR CHILD’S ADOLESCENCE” (Wiley, 2013.) Information at: www.carlpickhardt.com
Next week’s entry: After Adolescence Managing Young Adult Stress