Teenagers, those complicated human beings that aren’t kids anymore, but they’re not adults yet either. At this point of development, our brain becomes more plastic again and it’s a period of innovation and change. For parents, it’s the start of a new challenge: “to figure out how to turn them into independent people who can take risks themselves” (Gopnik, 2016).
Teenagers have this uncontrollable will of getting everything at a moment’s notice, right now. It’s a period of madness and inappropriate behavior that culminates (in a mentally healthy and stable person), often enough, as soon as adolescence ends. It’s a time of excesses, where everything is more intense and, regularly, teenage boys and girls underestimate the risks and overestimate the rewards.
Just like younger children, a teenager needs to experiment and our role as parents is the same (although harder to accomplish), providing a safe environment for them to do it. “That can, at least, make adolescent experimentation less perilous.” (Gopnik, 2016)
Social rewards are the most important in this period of life, where the learning process happens far away from the safety of their parents. Getting the “respect of their peers” (Gopnik, 2016) is the major goal for most of them during this stage.
Lately, we have been facing an interesting phenomenon, with unknown causes that might have a determinant impact in our society and humankind, as a species: adolescence seems to be arriving even earlier, however, our teenagers become adults later than ever before. And in this intermediate period, they learn a lot, way more than teenagers have in the past, but they don’t actually deal with the tasks they will have to face as adults.
Everything is postponed for later and true maturity (already as young adults) happens more towards the latter part of their 20’s, which was unthinkable a couple of decades ago. Our teenagers are more intelligent but without direction, enthusiastic and exuberant, yet unable to commit, to any if not all things.
Social Multiplier Theory
The rise of education and schooling might have an answer for this phenomenon, but it can’t explain everything. Dr. Flynn (cit. by Gopnik, 2016) talked about the “social multiplier theory” as something to take into account when thinking about that.
According to his theory, small changes might have big effects without us noticing. Nowadays, more of us can study for longer and we need to study more, learn more, in order to be able to get a good job, that provides us with what we need. It’s a cycle created by some changes in our society, that definitely, had an impact on our growing speed.
“Slightly better education, health, income or nutrition might make a child do better at school and appreciate learning more. The greater appreciation would motivate her to read more books and try to go to college, which would make her even smarter and more eager for education, and so on.” (Flynn, cit. by Gopnik, 2016)
Technology: a new challenge or a different version of what adolescence always have been?
Many parents are afraid of the electronic devices, ranging from computers to smartphones in their kids’ hands, to gaming consoles, looking at these as a danger to their kids. The increasing presence of social media and the way traditional media portrays them is a nightmare for most parents. But is it really that different from their own generation?
Teenagers use technology, especially social media, to do what they always have done: socialize. The village square was replaced by virtual sites on the web and the great difference of it all is the impact it has.
First and foremost, it will reach more people, faster, and most importantly: it’s forever. It’s out there, unable to be ‘erased’. What you say or do in your town square, no matter how embarrassing, tends to disappear with time, but what you post in your Facebook or Twitter feeds will linger on. And that’s what they need to deal with, that we didn’t… The permanence of it all. That’s what they need to learn and it’s our job to advise them.
The bullies and the victims are the same in any space, physical or virtual, the abuses are still more common amongst family relatives and friends than they are coming from strangers.
“Might this be a lot for them?” is what many parents are thinking right now. Our teenagers are adapting to a new world, different from what we knew back when we were the adolescents and that’s good. Our concern is important, but our most important task is to help them mature, we don’t want them to be like us, we want them to know how to live, thrive even, in this current new world they face. They need to be free to make mistakes and we need to be there to help them deal with the consequences.