Child Development: Week 5

Adolescence, Part 2

As I mentioned previously, Dr. Montessori observed that one goal of adolescence is social independence (physical and mental independence come during the first two years).  Jean Piaget wrote about the process of growing out of egocentrism (the childhood cognitive state of not seeing multiple perspectives). The awakening from egocentrism happens in several stages, but the 12 to 18 year old is discovering and learning to live with self consciousness–being conscious of his existence.

If you imagine a child dancing around happily in a field without much worry or pressure as a metaphor for the first 12 years of childhood (the eight year old rarely questions the significance of their piano or soccer skills in the universe, or the way mom/dad dresses as a representation of their identity), self consciousness is something that washes over a young adolescent as if a curtain has dropped and he realizes he is not alone in that field… and never was.  Instead, he was on a stage.  At first, adolescents are mortified and embarrassed that people were noticing them and judging them without their knowledge.  They have to do an inventory about every possible shame to decide how to file it all away and to gauge how embarrassed they should be.  Every detail matters.  As they process their new situation, they have two choices: to hide or to perform.  Both choices have the same disadvantages; they grow exhausted and lonely.  We were not made for a life on a social stage.

As kids head into the latter half of adolescence, they need to transition from the “stage” into a community.  They will gradually find a balance between feeling like everyone is looking at them and knowing they are in a group who is largely going through the same thing.  They need to strip off the costume and the performance, and let people accept them–or not–for who they are.  Again, this is a process and everyone is on their own developmental time schedule, but this transition will largely occur by 18 years of age. As adults, we will still struggle with this now and again for sure!  Some psychologists argue that this stage is currently elongated in the USA, and many of our adolescents are not reaching the final stages as quickly as previous time periods, and other cultures.  The more we help them disable and invalidate the “stage,” the better our childrenwill accomplish the tasks of adolescence and be prepared for the tasks of young adulthood.  As they head into the last official phase of childhood, we want them to have made peace with the idea of community, understand how a variety of relationships work, and their identity within those relationships.  We want them to be as confident in their roles with others as they were tying their shoes at six or practicing their trombone at 11.

Quality Time (Not “Perfect” Time)

As I perused Facebook during break and scrolled through the photos of projects and travels and get togethers, I was struck by two seemingly contradictory messages coming from parents.  The first was how many clearly wonderful things were happening: fathers and sons building lego rocketships together, children using their free time to create blanket forts and put on concerts for parents, families creating memories together that appear almost Hallmark-channel ready.  The second was how exhausting kids can be: their stubbornness, whining, arguing, and ungratefulness at times.  As I reflect on the time I spent with my family over this winter break, I realize that they’re the same message.

beautyAlmost 20 years ago, I listened to a speaker talk about quality time.  A dad in the audience spoke about how he had created a special evening with his son after a long stint of business travel and some difficult life events.  Both the father and son were really looking forward to this time: a baseball game together. They arrived at the game and after an inning the child was bored and wanted food.  The dad bought some.  The child got whiny and wanted something else.  At some point the dad said no.  The child had a tantrum.  The dad lost his temper.  They left the game early.  Both were hurt and frustrated and disappointed.  This dad asked the speaker about how he failed at creating quality time.  The speaker disagreed, saying that this man’s evening was absolutely quality time.

The mess, the struggle, the discipline, and the disappointment are all part of a real relationship, and we can’t get to the deep, authentic, and unconditional levels of relating without evenings like theirs.

Life is a beautiful mess, or a messy beauty, and a meaningful time together doesn’t usually mean a perfect time.