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The major task of adolescence is to become ‘your own person’. Adolescents learn to make choices and commitments, follow through with them, and stand up independently in the world.
They need to be respected for taking on these tasks. After all, we respect adults who can do these things. They are complicated and courageous actions.
But teenagers swing back and forth between dependence and independence as they work on these tasks. It’s easy for parents to get frustrated. And it’s easy for a parent to assume that if the teenager would simply follow the plan that makes sense to a parent, things would be all right in the end.
Life is not so simple, of course — not for teenagers and not for adults. In many ways, adults carry on the very same tasks of growth and development themselves — after adolescence. Adults, however, usually have a greater sense of who they are — what they value, what they need, and how best to get what they need — than do teenagers.
False starts, mistakes, poor judgment, or impulsive action are part of growing up. And like teenagers, adults encounter these same challenges. It’s just that adults are usually better prepared to meet the challenges.
The main tasks of adolescence require teenagers to learn, and this kind of learning is not just a matter of getting the right answer. Most important is to understand the meaning of the right answer. And maybe “the right answer” is something that teenagers need to build up, responsibly, from lessons of experience. This is truly difficult work and it absolutely requires support from parents, relatives, and neighbors.
To help adolescents grow up, parents need to be aware of their own growth. Everyone who is alive is changing, growing, and developing. It’s easy for a middle-aged adult to forget this fact, especially when confronted with a difficult teenage problem. But parents who are working on their own growth are in a good position to understand teenagers and to respect what they are doing in the struggle to grow up and become good people in their own right.
Information from Middle Childhood and Adolescent Development, Oregon State University Extension Service, 2016
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