Psychologists are being encouraged to treat adolescence all the way to age 25, and this new directive (reported by the BBC) has created quite a stir. Wendy and I have sent four children into adulthood — 12 more to go – and we have mixed feelings from this directive.
On the one hand, we understand the need for psychologists to treat 18-25 year olds as “older adolescents.” The world of psychology, as we understand it, responds to the psychological reality of people; it doesn’t direct it. There is a very unique and sometimes troubling environment in that age group, and it resembles adolescence more than it does adulthood. The BBC reported:
The new guidance is to help ensure that when young people reach the age of 18 they do not fall through the gaps in the health and education system. The change follows developments in our understanding of emotional maturity, hormonal development and particularly brain activity.
This makes sense. None of our adult children automatically launched the day they turned 18. It doesn’t surprise us that neurological studies show that maturity extends later into early adulthood. All of our adult children had varying degrees of success after they graduated and found their way. Come to think of it, even though I had five children by the time I was 25, I have to admit that I didn’t ultimately feel “grown up” until I was in my mid-twenties. Ultimately, these new findings shine some light on this age group.
On the other hand, this directive bothers us. Sure, there are developmental realities that psychologists need to weigh when treating young adults (now, apparently, referred to as “older adolescents”), but there are environmental realities that parents, teachers and society have more control over. Allowing adolescent behavior to just roll on into the early-20s isn’t necessarily what we would call a healthy option.
The BBC article asks this good question, “Is there any danger we could be breeding a nation of young people reluctant to leave adolescence behind?” Again, thinking back to when I was in my 20s, I may have felt like I was still adolescent, but that didn’t give me a pass for adolescent behavior. The support I received around me — from my parents, my church, my friends, and my community — encouraged me (sometimes harshly, sometimes lovingly) to grow up, take responsibility and be a man.
So, we have mixed feelings about this. It is good — arguably overdue — to consider this age group more seriously. Rather than viewing the age 18 as a magical bright line into adulthood, parents should become students of this age group to be better able to respond to the needs of their “children.” Not to pamper them, but to help better launch them.
There’s the rub, isn’t it? Such a psychological change of perspective walks the line of conformity that expects less of this age group. We see this as an opportunity to expect more — not less — to prepare young people for adulthood.
We’re interested in your perspective, especially if you have likewise clunked through the launching stage of “older adolescence.” We would love to hear your input in the comment section below.
By the way, this is a big reason why we are hosting the For Action Conference in Colorado Springs, January 2-4, 2014. We’re targeting ages 16-24 — though parents are welcome — whom we’re calling to take advantage of the great opportunities the 21st century holds for them. We’re packing the speaking agenda with successful role models. The 3-day conference is priced at only $179 and may be just the things for the young adult/older adolescent in your life. See here for information.