Sep
26
2013

Aging Adolescence

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.

Figuring out when to launch your children into adulthood is tricky, but not impossible.

Figuring out when to launch your children into adulthood is tricky, but not impossible.

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.

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for-action-conferenceBy 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.

About Chris & Wendy Jeub

The Jeub Family live in Monument, Colorado, with 14 of their 16 children. They encourage couples to love God and love one another, building an atmosphere of love in their homes.

  • Joseph C Geiser

    Hey Chris – Interesting article, and I can give a first-hand account of why this might be a good idea. When I was young (7-10 years of age), I was “punished” through the sexual abuse by my father. He left when I was 10 and this became a repressed memory for years. It was my early 20s when it came to light again, and it wasn’t handled properly – nor was continuing counseling given.
    Today, I am 54, I thought I forgave him – but I apparently haven’t… and I am now in counseling again, to deal with what should have been dealt with back in my early 20s. These issues probably cost me my first marriage and a raft of other issues in my life…
    So, counseling and psychological work in this age group should be available, and to be able to deal with them as adolescents is probably something good for them.
    Blessings, Pastor Joe Geiser

    • http://www.chrisjeub.com/ Chris Jeub

      Great insight, Joe, thanks for sharing. I lean toward the idea that the psychological directive has good intentions behind it and that it is meant to help people, not prolong immaturity. It’s worth studying this age group. It’ll help us be better parents, really.

  • judy

    Interesting. As a parent educator I have learned that there are ways parents can prepare their children for the challenge of making their way in the world. I don’t think this idea of postponed adolescents has to be the norm. We all know young people who seem to walk into the world making responsible decisions. I think the way they were parented has a lot to do with it.
    It may seem like I am blaming parents when kids founder, but having watched each of our children struggle to get it together after leaving the nest, my husband and I realize that we could have done a better job. My late-in-life education as a parent educator makes my 20-20 hindsight vision a bit more critical than for other parents, but I have learned a lot about what parents can do. There are goals and skills for teaching children to manage money, to be responsible, to postpone immediate gratification, and to set priorities.
    One reason I like working with parents of preschoolers is that it is best to start early. Parents need to be conscious of what they are doing and why. It doesn’t work well to “fly by the seat of your pants”, as the saying goes.
    We give our children a gift when we give them the practical tools to make it on their own. But the ability to maintain healthy relationships with others is also important, perhaps even more so when it comes to their happiness. There are ways to help children with this too, but it requires more intuitive knowledge. Most knowledge about relationships is transmitted by the way parents interact with their children as well as in the way they relate to others. But there is a teaching component, too, in the way parents use language.
    I once read that parenting is less a skill than an art. The more I know, the more I believe this to be true.

  • Donna

    What about voting, drivers licenses, marriage, parent legality? Is all that moving up as well?

  • outnumberedby11

    As an educator of teens, as well as a parent of them, my constant frustration is how much they are pampered and treated these days. My grand father was down the mines at 14, and my grandmother a seamstress at 16, I am quite sure they were not pinning for a prolonged adolence!

  • lf

    Yes, I am 25 and I am coping with the fact that I’m not “young” anymore. I’m actually a real adult, not a young adult, and other peers of mine feel the same way. In some ways I am more mature than others my age in terms of the development of my values, but functionally, I am still very behind, as I still live at home and am finishing a degree in Nursing.

    I find prolonged adolescence a real problem in my generation because some people just keep going to school and not knowing what they want to do. I think many of us weren’t given direction in life. I also agree with Pastor Geiser below: for those of us with childhood traumas, the early 20s are a time when in really comes out and it makes it difficult and can delay growing up. It’s a real crossroads.

    But I totally agree. I think society lowers the standards for young adults. We need standards, and if society starts thinking that your not really grown up until age 25, it’s going to send the wrong message. My biggest fear is wasting my life, and the more I focus on Jesus, the more productive I will be.

  • hunt3002

    The APA is simply now dealing with what neuroscience has known for a few years. The human brain does not finish developing until the age of 25. This is God’s design and a should be respected. Things to be respected is that the pathways the influence risk and decision making don’t finish fully forming until then.

  • Cecelia

    I find this an interesting find. We have 12 children. One who is 26 one who is 20, both will be living under our roof again shortly. I see some wisdom in this view only because I think some kids are “late bloomers”. Both my girls have spent time on their own and now want to be back under our roof, however they help financially and physically in the household. Our society has paved this path with “entitlement” mindsets. We have purposed with our family to teach our children at a young age to “pitch in” and that even though they are young they are valuable and have gifts that help others. This is not a popular view among many families though. There are many children I see that at age 12 have never washed a dish or done a load of laundry. These things may seem mundane, but they are not. There is a huge sense of accomplishment as children grow and they are able to do tasks and then trusted to do them. Responsibility isn’t just something that arrives through adolescence, it must be taught. At 17 years old I was a nanny for a year and was able to run a household on my own. At 21 I was married, mother at 22, 3 kids by the time I was 25. There was no room for “late adolescence” in my life. I, like you, see both some wisdom and some danger by this view. I also have special needs children and for them they may be in this stage for most of their life. They can still be taught responsibility though.