“Humans have been turning 13 for tens of thousands of years, but only recently did it occur to anybody that the bridge between childhood and adulthood deserved its own name”[i].
The social phenomena of the adolescent and the teenager is essentially new. The concept of the teenager is 80 years old. The concept of the adolescent is older in respect of being the transition from child to adult. The usage of the term adolescent matches the time span of the term teenager in respect of being a Western social phenomenon.
Only from the 1940s is there the increased recognition of the phenomenon known as the teenager/adolescent as a period of human and social development.
The YAA transformation to adulthood requires
“a time to break free of parental moulds as they seek out their own individuality” [ii]
The YAA develops their self-identity in the breaking free. Therefore there needs to be in a mould to break free from.
Our current generation of YAA has a mould that is unclear, confusing, and often without recognition leaving the the YAA without focus and direction. The YAA is without a target or reference point to navigate by. The parenting generation of today's YAA have fewer boundaries, rules and demands against which the YAA might resist and fight. The greater acceptance of the YAA's status and personal wishes and needs has led to a much more undifferentiated acceptance from the parent. The YAA is less able to differentiate an imposed parental attitude from their own developing active choices. The parental attitude is infused with acceptance of the YAA but also the impositions from the previous generation of of the parent.
The YAA is also wrestling with the contradictory nature of individualism and the underlying human given of ‘need for the other’. Often the conflict is too soon resolved with an either-or solution in that the YAA develops their Self to be:
· overly including of others resulting in a lack of ‘I’ and too much ‘other’ (too giving)
versus the other extreme of
· overly excluding others resulting in too much of ‘I’ and a lack of ‘other’ (too taking)
The adolescent wrestles with: overly including of others resulting in a lack of ‘I’ and too much ‘other’ and the other extreme of overly excluding others resulting in too much of ‘I’ and a lack of ‘other’.
This is not a surprising situation in our Western culture that promotes individualism over collectivism. There is no definitive promotion of our individual and collective being that meets the needs of the individual AND society. What we have are compromises that are determined by those to which we have given decision making powers to. The (at the time of writing) ongoing BREXIT situation radically highlights the failure to meet voiced decisions of the larger collective. This is the structure of the society we have explicitly and implicitly created. The conflict of identity in the BREXIT situation is mirrored in the developmental world of the YAA. With the individual need to differentiate, how does this play out against a social background of conformism in society? The initiating position pre-BREXIT was a cultural and social conformitism (at the layer above the political/social differentiation) that we of the UK are not different. To feel at odds with the EEC left the UK feeling adrift and powerless with their 'parent'
As with BREXIT the YAA begins with a situation of being the same with the parent and the position for the YAA is too often to feel adrift and powerless. How might the YAA stamp out their own identity when the values and views are the same as the parenting generation? The YAA has less availability to say “look, I am me, different from you”.
The YAA needs to negotiate their identity in a complex tangle of defining criteria in which there is the need to ‘differentiate from’ and to ‘conform to’. Hand in hand with any identification comes the friction of differentiation. All change requires destruction, as in de-structure, and creativity, as in creating anew.
Fundamentally the YAA must navigate the rejecting and integrating of values and traditions in which they are immersed and in so doing also negotiate – or not – the pressures and conflicted needs of the parent. (The letting go by the parent/other is also fraught with their own anxiety and needs and will reflect the inter-generational bonds).
As I write this my sense is of an underlying theme that exists for the rebellious demand of (and for) change through the generations. This fundamentally is about the establishment of self identity in a collective AND the need to attend to the development of the collective. Encompassing the Paradoxical Theory of Change[iii] shifts the seeking the usual seeking ‘a change from’ and instead encompasses a sense of being and self-identity as simply ‘this is what is’ that leads to organic changes.
As I develop my thinking around this I also want to explore the opportunity for the YAA to ‘impact the other’ and how this might be negatively or positively actioned. Also how the YAA of today does suffer from reduced, or lack of, hope for, and in, their future, and our collective future.
Throughout this blogging there is an underlying theme. A theme without name; an implication of relational structure and society. A theme that is a structure that goes beyond the parent and YAA dynamic and is a parallel process. The self-defining of the individual is mirrored in the self-defining of the family; in the self-defining of the friendship group; of the peer group; and so forth to the self-defining of the societal group; of the cultural group; and the nationality group, as well as ethnic, religious etc groups.
[i] https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2018/02/brief-history-teenagers/ February 13, 2018, accessed 18 April 2019
[ii] Absence Is the Bridge Between Us: Gestalt Therapy Perspective on Depressive Experiences (Gestalt Therapy Book Series Vol. 4) (Italian Edition) (Kindle Location 8013). Istituto di Gestalt HCC Italy. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Beisser, A., 1970. Paradoxical theory of change. In: Gestalt Therapy Now. Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Books, pp. 77-80.