Today’s Teens and the Long, Slow Road to Adulthood.
Published: May 1, 2018
By: Paige Townley
Today’s teens aren’t like those of previous generations. Unlike many previous generations that were anxious to grow up, teens today are having none of it. In fact, they are putting off adulthood completely, delaying everything from getting a job and driving to drinking and sex.
One recent study noted that today’s 18 year olds are living more like 15 year olds. Among 12th grade students surveyed from 2010-2016, the study revealed that compared to previous decades, only 73 percent had a driver’s license (down from 88 percent), 55 percent worked for pay (down from 76 percent), 67 percent drank (down from 93 percent) and 63 percent dated (down from 86 percent). In addition, today’s teens are sending an average of 60 texts a day and are looking at a screen roughly 7.5 hours a day.
So why are today’s teens refusing to grow up? Psychologists and therapists offer many various reasons, one being the fact that today’s teens deal with more on a daily basis than previous generations. “Teens legitimately have more to process and navigate than any generation before,” says Dr. Tim Thayne, a marriage and family therapist and author. “They have more distractions and quagmires – addictive substances and processes like gaming and social media – than we can imagine.”
Another reason kids today are avoiding adulting is rather simple: they don’t have to. Parents are doing everything for them, adds Dr. Vivian Friedman, a child and family psychologist at UAB. “Parents enable their children to choose not to work and protect them from consequences,” she says. “The amount of allowance given to children in many families takes away the need to earn money on their own.”
Angela Camp, national coordinator of adolescent and emerging adult marketing for Bradford Health Services, echoes the issue of many parents today not requiring kids to grow up. “I think a lot of it today comes from a place where you want your kids to have it better than you did,” Camp says. “When you operate from that place, it’s very easy to slip into the place of doing everything for your child and giving them everything. It feels good to the parent – it fulfills their need to be needed – and to the child’s perspective it feels good being taken care of, at least for a while.”
Though eventually, Camp adds, the child’s appreciation of having things done for them turns into negative consequences. “Over time the child can internalize that as they are still a baby, the world is scary, and their parents wouldn’t be doing so much for them if they were capable of doing it on their own, so I must not be capable of doing things myself,” she says. “That’s not the message the parent is trying to send, but over time that’s how a kid perceives it.”
Parents also tend to sometimes “run interference” for their kids, Camp adds, which provides a second message to their child: nothing is ever their fault. “When I was growing up, if I failed a test, I was in trouble when I got home because I should have known to study and be prepared,” she explains. “Nowadays when that happens, many parents send an email or make a phone call or go up to the school to talk to the teacher about why he or she is picking on their child – even asking if their child can retake the test. You don’t get do-overs in the world. That’s not how it works. So kids don’t have to experience the fallout from bad behavior or lack of action. It’s telling the child that nothing is their fault and if something happens, their parents will get them out of trouble.”
These scenarios are contributing to the issue of teens not growing up, and they are also setting up situations that can make being an adult even harder for them. When kids aren’t prepared to be out in the real world and interact with others as healthy, functional, and capable people, they oftentimes get to college and struggle. “If they haven’t learned resiliency or the coping skills needed to deal with the bumps in the road life throws at you, that can send them into a tailspin,” Camp says. “That leads to either dropping out of school and going on or finding ways to get rid of their anxiety to go away, and that’s where substance abuse can sneak in.”
Bradford Health Services has created a new age group to help those in this particular adolescent group to deal with substance abuse when it arises and brought in a licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Adams Downs, to work specifically with these young and emerging adults. But before an adolescent potentially needs professional help, there is a lot parents can do to help their children avoid falling into the “never grow up” state of mind. Parents can start by treating their children the age they are.
When parents don’t see their young adults for the age they are, parents are handicapping them, Camp says. “Many parents of adolescents who are 18 to 20 years old are still looking at their child like they are nine or 10 years old,” she says. “That means they treat them as a kid instead of as the young adult they are.”
Another pitfall many parents need to avoid is not letting teens do things for themselves that they are fully capable of doing. That can mean doing schoolwork or simple tasks around the house like washing clothes, cooking, budgeting, or even making a bed. “Parents should consider a task they do for their child and ask themselves: what level of functioning are you keeping the child in because you haven’t asked them to step up?” Thayne explains. “Remember that a core principle of development is exposure to different situations that may tax the cognitive, social, and physical abilities of the person. What activities, situations, or scenarios are there that we tend to think are over the head of our teen but we’ve never even allowed them to attempt to try?”
Parents can proactively help their teens more smoothly transition into adulthood by helping them build resiliency while they are still at home, Camp adds. That means allowing the child to suffer the consequences of their own actions. “It’s one of the most difficult things to do as parents, but that will help them build coping skills to deal with life’s bumps in the road,” she says. “That also means giving them a little bit of freedom to experience life and make some decisions for themselves before they leave home.”
A beneficial method parents can utilize to help their child build resiliency and prepare for adulthood is to consider the skills needed for independent living and create a plan with their child that includes a schedule for training them on those things. And just as significant is encouraging them to succeed and grow, notes Friedman. “Parents should assess their child realistically and steer them toward achievable goals,” she says. “Be proud of any level of achievement they make. Don’t knock down goals that are realistic and honorable.”
For more information about substance abuse, call Bradford Health Services’ Angela Camp at 205-244-2960 or visit www.bradfordhealth.com.