What is it? Clearly it’s a psychological state of being, but it appears to be triggered off by a hormonal change. What seems to happen is that the young person, as they start to emerge into adulthood, oscillates between two states: that of wanting to be a small child: cocooned, loved and protected, and wanting to be an adult: respected for their opinions, views and contribution.
Clearly, when someone oscillates between two opposite positions, those around them can never get it right. This generates a feeling of tension between the generations, fury quite often in the adolescent, irritation in the parent.
What I am wondering now, is that the general state of annoyance which can arise in this situation is in fact an important part of the young person’s emergence into adulthood creating an energy necessary for breaking the cocoon as the caterpillar emerges to become a butterfly. What the young person needs to do is to break their own bonds of emotional dependency. While some parents may hang on to that dependency, trying to stop their young from growing up it can probably be assumed that most parents, most of the time, do in fact want their children to grow, develop and take on independence – they just want the child to take on each bit of independence in a sensible order as they acquire the skills to manage it. The emerging adult however doesn’t see it this way and wants to grab at independence as a series of shiny toys each of which offers a new and different excitement. While at the same time retaining a sort of ‘safety blanket’ of parental care and support.
No wonder there is conflict! A genuine conflict between generations but it is born of a genuine care by the parents who bemusedly try to keep track of the needs of their developing young. But this conflict is largely the result of an internal conflict experienced by the adolescent as they try to break the ties of dependency which they themselves are hanging onto.
It may be that the only way to break the ties of emotional dependence is anger. It is possible that the emerging adult needs to be angry with the parent in order to break those ties which the internal child is gripping so tightly. The role for the parent then becomes that of emotional punchball. Something for the adolescent to fight against which is less painful than fighting against their own internal child. That is never going to be easy for the parent, but parenting has never been a painless experience, this is simply a new pain but one that has to be born. Unable to fight back for fear of hurting the developing adult in their care, the parent needs some way to find comfort for their own needs. Perhaps it is some comfort simply to hang on to the recognition that it is simply the child’s protective cocoon that the emerging adult is fighting.
Hopefully, in time, a new relationship will emerge, between adult parent and grown-up child. A new kind of relationship. Achieving it may require a time of separation – for which studies at a distant university provide an excellent excuse, as does a gap year of travel abroad (even if there is no thought of university education to follow). But in this respect, these are only an excuse for a time of separation which both adolescent and parent need. A time to re-configure the way they relate to one another. A time to re-learn what love for each other means when emotional dependence is not part of the pattern. A time to grow, for the adolescent to complete their growth into adulthood and a time for the parent to grow out of the ‘parent-of-child’ pattern. We all need to grow, and perhaps we don’t realise that children can stop their parents from growing just as much as parents can stop their children from doing so.
A prayer for growth:
Let each person grow and develop in their own way, receiving from God according to their own needs so that they can fulfil the pattern which God has made, individually for them, rather than trying to fulfil a pattern which they perceive, possible falsely, to be imposed upon them by their human environment.