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Monthly Reflection on the Community

The Beautiful and Challenging Song of Adolescence by VP Marjorie B. Lewis, PhD., D. Min., LMFT, LAC
April 11th, 2024

I recall a comment made by one of my colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University which seemed outside of her temperament as a kind individual who never spoke adversely about people, places or events.  She was referring to her teenage daughter who was descending her stairway.  The comment was, “This thing is coming down my steps.”  
Initially, I had no clue about whom she was speaking.  If I had taken her literally, I would have called the authorities to intervene for her protection.  Then I realized she was referring to her daughter.  I concluded, surely, she must be kidding.  While I had not engaged with her 14-year-old daughter since she was about 10 years old, it was hard to conceive her mother referring to her in that manner.  I knew her as a polite, considerate, kind child who was a joy to be around.  

All of my recollection did not temper the resolve with which my colleague referred to her teenage daughter.  Since that conversation, through years of experience in behavioral modification, including the developmental implications of adolescence, I understand her vantage point.  Further insight also provides confirmation of the appropriateness of the very behavior that motivated the comment from my colleague regarding her beloved child.  The bottom line is that she was no longer a child and had emerged into puberty with all of the daunting challenges therein.  

I am happy to say that today, she is a thriving adult because her parents, grandparents, other elders, school teachers/administrators, other stakeholders in our macrosystems gently guided her through this stage.  In her case, and every other example of this transformation, it was and is a challenge both to the adolescents, and systems involved in their transformation into adulthood.  This adolescent was insulated from the ramifications of micro and macrosystemic miss steps along her transitional process such that she benefitted from powerful resiliency factors insuring her resolution of traumatic implications along the way.
Her success was a function of appropriated care and guidance including the investment of time and patience from her family support system, her school system, her neighborhood, and other networks.  While the dynamics of her success are no secret, they are too often obscured from many of us for a variety of reasons.  We could complain about the lack of awareness and insight into this mysterious developmental phase of our adolescence; however, what good would that do.  It is common knowledge regarding the need for a specialized approach to guiding our children, youth and adolescents into adulthood.  
As a community, we are rising to the occasion of responding to the universal needs of all of our adolescents in order for them to safely transition into adulthood.  The effort is daunting and yet we have no alternative but to rise to the occasion from a variety of dimensions and perspectives.  There is no one model to which we can subscribe.  Awareness of and insight into the adolescent culture is an essential first step.  However, it is only a first step.  We must realize that all of our adolescents are not represented through one adolescent cohort.  While some of the challenges of this period are universal, other culturally informed factors are not.    
Her daughter’s emergence into adolescence, with all of the parental frustrations is typical.  We all have seen it.  We all have experienced the challenges directly as teens and vicariously as adults living, working, and otherwise encountering teens.  Our adolescents are not things, they are humans going through a transition.  The issue is not with them as much as it is with our lack of capacity to guide them through this crucial process of their development.  In other words, the teens are not the problem, our lack of capacity in understanding this phase of their lives and at one time this phase of our lives is the problem.

As adults, especially those of us who were privileged to be navigated through this stage of our lives in safety, we often forget what it was like to be a teen.  Without guidance, we would not have moved through the adolescent process relatively intact. 
Another component associated with the song of America is to understand the dynamics, of adolescence in order to guide our future safely into adulthood.  It is a comprehensive rewiring process requiring intervention for families, friends, neighbors, public institutions (educational, criminal justice), and other social entities.  

In closing, know that our teens are often identified as dangers to society, they are exactly as they should be.  It is our challenge as adults to enhance our insights and awareness of this phase in the development of our youth so that we can collaborate in their safe navigation into adulthood.  It is our challenge to balance the destructive results of misguidance replacing such with resilience variables of intervention.  Our course this is easier said than done.  While this reflection does not address these answers, we can start with an inspiration to continue our quest to do so.

Let’s guide and correct them as they too sing their beautiful song of America.  Let’s achieve it by enhancing our insights into the reality that they are exactly where they should be neurologically, physically and even behaviorally.  Their needs are universal and yet culturally unique.  Let’s address it as both a private and public matter.  It is worth the investment.  It is essential to our survival as a community and as a nation as they too learn how to Sing America.