Teen and Young Adult Angst: How to help Truckee Tahoe youths transition to adulthood
November 30, 2010
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Asking questions is a normal and healthy part of growing up and growing old. Toddlers and little children do it with incessant whyand#8217;s. Adults, too, go through periodic questioning: and#8220;Why is life so hard? Why is the world unjust? What is the point of all this?and#8221; Some people question things on a daily basis, and some face the big question marks during life transitions or after losses.
These questions are important. It is essential for growth to reflect on why things are the way they are and why and how we are choosing to participate in life despite pain, fear and limited power and control. This questioning allows us to engage with life in a way that fits us and brings us meaning.
As teens and 20-somethings move into adulthood and are expected to begin participating as full members of society, they might develop a range of difficult questions. and#8220;Why participate in a world that is unfair? Why take my place as a powerless nothing in this messed up country? Why care about people when it just sets you up to feel pain? Why try to belong to a society that does not accept me for who I am? Why do anything when it makes no difference?and#8221;
Young people are often not yet at a point to identify or articulate their big questions. Instead, these questions can lurk beneath rebellious and impulsive behaviors, loathing of parents, withdrawal and silence and intense emotionality. The questions might also be underneath a surface of the and#8220;perfectand#8221; child, who achieves in school, extra-curricular activities and has great friends and a good attitude.
Bringing these questions to light is an important part of supporting our teens and young adults. When these questions are buried, young people may feel there is something wrong with them for having these thoughts. They can turn against themselves with self-hatred and shame. We can help by telling our young people, even when they are not directly asking, it is normal and healthy to have difficult questions.
It is also essential we offer help for young people to move forward through this questioning process, instead of getting stuck and feeling hopeless. By providing proper support, we give the young person a chance to successfully move toward a healthy adulthood.
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Young people need help to learn how to deal with the dark parts of life and with the experiences of powerlessness all humans share. They need help to figure out how to use the power they do have and how to take their place as participating members of society in a way that honors their unique self.
They could also need help with issues that arise during this transitional time and get in the way of their ability to move forward, such as underlying psychological vulnerabilities, the effects of current or past abuse.
Some parents might already know how to support their child through this process. Others may need some input and guidance. A mental health professional with training and experience in helping young people through the adulthood transition can help parents learn and practice effective ways to talk about these questions with their child. Often, parents may need support to go through their own questioning process, and face their own fears of powerlessness, before they can be of help.
Parents can also get information from a professional about how to identify when more serious issues are getting in the way and how to get them appropriate educational, psychiatric or psychological help.
A lot of young people donand#8217;t want to talk about this stuff with their parents. In that case, parents can set up a meeting for their child with a professional who is skilled in supporting young people through this process and with whom their child feels comfortable and able to talk openly.
Because it is hard to know from the surface whether a young person is struggling with these questions, parents can periodically open the door to opportunities for their child to talk to them or to someone else, and trust that he or she will use that opportunity.
All of us who have relationships with young people can help by sharing our own stories of getting though times when we faced difficult questions. We can talk about how and why we choose to keep going and participating in life in the face of the reality that sometimes tragic and terrible things happen even when we try our best. We can talk about how we use the power we do have, and try to make peace with the powers we donand#8217;t have.
Keep reminding our young people, and ourselves, it is normal and healthy to question, that many of us need some help, and exploring these questions together is an essential part of forming a healthy human community.
and#8212; Danielle B. (Klotzkin) Grossman, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, provides psychotherapy for clients who are looking for a way to move forward through relationship issues, problems with alcohol, drugs, or managing money, eating and body issues, trauma, grief and loss, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Contact her at 530-470-2233 or truckeecounseling.com.
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