What if? What if we could make adolescence a chapter in the history books – not the disorder of future generations?
What if “adolescence free” helped create an “anxiety free,” “learning disability free,” and “bully free” world?
What if an “adolescence free” generation writes the last sentence in the sex-trafficking chapter in world history?
Understanding the roots of adolescence helps us connect these bold questions with this false tradition that many now believe is the “norm” for young persons, ages 12 – almost 30.
Because we created this disorder – we can re-order our world without it.
If you’ve not read the first blog in this series – about the conception of adolescence in American history, you may find it helpful to read that post and understand the cause.
Here’s a quote from this previous post, listing the historical ingredients that gave birth to what we now call “adolescence:”
“Never in history had we experimented with this recipe. And now we’ve watched the effects of this combination of ingredients for more than 50 years.
- protection from struggle; labels when struggle is apparent
- access to pain relief when life is not deeply satisfying
- shame with the struggle of puberty
- few opportunities to be mentored – and to learn, in relationship, what real life requires of adults
- few opportunities to mentor others
Because these are the key ingredients that gave birth to adolescence, we can replace them with “maturity-producing” ingredients – and we can make adolescence history.
Yes, it’s that simple.
Making adolescence history requires we begin to be intentional about these five ingredients that produce a mature life:
- Make sure young children experience shame free struggle on a regular basis. (Struggle is different from trauma.)
- Protect children from diagnostic labels during seasons of struggle; we must help children take struggle seriously, but not personally. Our struggle is not our identity.
- Teach children to resolve the pain of struggle by working through what is difficult and uncomfortable with the help of someone they trust – and protect them from too quickly medicating the pain of struggle (with candy, a screen game, or avoiding the struggle)
- Provide many opportunities for mentoring relationships – while learning what real life requires of adults
- Provide many opportunities for maturing young persons to mentor others who are less mature than themselves.
These ingredients are simple – but not easy in our modern culture. These five ingredients happen naturally in “the real world.”
This blog post will address the first of these key ingredients: struggle.
Struggle isn’t hard to find. Babies struggle to hold up their heads, roll over, and sit up. Toddlers struggle to walk, run, and gain coordination of body parts! Young children struggle as the learn to talk, and follow instructions.
As parents, we’re pretty comfortable with the health benefits of our babies’ first struggles. It’s true – we hurt when they hurt, but it’s not until our children repeatedly refuse to be redirected, and repeatedly refuse to follow the rules that we begin to really struggle with their struggle.
As young children continue to insist on their own way, we too often hijack maturity by protecting them from the struggle of obedience – in two primary ways:
- We stop asking them to do what they don’t want to do; we just do it for them or pay someone else to do it. Or we let the task remain undone. (Ex. – making up their bed, cleaning their bathroom, taking a bath, brushing teeth, doing laundry, putting dishes in the dishwasher, mowing the yard…)
- We settle for compliance instead of obedience. This happens when we say, “I’ll give you this if you’ll do that.” These “incentives” reduce the struggle of “trust and obey.”
- We can also hijack maturity — when we add shame to the struggle.We say, “Shame on you!” “Why can’t you…?” “Haven’t I told you…?” “What’s wrong with you?”
Children don’t mature if they don’t “trust and obey.” This is a scientific fact – and a Biblical one.
Physical, emotional, and spiritual maturity requires these hormones:
- healthy serotonin, and
- healthy dopamine.
These hormones are only produced in trusting, loving relationships; they are produced when mature persons help less mature persons in the midst of a struggle.
Oxytocin is always “healthy;” oxytocin is the love hormone. It is produced when we trust, bond, and reach out to others.
Serotonin and dopamine can be released with or without relationships. When these hormones are released outside of healthy relationships – they are addictive in unhealthy ways and are counter productive; when these hormones are experienced in healthy relationships, they help build maturity.
Compliance, instead of obedience, hijacks the intended benefits of serotonin and dopamine.
Cortisol is the hormone of compliance, fear, and shame; cortisol is responsible for unhealthy stress, learning problems, anxiety disorders, addictions, depression, and physical illnesses. (The Gift in You, by Dr. Caroline Leaf, p. 145)
It’s important to pause here – to reflect on why we, as parents, are ok with babies struggling as they learn to sit up and crawl, but we quickly become “not ok” with our children’s struggle with obedience.
We’re not ok with this struggle in our children – because disobedience in our children ignites our own shame stories. We don’t like seeing our struggles played out in their lives. Their struggles trigger our own unresolved issues.
The authors of “The Cure and Parents” state this idea very clearly inside Episode One:
“When your children are young, being the parent carries enough control to handle them. But if you don’t grow up as they grow older, your immaturity will stunt their maturity at the level of your own. And no measure of control can handle that.
Parenting exposes unresolved issues we might otherwise ignore or be perpetually unaware of. Like it or not, those we love tend to most often reveal unresolved issues in us.”
As frustrating as this may seem, the answer to our own immaturity is the same as the answer to our children’s immaturity. The same ingredients work in our lives, too.
Just like our children, we also need:
- to experience shame-free struggle on a regular basis. Parenting provides plenty of struggle; healthy relationships can protect us from shame.
- protection from invalid identities; we need to be reminded who we really are – even on our worst day. You are not a loser. You are not a bad parent. You’re right on time – and in need of help, just like everyone else.
- to work through struggles with the help of others we trust – instead of medicating the pain of our unresolved struggles with screens or other addictions.
- mentoring from more mature parents who have gone before us and who can offer us wisdom and strength.
- opportunities to share what we are learning with those a few years behind us on the parenting journey.
My friends who wrote The Cure and The Cure & Parents call this recipe: grace.
Grace is so much more than forgiveness. Grace always expresses itself as love (oxytocin!); love is a process of meeting needs. Grace is a shame free identity; it is wisdom, and strength (healthy serotonin and dopamine!)
Grace is the fuel of maturity.
In a community of grace, it is no longer necessary for any young child to anticipate a season of adolescence; instead, it is realistic for them to look forward to stepping from childhood into the life of a young adult.
Grace is the treatment that can make adolescence history.
Look for future blog posts that address the other four key ingredients in the grace recipe. Watch, too, for posts that connect these ideas back to the bold questions offered in the introduction of this post.
Please be a part of this conversation – and experience our online community of grace. We learn, too, from your comments, considerations, and questions.
We all struggle, so we all need grace. Trust is a good response to grace. Grace changes everything. Gather grace and carry on, friends.
Together, we can make adolescence history – even our own!