Beyond that first year of life, THE most growth-filled decade is from age 10 to age 20. Whether we consider physical, social, emotional, sexual, educational/vocational or spiritual factors, we’d all agree that it is an extraordinary period of life. Various theorists view it in different ways.

Psychologist Erik Erikson suggests that in life we go through a series of tug-of-wars at each stage of maturation. For example, the first year of life, he poses, the tug is between trust vs. mistrust. If the baby’s needs are met, he learns the world is a pretty good place; he can trust that he’ll be taken care of. If not, deep mistrust may mark him for life. Moving up the age range, by adolescence, Erikson proposes that young tweens are working on Identity which might sound like: Who am I? What am I good at? Am I a morning person or a night person? Am I a worker or a slacker? As the young teen begins to figure out who she is, Erikson suggests, her next developmental task is to figure out how to be in relationship with others. It would sound like: Who will like me? Will I like them? How will we act toward one another? Erikson theorizes that these two huge components of development take about a decade to get sorted. Meanwhile, as parents, we may see all sorts of mis-starts!

Dr Anna Freud, noted developmental theorist, suggests that developing from child to adult can be viewed as three major shifts across those same ten years. She says kids grow from

  • Dependence to Independence
  • Play to Work
  • ME-centeredness to OTHER-centeredness

Sometimes parents get frustrated with their teens and tweens. Why can’t they seem to get it right? Why don’t their try harder, study more, pull themselves together? Why are their decisions so….so… IMMATURE! The answer often is simple: They ARE immature. It’s hard to imagine that the behavior we see on the outside is actually often the result of the brain maturation process going on deep in their heads. They could be wearing an “Under Construction” sign so we could remember that they are!

Still, it is comforting to ask ourselves (and sometimes ask them too): what can you do now that you couldn’t do last year, the year before (complicated algebra problems? be patient with an annoying younger sib? manage self-control when grandmother asks the same question…again!) Sometimes even in the course of a six month period, a kid figures out how to manage a situation which seemed daunting only at the beginning of the semester! How he’s got it under control! How DID that happen?!?*

If you need a dose of perspective on growing up, it may help to keep in mind a quote from Michael Thompson…

Children don’t develop because they are pushed, prodded, and pressured to develop for sports teams or “good colleges.” Development is their biological and psychological imperative. It is the job of adults to create an environment where children have the time, freedom, and safety to grow up at their own pace.