Supporting Adolescents to Launch

Today’s world is full of stuff. Stuff we should be doing, stuff we should like, stuff we are supposed to enjoy and the list goes on. Imagine for one moment being an adolescent again… what’s it like to imagine that place???? You would probably rather not go there. So imagine now being an adolescent today. Everything about your adolescence is up for public scrutiny because there is now so much stuff to consider and decide. Now imagine trying to launch from this place of stuff…it can get awfully busy and confusing and it can affect our capacity to launch into the world with meaning, gusto, energy and hope. For many adolescents there is often a failure to launch. This has been well documented by many writers and I remain curious as to why this is. What gets adolescents stuck and afraid to move forward into their glittering exciting lives?

‘The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.”

Alden Nowlan, Canadian essayist and poet

An adolescent recently brought to me the concept of stuff and he described it as “being in a room full of stuff” and trying to decide what goes where, “it’s too much decision” he said so you just give up leave the room and close the door. He was of course referring to being completely overwhelmed and unable to make a decision about what he really needed. So how do we support adolescents to deal with all this stuff, how do we support them to choose wisely, slowly and gently? It’s a hard task that faces parents, teachers, therapists and all those who have adolescents in their lives.

Yet the slowing right down to decide what stuff I need and don’t need is crucial to their development and their capacity to launch in the right direction. How do we ask an adolescent to slow down? We get interested in the story, we learn about the story behind the story, we invite them into a space of thinking and feeling. All challenges for adolescents but all manageable. We are all responsible for this slowing down. There are none of us experts in adolescents yet we all have great deal of experience having experienced adolescence ourselves. What type of person would you have needed to help you launch, what type of crew would you have needed on board. Think for a moment what kind of therapist made have made your journey that bit easier, what did you need the adults to say or do differently in your life.

When we work with adolescents it is important to know our stuff both inside and out only then can we really get adolescence and the yearnings they have and the challenges they face in launching into the next stage of their life. When we are at home with our own strengths and limitations then we can journey with this active, imaginative, bruised, challenged and energized adolescent. We are more likely to support them when we make contact in a way which is supportive to both adolescent and adult.

So the next time you meet an adolescent who is struggling to launch consider who you need to be in their life.

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