How to support young adult adolescents

Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School Psychologist

The adolescent period has been expanded to include the mid-twenties. Yes, that is right. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine  defines adolescence as the onset of puberty to mid-twenties. Puberty according to child development experts is the time in life when a boy or girl becomes sexually mature. It is a process that usually happens between ages 10 and 14 for girls and ages 12 and 16 for boys. Adolescence is a critical period in a child  young adult’s life. It’s a time when key areas of the brain mature and develop. Changes in brain structure, cognitive functioning and connectivity of brain synapses and dendrites occur during this period.

So, if you are of the Generation X or Generation Y milieu, the expansion of the adolescence period gives context to some of the oddities of observed risky behaviors during this pandemic as well as recognition of generational frailties.

If we step back for a moment, we’ll see that child development authorities segment adolescence into three distinct groups.

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Early adolescence (ages 10 to 13).  Gender identity occurs during this phase as emphasis is on bodily changes, hair growth, breast and genital development. Increased interest and anxiety about sex takes place. Dichotomist thinking prevails (right vs wrong, good vs. evil, black vs. white) as does a need for more privacy and independence from their family.

Middle adolescence (ages 14 to 17). Acne, growth spurts, voice cracks are common characteristics of this period. Sex, sexuality, romantic relationships, masturbation are of interest. The brain continues to mature and develop. Coordination of complex decision making, impulse control and consideration of multiple options and consequences begin to flourish.

Late adolescence  (ages 18- 21 and beyond). While physical development has been almost complete, they should, during this phase be “better able to gauge risks and rewards more accurately.” They begin to further refine the concept of individuation (the process of developing one’s self identity).

Parent tips

In contemplation of the global, financial and individual challenges brought about by the pandemic, social unrest, and riots, here are some tips for the parents of returning college students (home bound):

  • Be supportive.
  • Offer positive regard and mutual respect.
  • Lower levels of prejudgment.
  • Be slow to anger, quick to forgive.
  • Communicate frequently.
  • Discuss risky behaviors and resulting consequences (STD, loss of employment prospects, etc).
  • Honor the expectation of privacy.
  • Maintain a list of community, mental health and substance abuse resources, network and contacts.
  • Practice and model effective decision making and evaluation of alternatives.
  • Maintain vigilance of your child’s whereabouts.

Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com