The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


April 26, 2013

Adolescence often traumatic, becoming more complex

Point Blank

Increasingly, they are becoming the “forgotten generation.” They are the teenage sons and daughters of 21st century parents, now stepping uneasily into an unsteady adult world.

Because many of them have divorced parents or because both parents work, they essentially are raising themselves with sometimes scary consequences. When they want advice, they usually turn to their peers instead of their parents.

Some even claim that their parents have failed them. And though sex and drugs are readily available if they want them, what they really want is — they say — someone to talk to.

One of my former students complained to her mom that I gave too much homework, and that was the reason she stayed up until the wee hours every night. When I confronted the young woman privately, she confessed that she stayed up all night talking to and texting her boyfriend because she was lonely. She just wanted someone to listen.

Experts in adolescent psychology, meanwhile, agree with the teens. Even in the most stable times, they say, the physical, intellectual, and emotional changes of adolescence are difficult.

And now, with adult society moving too fast for the next generation to climb aboard, adolescence is often traumatic, especially with the tragic inability or refusal of parents to deal with teen suffering.

Out in America’s promised land, in the suburbs, villages and communities where most parents raise their families, there are increasing signs of a self-destructive, violent and perverse discontent among the children of our society.

A survey of recent magazines and Internet sources reveals that the world of adolescents is becoming more complex and challenging than perhaps any other time in history.

Here are some of the reasons why:

“Adolescence is a transitional state,” writes Joseph Reimer, a retired assistant professor of education at Boston University. “You’re neither fish nor fowl. A lot of things are changing at once. There are body changes, hormonal changes, changes in thought patterns. Teens are bombarded with information from a variety of sources, most of which they obtain from their Smart Phones and computers.”

Reimer continues, “They (teens) begin to sense their world with more complexity and more self-consciousness. There are also social changes. Teens begin to move away from identification with the family and toward identification with their peers.”

Adolescence is harder now for several reasons, according to psychologists. There are changes in family structure. Many parents are divorced, separated or remarried. Many teens grow up in single-parent environments, or they may be shuttled between one divorced parent and another.

There are the boyfriends and girlfriends of parents that kids have to deal with. Even worse, their parents may be too busy to notice what the kids are doing. As a result, teens may lack an important sense of safety.

And one of the things that make adolescence harder today is a feeling that things are not going to get better. If you listen to what many high school students are saying these days, you learn that they are not expecting to live as well as their parents do.

Kids also feel that if they do poorly in school, they have failed to live up to their parents’ ideals and expectations.

These youngsters have all kinds of input that help them define what is successful and fulfilling in life, but the definitions are often confusing. There are their parents’ expectations and their school’s expectations — both of which are adult authority expectations — and students often strive for acceptance and approval.

At the same time, there are a whole set of television and movie images of what it is to be a successful, attractive, and admired person — as well as a set of images that are even more articulate: peer expectations.

If we go back 30 years, we see that we have an increase in the rate of adolescence suicide, which could suggest a breakdown in traditional family values and the increasing pressure on adolescents for more self-reliance at earlier ages.

There is also a major shift in what is happening to our culture because of the influx of drugs. As a result, kids today see a society that is not in control and so they question authority.

Many claim that their parents have failed them by placing their own careers and relationships above parenting. Perhaps these same kids are experiencing the fallout of their parents’ unhappiness because the American dream has eluded them.


Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail:


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