Adolescence as a Season for Growth
Debbie S. Harrison, M.S.
Staff Counselor/St. Paul Site Coordinator
Samaritan Counseling Centers
The rhythm of nature's seasons offers a rich metaphor for understanding the seasons of our own life journeys. As we enter the spring, for example, we are bedazzled by the abundance of growth. The trees and the lawns turn green again, flowers and plants begin to blossom. Such natural change is best understood as part of a seasonal wholeness, where autumn and spring, winter and summer, each offer unique changes necessary to ongoing growth. From this perspective, perhaps we can consider our adolescence as a kind of spring, offering bedazzling (if not confounding!) new growth. For those of us seeking to nurture this new growth, what kinds of practical support best serve the network of relationships that includes parents, teachers, counselors, and friends?
Relationships with adolescents first require patience. Patience is necessary in order to be effective as a listener or speaker. Quite often one must sit back and patiently wait for adolescents to come to you. By creating space for them to make the first move, you indicate that you trust them, and their sense of timing and sharing. This is one way to establish a relationship in which communication is a mutual, two-way street.
In addition to developing patience, fostering independence with adolescents promotes the growth of self-identity and of responsibility. Because of adolescents' natural struggles with independence and dependence, and with autonomy and intimacy, they often appear to be swinging back and forth between childhood and adulthood. During this time, adolescents are forming their self-identity through dress, music, and peer friendships, and these are often the testing grounds. As their moods swing, it is difficult to judge what is or what is not important to them. If we see this testing as most often a struggle because they are caught in the middle between independence and dependence, we see their wanting more freedom and more responsibility as growth, because they often feel 'almost grown.' A "small step approach" is often effective in fostering independence. This is a process where independence is earned a little bit at a time. Parents, teachers, counselors and adult friends must strike a fine balance between encouraging independence on the one hand, and offering guidance and establishing boundaries on the other. The aim here is to allow them to begin to feel independent at a good pace, slowly and gradually, not an overwhelming "all at once."
Finally, genuineness is required to support adolescents' natural growth. When dealing with adolescents, they almost mystically know whether or not you are sincere. This genuineness can be expressed through empathy, active listening, and offering unconditional positive regard. These behaviors indicate to adolescents a positive affirmation for them as human beings, an ingredient we all need for growth and wholeness. By developing patience, fostering independence, and offering genuineness to adolescents, we support their growth and change. As the spring season ushers in new life, so adolescence ushers in new life for our next generation.
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