Opinion & Essays
- Jun, 1997 Issue #46
by: Lon Woodbury
A few weeks ago, a friend told me his daughter still felt some resentment
towards me for my role in helping him find an intensive wilderness program for her. She had been a classic case of being so out-of-control
she undermined every attempt by her family or local resources to intervene. Every time her father tried to exert some control, or
she thought nothing exciting was happening and was getting bored with being at home, she hit the streets for up to weeks on end. It
got so bad she would come home only long enough to eat, sleep and rest up, and then she was gone again. Only locks and/or chains could
have kept her from her self-destructive actions, and her parents acting as jailors would have been just about as bad as what she was
already doing to herself.
Since she completed the wilderness experience, every time I’ve stopped by
their house she has always been pleasant and friendly toward me. But when her father asked her one day how she felt about me, she
told him, “I got a lot out of the wilderness experience, and I know I needed it. I’m glad I did it,” she added, “but, he helped set
up the end of my childhood, and that was hard.”
She has a good point. Growing up is tough!! And, the longer it is delayed,
the harder it becomes.
It is a long, complicated road to transition from birth to mature adulthood.
Helping a child successfully navigate that road is one of the hardest, and most rewarding jobs a mother and father can ever undertake.
But parents have to keep firmly in mind that Childhood’s End is the goal.
For example, as an infant explores and experiences the world , he/she must
learn about personal boundaries and that he/she is not the center of the universe. The road to becoming a mature adult requires the
ability to accept others as equally autonomous individuals. The adolescent who still thinks they have a right to have all their demands
met without question is the obnoxious teenager who will be disappointed, and is still in his/her childhood, and needs some kind of
A young child’s world is magical. Wishes and wants are the currency of this
world. An unseen Santa Claus brings exactly the presents the child wants. Adults have powers to do what the child is not yet able
to understand. So the child explains all this by magic. When the child learns how consequences work, and grasps the concept of cause
and effect, the child has reached Childhood’s End and becomes a young adult. The adolescent who is still thinking magically will say
things like, “When I turn 18, everything will be OK,” or “Employers don’t like to hire kids because they don’t like us,” or “We wanted
money, and will go wherever it is and do what it takes to get it.” Thinking like this in an adolescent can be destructive and dangerous,
and needs some kind of intervention.
A young child is dependent. A mature adult is independent, and interdependent.
There is a world of difference between these, and the child must move from one to the other over the years of growing up. An adolescent
who is still thinking “dependent” will be angry over unmet expectations, and has not yet reached Childhood’s End.
The above transitions, and many others, are normal transitions every functioning
mature adult has successfully navigated. Most societies have a “Rite Of Passage” to symbolize the transition through Childhood’s End.
Not having this ritual in our society makes the transition less visible and more abstract. But, even without a “Rite Of Passage,”
successfully navigating Childhood’s End is as vital as ever.
When an adolescent is still thinking like a child, some kind of intervention
is needed to make up for missed lessons. In essence, the child did not “Grow Up” totally, and concerted action is needed to make up
the deficiencies. Usually, remedial action by parents is sufficient, often drawing on local resources such as ministers, counselors,
or local programs. But, when the behavior based on childish thinking, such as the daughter of my friend, is self-destructive and extreme,
a residential solution is often needed. In cases like her's, it was her thinking and assumptions as to how the world worked that was
the problem. She didn’t need treatment or a therapeutic solution. She just needed an exercise into “Back To Basics” in growing up.
In her case, it worked. And it was hard. And, I guess she has a right to
mourn a little bit. That’s because all of us miss, at least a little bit, the end of those magical, self-centered days before Childhood’s
Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)