Coming of age
Recently, I came across a collection of stories about a friend of mine, who passed away in his early adulthood, including one that I wrote about our teenage years. It made me sad to think about his untimely death. He had an alcohol problem and died while drunk behind the wheel of a car. It made me reflect on my coming of age in the late 1960’s. And it made me think about young people who are coming of age today.
The 1960’s were both an exciting and a scary time. I remember watching, on our black and white TV, the new rock n roll sensation from England, perform on the Ed Sullivan show---aka “The Beatles”. It was the dawning of a new era, with new music, ideas, and dreams. I was a high school student in New York City and felt like I was at the center of the universe. It seemed like anything was possible. But it was also a scary time, with a growing war in Vietnam, the looming possibility of being drafted, and civil rights protests that were erupting everywhere.
My friends and I were like all teenagers. We thought we were smarter than everyone else. We knew that we were invincible and invulnerable. Nothing bad could happen to us! We were convinced that we outsmarted our parents at every turn. Of course, they weren’t as stupid as we thought.
And like today, not everyone made it to adulthood. One friend of mine died of a heroin overdose and another one got blown up in a townhouse in Greenwich Village making bombs. Like all teenagers, I had adventures, some of which my parents never knew about.
But what I remember the most was a feeling of optimism about the future. We believed that we could change the world. And indeed, the world ultimately did change in big ways. The Berlin wall came tumbling down, the Soviet Union fell apart, Nelson Mandela ended apartheid, and our country, just 50 years later, elected a black president. These cataclysmic changes were our dreams, and many years later, they became reality.
But what about young people today? It’s also a frightening time for them—post 9/11, regular school shootings, terrorist attacks in Europe, the war in the Middle East, global warming, and political divisiveness at home. And like all teens, they are at the height of their powers. But I don’t see the same sense of hope that I felt. Their economic world has shrunk, and they worry about how they will make a living, own a house, and support a family when they come of age. They fret about what kind of world they will inherit as adults. In the 60’s, we felt that our lives and the world was full of potential.
How can we help our children as they come of age?
Try to understand what they are thinking and feeling.
While we’re raised by our family, we are shaped by the times we grow up in. My parents grew up in the great depression, and they couldn’t understand why I wore torn jeans and long hair.
Listen to what your kids have to say—try to understand them rather than convince them their wrong. Acknowledge their feelings and concerns.
Remind them of their resourcefulness and resilience.
Our teens are stronger than they know, with many resources. Point out their strengths to them. Express confidence in their abilities
Share your experiences.
When youngsters stand on the adult stage for the first time, it’s both a heady and frightening moment. Sharing our experiences, our doubts, our fears as we came of age can help them feel more connected to the previous generation.
What we learned in our lifetime was a valuable lesson. The world can change in ways that we never imagined.