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Self-Knowledge • Growth & Maturity

The Importance of Adolescence

It’s an enormous privilege to have an adolescence — and, to an extent rarely spoken about, not everyone gets the chance to have one. Adolescence isn’t just a particular time of one’s second decade, and it won’t unfold automatically simply when one reaches fourteen or seventeen and three quarters.

Adolescence properly understood is a state in which we’re able to explore — with courage and newfound independence — who we might be outside of the projections and mental dictates placed upon us with enormous ingenuity and great force by our parents.

Photo by Louie Castro-Garcia on Unsplash

Parents are the greatest propagandists that any of us will ever meet with – and part of their genius is that we rarely know what they are up to. Below the surface they are engaged in a ruthless and ongoing attempt to sell us a version of reality: to tell us what we are ‘really’ like, what we actually need, what life is truly about — and who they have been and what their motives are. It goes without saying that some of their ideas will be eminently correct but the function of adolescence is to take a good long look at, and deal with, the ones that aren’t.

Adolescence is an initially inarticulate and then gradually more discerning protest against everything that has come to feel false, ill-fitting and superfluously applied to our identities since we were born. We may realise, as we progress through adolescence, that we really aren’t interested in particular sides of the workplace that our parents have held in high esteem, that we don’t care about a given approach to morality or vision of politeness and goodness and that we would prefer to join the circus – or Goldman Sachs.

Good parents are secure enough not to mind, they can accept that their child may have turned into that always rather remarkable thing: a separate person. They can even take it if their children are furious for a while, try to kill them in their imaginations and see all their incompetence and stupidity without a filter of sentimentality or fear: what clever people they are to be able to perceive things so distinctly! What a tribute to one’s parenting to allow such loathing to play out!

The difficulty lies with the parents who brook no such opposition; who are too vengeful, depressed or anxious to tolerate dissent and force us to disown bits of ourselves in order to retain their love.

The good news is that it’s never too late for an adolescence. We can start to have one as soon as we realise our right to define ourselves away from parental laws. We can even do it in secret. Without spots to give things away, no one will have to know the critical task that is at play beneath our sober middle-aged facades: a belated search for our true selves.

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