Escaping the Endless Adolescence
How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old
Publication Date: October 20, 2009
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Do you sometimes wonder how your teen is ever going to survive on his or her own as an adult? Does your high school junior seem oblivious to the challenges that lie ahead? Does your academically successful nineteen-year-old still expect you to “just take care of” even the most basic life tasks?
Welcome to the stunted world of the Endless Adolescence. Recent studies show that today’s teenagers are more anxious and stressed and less independent and motivated to grow up than ever before. Twenty-five is rapidly becoming the new fifteen for a generation suffering from a debilitating “failure to launch.” Now two preeminent clinical psychologists tell us why and chart a groundbreaking escape route for teens and parents.
Drawing on their extensive research and practice, Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen show that most teen problems are not hardwired into teens’ brains and hormones but grow instead out of a “Nurture Paradox” in which our efforts to support our teens by shielding them from the growth-spurring rigors and rewards of the adult world have backfired badly. With compelling examples and practical and profound suggestions, the authors outline a novel approach for producing dramatic leaps forward in teen maturity, including
• Turn Consumers into Contributors Help teens experience adult maturity–its bumps and its joys–through the right kind of employment or volunteer activity.
• Feed Them with Feedback Let teens see and hear how the larger world perceives them. Shielding them from criticism–constructive or otherwise–will only leave them unequipped to deal with it when they get to the “real world.”
• Provide Adult Connections Even though they’ll deny it, teens desperately need to interact with adults (including parents) on a more mature level–and such interaction will help them blossom!
• Stretch the Teen Envelope Do fewer things for teens that they can do for themselves, and give them tasks just beyond their current level of competence and comfort.
Today’s teens are starved for the lost fundamentals they need to really grow: adult connections and the adult rewards of autonomy, competence, and mastery. Restoring these will help them unlearn their adolescent helplessness and grow into adults who can make you–and themselves–proud.
Joseph Allen, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and the director of clinical training at the University of Virginia and a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in working with adolescents. In an ambitious ninety-classroom study funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, Allen is currently collaborating on a teacher-training project designed to improve students’ engagement, motivation, and, ultimately, their academic performance.
Claudia Worrell Allen, Ph.D., J.D., is an associate professor and the director of behavioral science in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Virginia. For fifteen years she has been a licensed clinical psychologist with an active private practice for adolescents and their families.
Married and the parents of three preteen and teenage children, the Allens live in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"Adolescents are actually two people in one—a regressed child and an emergent adult. For too long parents and experts alike have concentrated on the former to the detriment of the latter. Thankfully, the Allens have refocused attention back to what matters most for teenagers today—the emergent adult they are striving to become. This book is simultaneously a wake up call and a breath of fresh air for parents. A delightful read that quickly gives one a more hopeful perspective on any teenager."—Mike Riera, Ph.D., author of Field Guide to the American Teenager and Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers
“This superb and timely book describes a very real and troubling problem while treating teens and parents with empathy and respect. The authors demolish several widely accepted myths about adolescents and offer practical strategies to help young people become productive, responsible, and caring adults.”— Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., co- author, So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids
"I hear often from parents whose teenagers are disengaged or withdrawn. They have a hard time caring what other kids think, or what society expects of them. They're having a hard time playing the game of resume-building for a far-off future. Now I have the perfect book to recommend: Escaping the Endless Adolescence."—Newsweek.com
"Psychologists Allen and Allen begin their important and far-reaching work by asking when 25 became the new 15. Why, in other words, are more and more young people unable to launch successfully into adulthood, returning home after college and becoming known as the "boomerang generation"?... They persuasively argue for a greater role for adolescents in adult society, one with more responsibility and exposure to adulthood. An outstanding contribution to the literature."—Library Journal