Coming of Age: A Wake Up Call for Parents and Young Adults

My Dear Readers,

     It is that time of year again: graduation time.  Time to move on from high school adolescence to the world of adult expectations.  There is joy in the air.  However, there is also anxiety and fear about what may lie ahead for our soon to become young adults.

     For many, regardless of economic class, entitlement has been the rule, and now, those days may soon be coming to an end.  How will the young adults deal with the change?  More importantly, how will their parents respond?  Will they live in fear, seeking to “save” their children, or reach out and live with fear, letting them go and by doing that, encourage empowerment of both their lives (parents and children?)

Below is such a story….

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Dear Visible Man,

My spouse and I are desperately seeking assistance for our son, who is about to enter the adult world.  Unlike other parents who are happy as their children graduate from high school and move out of the family nest, we fear for his safety.  We fear for what may happen to him as he enters a world that is either openly hostile towards or fearful of him.

We thought we were doing all the right things.  We have been actively involved with cultural activities, history, arts and community and social organizations.  Our son attends a racially and culturally diverse high school.   Being a two income family unit, we are financially comfortable and thus able to afford activities such as extensive travel outside the continental United States.

We are proud of our son’s achievements.  Academically, he has done well.  He is in the college prep section in his school. He plays in the school orchestra.  He has scored high on college entrance exams and he has received offers from prestigious schools.  He is an active member of our church’s youth group.  He has never been involved in drugs, gangs, or unsafe sexual practices.

Many of our friends complain that their children are “entitled.” Our son is no different—he  carries himself with an “air of privilege.”  He wants to argue and debate with those in authority. He has the perception that to do otherwise is to be submissive.

We have taught him to be an independent thinker and advocate for himself.  However, we fear that he does not know when to “shut up” or keep his mouth closed when responding to adult authority. We have been warned by a peer who is a police officer that unless Scotty learns to keep his mouth shut and his opinions to himself he will have problems interacting with the police. My wife and I have repeatedly talked to him and all he seems to do is want to debate the issue of free speech.

We knew this day would come.  During these many years we have repeatedly questioned whether we were doing the right thing. However, those times have passed.  We are frustrated about what lies ahead for him.  Help us save our son.

Frustrated & Frightened,  Seattle WA

Dear Double F:

I can feel your fear as I read your words.  It appears that you now stand at the crossroads of life as you watch your son choose his next direction in his own life. It also appears that you are, with great reluctance, about to join a larger group of parents who are responding to internalized stimuli & stress as their children move closer, step by step to joining the adult world, a world that lies beyond the eyes of parental control.

From your letter, three objectives come to the forefront:

  • Saving your son from an hostile world
  • Saving your son from the police
  • Saving your son from himself


Objective I: Can you save Scotty from a hostile world?

Sorry, no can do.  And even if you could, I would not advise you to interfere with this process.

Scotty has yet to respond to the issue that may be most damaging to his generation, that being the idea that they have a sense of “entitlement.”  This is generally defined as the idea that one has a right to be given something which others believe should be obtained through effort.

Yes, there may be a hostile world awaiting Scotty.  There may be others who believe that the world is “dog-eat-dog,” or that survival is only reserved for the fittest.  However, there is also humanity and compassion within the world.  It is up to Scotty to utilize his own skills in identifying the good, the bad and the ugly.

One model or tool that could be utilized is the I Factor.  This model consists of five components:  inform, involve, integrate, implement and impact.  For example, as Scotty is questioning a specific incident or experience he can use the model to reflect on the following:

  • What is it about the experience that informs (alerts, excite, touch) him?
  •  How can he involve (mix) what he is being informed of with what he has been taught in the past?
  • How does he go about integrating the experience within the psychological self?
  • What actions does he take to implement the experience into his worldview?
  • How does the experience impact his perception or worldview?

The objective is not for Scotty to avoid the hostile world or making mistakes.  The objective, rather, is to learn from the experience of the interaction, turning failures into success and lessons into achievements.

Objective II: Can you save Scotty from the police?

Sorry, no can do.  And even if you could, I would not advise you to interfere with this process.

It is clear that Scotty has benefited from the secure and protected lifestyle that you and your spouse have provided.  However, this too has also provided him with a false sense of security in that he lacks the “learned skills of vigilance” by not having any interaction with members of law enforcement.

Although police officers represent authority, power and control for the larger group (society), they are also individual members of society, and thus, are impacted by the same stereotypes and prejudices that impact others in the group—and that leads to fear.

Fear.  Fear is a powerful emotion.  However, it is simply an emotion.  To maintain “balance” and having the ability to “live with fear,” one can do so by utilizing the skill of “vigilance”.  If empowered, vigilance can become an individual’s best friend.  The skill of vigilance contains five triggers: alone, abandonment, alert, aware and alive.

Since it appears that Scotty lacks that intuitive sense of vigilance, he can be at risk if and when he comes in contact with law enforcement, and may not recognize the triggers when he is faced with them.  Here are some scenarios to be watchful for:

  •  He may not realize that he could be singled out as the instigator, leader or target.  Although in a group, he is alone.
  • He may not be able to depend on those within the group to advocate on his behalf. He may be at risk of being abandoned.
  • He may not have knowledge as to the purpose of the “police stop, frisk, and interrogation” or an understanding of the possible perceptions that the police officer may have of him.  He is not alert.
  • He may not be aware of the physical positioning of the police officers.  He may not recognize the placement of their hands (on weapons) or not be attentive to the tone, mannerism or the direction of the discussion being directed by the police officer.  He is not aware.
  • He may view himself as having the same privileges as his companions.  He may want to deny the authority of the police officers.  He may seek to question, to move or waive his arms/hands or to leave the scene without consent. He is now at risk of being handcuffed, injured and perhaps dying. He is at risk of having a life altering experience.

Scotty is at risk because he does not understand that the police officer has power, authority and control. Using the tools of vigilance, Scotty must want to learn to do the following:

  • Do comply with actions of the police officer.
  • Do follow the instructions of the police officer.
  • Do speak in a respectful tone.
  • Do utilize your skills of observation.
  • Do document the incident and your concerns regarding the behavior in question.
  • Do document the following information: date, time, and location, and license-plate / vehicle identification, number of badge of police officer involved.

The objective for Scotty is not to avoid interaction with the police; rather it is for him to understand how to “balance” his internal stress when he finds himself when interacting with law enforcement.   The intended outcome is to exit the encounter without a traumatic or long term wounding experience.

Objective III: Can we save Scotty from himself?

Sorry, no can do.  And even if you could, I would not advise you to interfere with this process.

It is clear that with your assistance with involving Scotty in cultural activities, history and organizations that he has developed a healthy self and personal identity as an individual.  However, it is also clear that due to his “comfort zone” that Scotty is confused with conceptualizing himself as having being entitled to a specific way of living without having worked or earned the quality of life.

As Scotty continues to interact with the larger group, he will likely get a wakeup call when he  clearly observes a difference in how others may perceive him.  It is understandable that he may as a result become confused, conflicted as he attempts to respond to these perceptions.  How will Scotty handle the ongoing situations as these continue to impact his life?

  • Will he become angry, rejected and bitter?
  • Will he resort to using drugs or alcohol to salve the pain and discomfort?
  • Will he accept the role or place in life that the larger group has defined for him?

Concluding Comments

In all three objectives I have firmly stated the following:

“Sorry, no can do.  And even if you could, I would not advise you to interfere with this process.”

As a psychotherapist, I have made a commitment to focus on empowerment.   The best way to ensure Scotty’s failure and many of those like him is to focus on saving him and not providing opportunities for him (them) to empower himself (themselves).

This may be the biggest mistake that parents can make as they attempt to control the “Walk of Life” their adult children begin as they leave the family residence.  Should you focus on constantly saving him, who will be there to pick up the role of “savior” after you are gone?

The reality is that we cannot stop what may be harboring in someone’s heart and mind.  However, we can empower ourselves on how to respond to another’s irrational beliefs and how we choose to live our lives.  As parents, we can transform ourselves from the role of supervisors, directors and managers of our children’s lives to that of advocates for our adult sons and daughters, providing balance and consultation.

In doing so, we can assist our adult children to become their own best advocates, maintaining balance and calmness as they move forth creating their own individual paths on the walk we call Life.

To be successful, both parties must want to let go, be willing to live with fear (and not in fear) and move towards one‘s own Journey of Self Discovery. In time (and time waits for no one), we will all move on. While we have life, let us focus on the journey and not the destination.

The Visible Man

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