Grow up! Have you ever thought this about someone you love, or even about yourself? There may never have been a harder time than now to navigate the challenging path to adulthood. Newspaper headlines are worrisome, families are spread far apart and our methods of communication are changing as social media impacts us in ways that are not even clear. Sometimes that fork in the road can make your head spin.
The time from late adolescence to young adulthood is one of growth, exploration and challenge. Goals for this period of life include completing high school, determining a plan for post-high school, and pursuing work and relationships. Sometimes these transitions go smoothly with just a few “growing pains” along the way. Other times, problems arise that seem overwhelming at first, with feelings of confusion and distress. Frequent questions include: “Where am I going?”, “What should I do with my life?” and “How do I decide what to do next?”
For college-goers, the start of college can be an exciting time with new people, new endeavors and new horizons. It can also be a stressful time where expectations are high and sometimes unrealistic.Social demands increase and changing social groups can feel foreign or scary. Building new connections can seem like a daunting task. Separation from the comforts of home may be harder than expected, and academics require more time, effort and organization than ever before.
One of the goals for this time is finding balance – balance between work and play, family and friends, and responsibility and recreation. Too much time at video games, parties, or sleeping is usually a signal of avoidance or feeling overwhelmed. Likewise, all work and no recreation may indicate social difficulties which will make a successful adjustment to college difficult. High school students who are entering the workforce instead of – or in addition to – college do not have it any easier.
Finding that sense of balance is possible. But sometimes, a little help makes all the difference. Psychotherapy offers strategies for change. Young people at this age may be more open to reflecting on what is and isn’t working for them. Now may be the right time to find better understanding about issues that have persisted or worsened from earlier adolescence. Depression, anxiety, AD/HD and eating disorders are often first seen in adolescence, and may recur or worsen under the stress of life transitions.
This time in life lends itself to developing self-awareness and the ability to manage emotions, including coping with frustrations. The late teens and early twenties is also a time where feelings about sexuality, identity and intimacy are changing. It is a time to come to terms with the need for independence while still knowing when to ask for help. Sometimes teens need help managing the transitions away from the family, while not rejecting – or feeling rejected by – those who love them the most.
Making decisions in the face of a changing personal landscape is rarely easy. Making changes such as finding a more suitable roommate, or a better fit for a course of study may seem minor to some and a major issue to others. Taking a break from school or contemplating another path in the post-high school years can be the right choice or a traumatic experience, depending on the circumstances.
If you or a loved one has been pondering some of these questions, it may be time to consult a psychologist. A clear picture of the problem is the first step in moving forward. The path to young adulthood need not be traveled alone.
Dr. Stephanie Haymaker is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience. She is presently a partner at Haymaker and Haymaker Psychological Services, a private practice setting where your confidentiality is assured, in Bridgewater, NJ. For eight years she was a clinical supervisor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ, specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. The coauthor of Principled Commitment, a guide for marital enrichment, she also specializes in the areas of marital therapy, women’s issues, and therapy with children and adolescents.