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Tips from The Parents' Coach » Blog Archive » When do they stop being teens?

When do they stop being teens?

I am regularly asked by parents of teens to give them an estimate of when their kids will brow out of being teenagers and become responsible adults. The basic question is" When is this over?" The answer is not very clear these days. It is a bad news, good news and it depends, kind of answer. I am convinced by my observing this process throughout my many years and from my observing how fast this process can happen in other cultures, that a teen’s environment plays a very important role in determining just how fast this process happens.

When I was an Air Force officer stationed in Viet Nam, I used to volunteer to teach English to the kids in a local town. Observing these kids and the roles they were playing in their families was both an eye opener and gave me an answer to a dilemma I had had since I had my Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen. In the Jewish religion, at thirteen, one goes through the Bar Mitzvah ceremony that signifies that he (and now she) is an adult in the eyes of the religion and can be counted as an adult for purposes of gathering the minimum required number of adults (a minion) necessary to have a prayer service. "Why such a young age to be called an adult?" I asked, knowing full well I wasn’t close to filling that role at thirteen. I got my answer observing my Vietnamese student. Most of their fathers were either fighting the war or were dead. At the ripe old age of 13, they were performing the duties of the head of the household. They still had the emotions of a kid and looked to their mothers for comfort and guidance. For all other matters, they, the oldest sons, were in charge. These were town kids, so most of their family businesses were small shops. Daily, these kids got up at five AM, opened the family shop by six, worked there until school started, went to school and then back to work at their shop and after closing the shop in the early evening, voluntarily came back to the school to get English lessons three times a week.

After observing these kids in action for a year, I had the answer to my Bar Mitzvah question. The early history of the Jewish people was rough enough to where every able bodied person was needed for the family to survive, so kids grew up fast. As always, the environment rules!

When I was growing up in the late 1950s, kids were finished being adolescents at 18 years old, unless they went to college which gave them a four year reprieve. At 18, men, especially, were expected to be either in a job, in the military or in college, period! By 21, many were married and either had or about to have kids. Most of the kids I knew were living on their own and on their own earnings by 21 years old.

In the years since then, there has been less and less need for young people in our labor force, so there have been less and less demand on them to grow up quickly. As a result, today, many kids are still living with their parents, well into their twenties and are still trying to figure out what to do when they grow up. Because their environment, meaning the culture and their families, allow them to be acting like teenagers at 25, they are maturing emotionally at a similarly slower rate. If they use drugs and alcohol at anything higher than a very low recreational level, their emotional growth well slow down more or stop completely.

When is this adolescent period over? The bad news is that there is little pressure from the current culture which discourages perpetual adolescence, as can be seen by the glorification by the press of the scandals of the rich and famous twenty-something’s. There is good news, though. If parents are willing to create a home environment for your pre-teens and teens where responsible actions and decision making is taught to and expected of them and is modeled the parent’s own behavior, they will be able to greatly influence the duration of the growing up process.

"But don’t kids need to be having fun?" you ask. The answer is of course they need to have fun. Having fun and being responsible are not opposites. If their parents create a home environment where there is lots of laughter and wholesome, responsible recreation and fun activities, their teens will grow up with the understanding that both are simultaneously possible. Teens who observe their parents having lots of fun with their friends without getting plastered on cocktails before, during and after dinner, will grow up knowing that socializing without drugs and alcohol is both possible and fun. They will be much better equipped to withstand the outside environmental pressures from their peers to engage in irresponsible wipe out drinking and drugging.

So, it depends on you, their parents. What you do to create a supportive environment that emphasizes growing up steadily and responsibly, in an atmosphere of fun and good times, will be of great influence.

About the Author:

Jason Wittman, MPS has a private practice as a Life Coach specializing in working with parents of teenage boys and young adults ( ) He can be reached at

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