“We had a great relationship with him for most of his childhood, but just recently he seems to be questioning everything we say, challenging our authority and he and Bill seems to be clashing with each other every second day – and I’m sick of being caught in the middle!” says Rita, the tearful mother.
Does this scenario sound familiar? This scene is played out in many families as adolescent boys reach their late teens – and if not handled wisely, it can lead to all sorts of difficulties in the “leaving home / launching out” phase of family life.
Levinson, a developmental psychologist interested in the adult development of men, identifies the early adult transition as beginning at approximately age 17, and ending around age 22.
From Boy to Man
This early adult transition is understood as the developmental bridge between the eras of pre-adulthood and early adulthood.
The young man throughout this period is a boy-man on the boundary between adolescence and adulthood. Although emotionally still an adolescent, he is stretching forward toward the enticing, exciting but also forbidding adult world ahead.
During this transition there are two major tasks to be accomplished. The first is to leave the pre-adult world and the most obvious component of this is separating from his family of origin.
Predictably, this process is often accompanied by considerable emotional upheaval.
In one large study, 82% of men experienced major conflict in negotiating their moving out of home. For those of you reading this, the good news is that you are not on your own if you are struggling with your late teen boys – it is the norm rather than the exception. It is not too difficult to appreciate the reasons underlying this troubled time.
During the transition, the boy-man is questioning the nature of the world and his place in it. This almost inevitably leads in many cases to the challenging of parental values and authority.
Because emotionally the boy-man’s emotions are still volatile, his challenging of his parents frequently degenerates into screaming matches – particularly with dad. There are not many parents who possess the maturity and self possession to resist an impassioned defense of the life values they hold sacred.
Challenging Parental Rule
It is my belief that families function best as a benevolent dictatorship, meaning that mum and dad are lovingly and wisely in charge and run the family according to what they think is best for their children. Of course they need to be open to their children’s ideas and wishes, but when there are differences between what the parents think is right and what the children think, it is the parents’ decision and wishes that need to hold sway.
This normally works very well until the time when children become late adolescents.
As just noted, when boys start to become boy-men, this begins to cause trouble because the boy-man starts to resent the “benevolent dictators” rule, believing that he should have the same power as his parents. This is normal and to be expected – and it signals the beginning of the launching process.
The energy from these power struggles eventually propels the boy-man out into the world. Of course there are both wise – and not so wise! – ways of negotiating this phase.
The second major task of this transition period is to form a basis for living in the adult world, before being fully a part of it.
At the beginning of this period, the boy-man, more the adolescent, harbours vague, romantic ideas and fantasies about what he will do and accomplish in life.
Gradually as he travels chronologically toward the adult end of the spectrum, he begins to flesh out some of these fantasies into a more concrete achievable program.
Often this rocky process makes parents very anxious as their boy-man vacillates and changes direction, exerting additional pressure upon an already strained relationship.
If the description above of the launching process connects with your experience and you’re feeling a bit lost (or a lot lost!) then I would be happy to see you, to assist you to charter a course through this very fraught – but potentially wonderful – phase of family life.
Author: Matthew Ryan, B Psych (Hons), MA (Marriage & Family Therapy).
Matt Ryan is a psychologist with over 25 years of experience, and has seen great success in working with families during the challenges of the “launch” phase of family life. He is also the father of two adult sons.
To book an appointment with Matthew Ryan call 1800 877 924 or book online today!