The six labours of adolescence

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
Parenting columnist Ian Munro looks at dealing with the teenage years.

Greek mythology tells us about the 12 labours of Heracles (Hercules). He was the strongest man on Earth, was easily angered and considered himself equal to the gods, before ultimately becoming one.

In turn, modern researchers, such as R.J. Havighurst, tell us about the six labours of adolescence, the six tasks faced by our teens as they move to adulthood.

Our teens who also often portray invincibility, are easily angered and see themselves as superior to the adult mortals around them, before ultimately becoming one.

These tasks are required by society as much as they are by the teen's own needs.

They're faced with accepting their changing physique and masculine or feminine role. They may also need to deal with sexual orientation, race and cultural issues. The opinions and attitudes of their friends carry great weight, as do images created by the media.

Achieving emotional independence from parents probably causes the most upheaval in the home. This process can involve anything from irritating self centredness and not wanting to be seen with us in public, to outright rebellion.

The next task, of achieving financial independence from parents, poses extra difficulties these days. Tertiary fees, and student allowance and unemployment benefit restrictions keep many young people financially dependent on parents until their early twenties. Alternatively, a student loan sets them off on life's path with a sizeable debt.

The fifth task involves preparing for the world of work and also poses more problems than it used to. There are many jobs today that hadn't been thought of just five years ago.

There will be many, many more jobs, unknown today, that will exist in five years' time and many of those around now will have disappeared.

This constant and rapid change makes forward planning and decision making difficult and can create much anxiety. For some it's not just a case of leaving home but of leaving the country.

Finally comes the move away from self absorption, to a more outward looking approach to life. It can be a time of idealism and a desire to put the world to rights. Our teenager's adult values and attitudes are taking shape.

The road to adulthood isn't getting easier. During this struggle to emerge from the chrysalis of childhood they also have to cope with our expectations, society's expectations and educational commitments that can be quite heavy.

How well they manage these six tasks will influence their general adjustment, their happiness and the way they handle their futures.

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