Posts tagged Journey to Adulthood
The Journey to Adulthood: Age 12 - 18

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood.

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If you've ever thought that living with a teenager is like living with a toddler, you're not that far off. Adolescence, the third plane of development, is a time of great transformation that mirrors, in many ways, that of early childhood (the first plane).

The relative calm of the second plane (6 - 12) buckles under a surge of hormones, bringing with them a body on fire and a mind practically incapable of anything but looking inward.

The Inner Storm

During this time, when we observe young adolescents between the ages of twelve and fifteen, we often see them wallow in self loathing, leap without looking, and sleep until lunchtime.

They seem self-centered and egotistical -- the center of the universe. They are highly susceptible to both addiction and mental illness. There is a shockingly high risk of suicide.

These are children in a crisis of development.

A Four Letter Word for "Children"

Teenagers are hard. Little wonder that many adults roll their eyes at even the word "teenager." Compare it to the word "adolescent," which shares an ending (-escent) with lovely words like "effervescent," "luminescent," and "iridescent."

Roads go ever ever on, Under cloud and under star, Yet feet that wandering have gone, Turn at last to home afar. Eyes that fire and sword have seen, And horror in the halls of stone, Look at last on meadows green, And trees and hills they long have known.
— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

These words convey a general feel of a changing, a flickering, a movement, a shining. "Teenager" does not. It begins with a whine and ends in a raging growl -- two characteristics associated with this plane.

Yet "adolescent" is more accurate. Like the changing, moving effervescent spring, humans in the third plane are experiencing a period of intense, wild, and wonderful change.

The Second Half

By age fifteen or so, the fire is still burning, but the transformation is becoming more peaceful. The creative inner work that was done in the first half of this plane is being perfected. All of life shows this pattern. An ebb and flow.

Ages fifteen to eighteen are the "flow" of the third plane. You are likely to look at a seventeen year old and see a great gain in decision making skills and a resurgence in academic interest compared to a few years earlier. This is a sign that while not fully developed, the child is seeing himself more as an adult, looking outward into the world, the universe in its proper place again.

We have a tendency to think of development as something that happens to kids, petering out sometime after high school, but that is not the case. Development does not stop with the third plane (nor even the fourth plane). It is an endless journey, a road that goes on ever and ever. 

The Journey to Adulthood: Ages 18 - 24

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood.

The first three planes of development (0 - 6, 6 - 12, 12 - 18) address age ranges that, by most contemporary definitions, fit neatly within our concept of "childhood." But what about someone in the fourth plan (18 - 24)? 

Before answering, consider this. Contemporary Americans would balk at the idea of a 11 year old in the workforce, yet in 1900 18% of the U.S. labor force was under 16. Today, billions are spent making and selling things to high schoolers, yet the concept of a teenager didn't exist before 1922

In other words, our definition of childhood is not an ever-fixed star. It is a social construct that changes to reflect the norms and standards of the time. 

The Endless Journey

Whatever we choose to label those in the final plane, we know it is a period of relative calm and maturity marked by a desire to find one's place in society. Montessori described it as a time "when the individual can develop the spiritual strength and independence for a personal mission in life." 

In keeping with the patterns of the first three planes, the fourth plane covers a six year period. However, the actual end of the fourth plane is a matter of debate. Some researchers argue it ends sometime between twenty-four and thirty. Others argue there is not an ending so much as a fading into older life. The aching and stretches of childhood simply become part of the past and are no longer relevant. 

The road to adulthood is long but the journey of the soul never ending. 

The Journey to Adulthood: Birth to Age 6

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood. 

Unlike many of our mammalian cousins, newborn humans arrive essentially helpless -- half blind, completely reliant on others for food, no ability to escape danger. Some even consider the first few months of life more an extension of the pre-natal journey (a fourth trimester). 

Still, in the grand scheme of things, that early period of extreme helplessness is brief. Within months, baby has gone from an eating and sleeping machine with few communication tools to a curious toddler navigating the world.

A few years later, the toddler is a child running, playing, speaking, reading, doing math, telling jokes, and otherwise well on her way to becoming a regular, old human being. 

A Time Like No Other

Early human development may seem a snail's pace when compared to horses, who all but walk out of the womb, but don't let looks deceive you. While gross and fine motor skills may be crude (or non-existent) at first, there is a raging fire of growth and development inside that most complex of machines -- the human brain.

Consider - "Research has shown that half of a person's intelligence potential is developed by age four" and that the brain reaches "half its mature weight by about six months and 90 percent of its final weight by age eight." 

The First Plane: Birth to Age 6

While humans never stop developing, what happens in those very early years is unique, remarkable, and greatly responsible for shaping a person's entire life. The scientist and educational pioneer Maria Montessori defined this period as the first plane.  

Montessori work stems from an era when our understanding about how the brain works reached new heights (both Freud and Jung were contemporaries). A physician by training, Montessori applied her skills of observation and diagnosis to her studies of childhood development and learning. From this work, she was able to define and describe the qualities four distinct planes (or phases) of human development. 

The Absorbent Mind

During the first plane (birth to age six), the mind is like a sponge, greedily soaking up information and experiences primarily. Montessori describes the mind of a young child as "absorbent" with good reason.

Just how absorbent is the mind? Consider the gulf between what a one week old and a six year old knows and can do.

We can make sense of this epic journey if we think of it as a move from unconscious to conscious thought.

In the early years, the child absorbs information fairly unconsciously, primarily through the senses. At around age three, the child enters the second half of the plane, becoming increasingly susceptible to direct adult influence and instruction. Still, the two halves of the journey remain bound by the supreme absorbency of the mind.

Adult Mindfulness

Because first plane children are so absorbent and ready to learn, adult interactions require a high-level of mindfulness. What an adult says or does will have a lasting, perhaps permanent, effect on the child.

That said, the human brain is also incredibly malleable and never stops growing and developing. In other words - "Parents and teachers, you WILL make mistakes. The child WILL survive. Relax!"

The key to success with a first plane child is to follow the child's lead. If you provide the child enrichment, let her naturally curiosity drive the learning, and model with regularity (not perfection) the characteristics and behaviors you hope to foster, you will succeed. The child will learn and explore with a ferocity we adults only wish we could replicate.

Babies -- we could learn a lot from them.