The Danger of Adolescence

As our children approach the ages of adolescence between, 16 – 26, it seems to be the most dangerous, life threatening time of their young lives. It is extremely challenging to begin the separation and individuation process that every single human being goes through. Erik Erikson, a psychiatrist who developed the ‘Eight Stages of Change’ for human growth and development, stated that this stage is very similar to the ages of three and four years old.

Adolescence, as they did as toddlers, experiment with leaving and returning to the parents and caregivers to explore the world, and who they are without the eagle eyes of those who have been watching them since they were born.

The difference between three and 16 years old shows the little toddler a way out of the familiar grasp of the parent into the exciting unknown of the next room or next-door neighbor’s yard. Until fear brings this little one running back to the comfort of the parent’s arms or anyone they know well and are loved by, they are free to see who they are on their own.

The 16-year-old is sent out on their own never to return to the familiar as they were before. Adolescence asks of us, each one of us have gone through this stage, to begin to see who we are without the eagle eye and guidance of the parent. Parents, who have watched every hair on the heads of their beloved little ones grow, have a death grip fear that they might never find them again.

The tug and pull of letting go of young sons and daughters into the world of being a teenager is the delicate balance between their need to leave, and the caregiver’s fears of being able to do nothing but watch and suggest.

Remember, these young people are not listening to a word said to them. They are watching what these advice-giving parents and adults are doing.

So, what is the most dangerous aspect of adolescence? The danger lies in what we as adults are actually showing these very young men and women as far as how to behave. What do the parents and care givers of these young ones give as examples of how to deal with disappointment and adversity? What are we as the responsible men and women of this world giving as examples of being tolerant and kind?

Could it be that the most dangerous part of being an adolescent is who the parents and caregivers have been to them all along? Well, yes that has been the dilemma and advantage of every human being since the beginning of beginningless time. How would we know as young parents how important consistency and loving discipline would be? It will show at the very time when parents are no longer so young.

It is never more evident than when these adolescents head toward their senior year and graduation. Every fear inside of them comes to the surface of not being good enough, and never measuring up, or catching up to their peers, who stand beside them and go forward ahead of them.

What we show these human beings from their birth to this most precarious time of leaving the grip of a mother and father will be what is most important on which to reflect.

If adolescents are out in the world finding others who feel badly about themselves like they do, blaming will be useless. Ask these young people how they feel about themselves, and just listen. Not trying to fix anyone or anything, our job as role models is to listen and understand.

Let’s talk about it.

Debra Whittam is the author of “I'm I Going to be Ok?" For any media inquiries or questions please contact:


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