In your corner: Tasks of adolescence

This is that wonderful time of year when we celebrate our teens’ graduation from middle or high school. In a culture with few celebrated rites or passage, graduation has become one of them.

It’s not easy to become an adult. There are many tasks that are required of us. All too often in Teen Court, I see young people who are parents, or about to be parents, who haven’t mastered those tasks. The tasks take time to master, and part of the learning occurs from the mistakes that we make. The universe really demands your attention when you’ve blown it big time.

Adolescence is that stage between being a child and being an adult. Its boundaries are not determined by age, but by accomplishment. Roughly, early adolescence is from ages 12 to 13, middle adolescence is from 14 to 16, and late adolescence is from 17 to 21.

However, we all know adults who may not have completed all of the tasks.

Adolescence depends upon physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual development. Teachers know that students learn better when they know what the goal of a learning task is. There are long-term goals and short-term goals:


• Learning to feel comfortable with their bodies.

• Becoming emotionally independent from their parents.

• Learning to think and express themselves conceptually.

• Developing a personal set of values: Ideals, priorities, and concepts of right and wrong

• Forming meaningful relationships with members of both sexes.

• Defining their sexual orientation, and deciding whether or not to become sexually active.

• Working toward economic stability.

Physical development is generally complete by mid-adolescence. Adult height and weight have been reached, and they are physically capable of having babies.

Intellectually, children enter adolescence perceiving things literally or concretely. Things are either black or white, and they don’t project much into the future. This is why younger adolescents don’t consider the consequences of their actions. Managing them may require having definite consequences to their good or bad behavior. We need to help them see empathetically and to recognize that others also have needs. By late adolescence, many teens can see the subtleties of gray, and can think abstractly and imagine future consequences.

However, the frontal lobe of the brain, where good judgment is measured, isn’t fully mature until age 22.

Late adolescents have had more experiences, which helps them develop empathy for others.

Emotional development includes understanding emotions, and that others may feel differently about the very same event.

Advanced emotional maturity means understanding that while we may experience an emotion from a certain event, we have some choices about how we choose to feel immediately thereafter.

Becoming emotionally independent of parents may cause the most stress of adolescence.

Teens may express less overt affection and spend more time with their friends. They may argue and push parents to their limits, partially to find out what those limits are.

As parents, stating the limits and the consequences of not obeying such limits, can prevent many parent and teen “blow-ups.”

Teens feel conflicted about leaving the safety and security of home and yet also want to spread their own wings, make their own rules, and fly.

It is important that respect for feelings and needs on both sides occur, and that people talk and listen to each other, rather than judge or demean each other.

Social development begins with the family — this enables teens to form friendships with people from different ethnicities, ages, genders and social groups. Mentors play valuable roles here, and teens may form a close relationship with another adult.

Eventually, teens will fall in love, begin a family and find a community to which they can belong.

The tasks for teens are demanding. They have to look at this whole world we live in and find their place in it. They have to find what’s important to them. They need to be able to assess their skills, passions, values and joys and match them to a method in which they can support themselves and their loved ones.

Adults must hold a high standard and set a clear example, because teens have learned to watch what we do, rather than merely listen to what we tell them.

Congratulations class of 2007! We cherish you and need your strength, wisdom and love. May your dreams come true!

“In Your Corner” is a phrase that means support. Its origin comes from boxing. In between rounds, the boxer retires to his corner, and a group of people coach him, give him medical help, water and cheer him on.

Several adults have “stepped into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support in the boxing ring of life. They are Community Response Specialist Catherine Stovall, Public Defender Edmund Acoba, Prosecuting Attorney Craig DeCosta, Kaua‘i Police Department Officer Paul Applegate, Superintendent of Schools Daniel Hamada, Director of the Department of Education Mokihana program Jill Yoshimatsu and Teen Court Manager for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Annaleah Atkinson.

If you have something to share with Kaua‘i Teens, or need to ask a question, contact Annaleah with the information below. She will field it to find the person who can best help with the answer.

If abuse has occurred, it should be reported to the Child Abuse Intake line at 1-800-494-3991. This line also assists with cases of neglect.

• Annaleah Atkinson is the Teen Court manager for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i. She can be reached at, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu‘e, HI 96766.


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