When are teens ready to truly assume adulthood?

When are teens ready to truly assume adulthood?

In our culture, multiple milestones are associated with reaching adulthood. Singularly, or en masse, they can be legal, physical, emotional, financial and/or cultural attainments or achievements. Some of these milestones are foist upon us without choice. Others we seek out or are steered into with some measure of intent or compliance.

In the youth development field, this end goal of becoming an adult is at the crux of our interactions with young people. Research and thought by The Forum for Youth Investment, a self-described “action tank,” has resulted in its reframing this “readiness” task as one not with hard-edged goals like becoming financially independent, but one of gaining the abilities, skillsets and mindsets critical for managing life’s opportunities and challenges. In childhood and adolescence, parents and other adults curate most of those opportunities and challenges. Too often, Forum staff have concluded, youth must assume the responsibilities of adulthood without a sufficient toolkit.

Most of us are aware of the large-scale changes in our lives, societies and world at speeds unheard of only a generation or two ago. If the substance of our world is constantly changing, how will our young people-turned-adults keep moving forward and adjusting most favorably and productively? Being “ready” to manage that change might likely be the best, and longest lasting strategy.

So what is in this readiness toolkit? At its core are sets of skills and mindsets that guide how we approach life. Combined, in various ways, these form the abilities we employ to manage and navigate our lives.

Necessary skills include the practical—self-care of body and mind, organizing and planning life, projects, tasks and schedules; the relational—being able to form, grow, manage and keep relationships; and the emotional—managing emotions, thoughts and behaviors so they are situationally appropriate, being resilient in order to bounce back from hard times.

The attitudes from which we approach a situation can have a profound effect on its outcome. If we possess a “growth mindset,” we believe we can get better with practice and hard work. Approaching things with courage makes us willing to take on challenges, even when feeling scared or confused. Being open-minded enables us to acknowledge and consider perspectives and experiences that are different from our own. 

By drawing upon items in this readiness toolkit, youth can forge readiness abilities that will help keep them healthy, focused, growing, relating, working and persisting throughout their lives.

Readiness is an apprenticeship—youth need opportunities and guidance to learn, develop and practice these skills, attitudes and abilities. Guidance can and should come from many corners of the adult world—schools, institutions and, of course, family. ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), the new federal education law and policy, now allows schools to develop accountability measures that address postsecondary readiness. The youth development field, with its strengths of developing strong personal relationships with youth and the ability to tailor programming to community and individual needs, is well-positioned and primed to contribute to the effort. Parents and caring adults can look to the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets and Developmental Relationships research for information and ideas on how they can more deeply influence their young person’s development.

FamilyMeans’ Youth Programs are shaping our work in Cimarron and Landfall around these concepts and outcomes. Our new Ready To Be program aims to lead and prepare youth in these communities for thoughtful—and skillful—preparation for postsecondary life.

Tom Yuska, Director of Youth Development