Needs to Know: Middle Adulthood

Needs to Know: Middle Adulthood

Occupying the periods between mid 30’s and mid 60’s, the middle adult years is where the famed “mid life crisis” often occurs. The unmet needs of childhood and adolescence finally rear their head and demand satisfaction. The mid life crisis is often referred to as “the second adolescence.” It is a period of reclaiming lost or undeveloped identity. It can be a radical period of transformation causing a great deal of upheaval in an established family. Separation, divorce, remarriage and blended families are not uncommon in this stage. Career change is likely. In today’s world more and more woman are now experiencing the freedom to question their needs and choices; they are having their own mid life crisis, adjusting their role in the family and embarking on careers of their own.

The traditional middle adult is generally established in his or her career. Choices as to “what do I want to be when I grow up” are no longer entertained. Work energy now is channeled towards productivity and longevity. The middle adult may be engaged in various community activities, service organizations or as a board member for social agencies.

The primary developmental need of middle adulthood is geared towards the family and the community. The father is the provider and the mother is the homemaker. Each has their own defined rules and roles. In today’s world, these roles have shifted and become somewhat blurred with dual family incomes and blended families. Some keywords that characterize this stage would be “caring,” “giving,” “helping,” and “community.” Personal needs are beginning to shift away from one’s own psychological development and towards the welfare of others. This is a shift towards the satisfaction of social/spiritual needs.

To help meet the needs of middle adulthood a person can:

  • Recognize the shift in emphasis towards giving back, caring for others, productivity and the growing need to acknowledge the spiritual part of your being.
  • If you find yourself in a midlife identity crisis, you can greatly benefit by seeing a professional counselor to help clarify the issues and provide objective feedback. No counselor worth his or her credentials will tell you what to do. A successful passage through a midlife crisis is dependent on difficult, personal, individual decisions.
  • If your identity is relatively intact, accept who you have become and the limitations of that self. At this stage of life, options are less but momentum is greater. Utilize the training, education and experience accumulated to move you forward.
  • Contribute to your family and your community, these are the major needs during this developmental stage. But, be careful not to overextend yourself in an attempt to compensate for shortcomings.

Adults in this phase of the journey who fail to meet the developmental needs of this stage could easily find themselves burned out, stagnating, self-absorbed and cynical.

The long haul through middle adulthood yields the golden years which can prove to be extremely rewarding.

Needs to Know: Elder Adulthood


Needs to Know: The Young Adult

Needs to Know: The Young Adult

Having passed through adolescence, not without bumps, dents, scars and complexes, all of which are part and parcel of the individual’s identity, the person now emerges into young adulthood. With the challenges and crisis that have paved the path during the last two decades, it should not be surprising that many of the needs the young adult strives to satisfy are colored by unmet needs of adolescence and childhood. Identity may not be secured; questions about competency and industriousness may intrude; there may be issues about initiative and autonomy. Despite this, the young adult finds new more pressing needs emerging such as career development, partnership and genuine intimacy. Young adulthood spans the period from about 22 years of age into the mid 30’s.

Although parents are likely still very much in the picture, they no longer hold the tremendous power and control they have in the past. Now, the main influence comes from work colleagues and, particularly potent in this stage, the marital partner. However, as a young adult, it is now up to the individual to discover how best to meet his or her emerging needs.

Some pointers for this stage include:

  • Don’t neglect the earlier needs that may still be striving for satisfaction.
  • Learn good communication skills and use them with parents, friends, colleagues and significant others.
  • Read some books about what it means to be intimate. Question the models you have internalized growing up.
  • This is not only a period of giving love and affection but also of receiving love and affection. Explore your feelings and be honest with yourself.
  • Build affiliations both professional and social.
  • Seek a balance between work and pleasure – social/professional activities and persona/private intimacy
  • Examine your goals, your vision, your weaknesses and your strengths. Are you heading in the right direction?

Social and cultural forces often dictate how a person passes through any given development stage. Our western culture trends to be relatively rigid and our post industrial era often place an undue emphasis on achievement at a young age. For those who have the opportunity to experience a developmental hiatus, a break in the normal process, the initial period of early adulthood is the perfect time. The ages of about 22 – 26 is an ideal period to postpone career development, intimacy and starting a family in favor of travel to foreign places (even if it’s just out of state), meeting new people, having new experiences, breaking out of the mold, expanding and growing. The military or humanitarian endeavors such as the Peace Corps can provide such opportunities as can simply hopping on a bus and heading out for some unplanned adventures.

If a person is not able to meet the needs of this stage, isolation tends to replace intimacy. Promiscuity and demanding exclusivity are behavioral symptoms of an isolated individual incapable of genuine affection and the forming of intimate bonds.

It wasn’t so long ago that the average life span was much shorter than it is today. Back then, early adulthood was considered what today would be mid adulthood. Life expectancy wasn’t much past 40. Now, mid adulthood is the half way point with several developmental needs awaiting to emerge and be satisfied.

Needs to Know: Middle Adulthood


Needs to Know: Adolescence

Needs to Know: Adolescence

The stage of adolescence, between the ages of about 13 and 21, is perhaps the most difficult, challenging, confusing and dangerous. The adolescent is not only struggling with typical teenage challenges of identity but may also be wrestling with past needs which have not been fully satisfied, such as initiative, competence or even autonomy – developmental needs and “chores” from previous stages of development.

The primary task, the overriding need of the adolescent during the next decade, is the development of an individual identity. This is no small feat and actually may continue well into adulthood. Peers and peer groups are now far more important than parents or teachers. Ironically, the adolescent seeks an individual identity by striving for peer and peer group approval and affiliation. Belonging to a group or a set of like minded individuals is important. Sex and sexual relationships also become important. Adolescence is the time when most of us first experienced kissing, fondling and intercourse. Going steady and breaking up add to the mix of emotional turmoil so common in adolescence. Self absorption is common as is defiance of parents. The pressures that bear down on an adolescent can be significant and the task of defining an identity is not met without struggle.

Parents can help their adolescents meet the demands of their developmental needs by:

  • Recognize that this stage of development requires the adolescent to make his or her own decisions. This is part of becoming an independent individual with a unique identity. Try to provide increasing opportunities for the adolescent to be on their own, responsible for their own actions. Make use of natural consequences for violations and natural rewards for compliance
  • Honor the peer pressure that often regulates adolescent behavior. Again, let the adolescent make decisions and reap the consequences, positive or negative. This may be the most important point in helping the adolescent reach responsible adulthood. Although it may be a school of hard knocks, there is nothing like real experience to teach the way of the world.
  • Make sure the household rules are established and firm. Also make sure the adolescent understands his or her limitations re: various freedoms such as bed time, weeknight and weekend curfew, homework, minimum grades, friends, activities, etc…Natural consequences can be set up for each. The adolescent needs to learn that his or her actions (or lack of actions) result in set pre-established consequences. Consequences can also be positive as in rewards for appropriate behavior. These parameters will change as the adolescent grows from early adolescence into late adolescence.
  • Keep an eye open for signs of depression, anxiety, substance abuse or other behaviors which might indicate problems with meeting the demands of this development stage. If such signs are noted, be supportive and offer assistance and community resources but do not demand. Adolescents are notorious for self sabotage as a means of being independent and individualized. For some, a bad identity is better than no identity or a “used” identity. In our society, which has few ceremonial rites of passage, delinquent behavior often becomes that rite of passage. Being the “bad boy” or “loose girl” can become a badge of individuation and a way to gain identity.
  • Try not to react emotionally to the adolescent’s behaviors. Simple, reasonable and rational responses based on enforceable natural consequences won’t escalate already tense situations.
  • Be available for open, honest, heart-to-heart talks, but do not demand or require it. Adolescents are self centered and don’t necessarily care about how their parents are feeling. They can be very reluctant to self – disclose personal information. But, when the opportunity arises, such open, honest discussions can be quite rewarding.
  • Maintain some kind of family activity such as camping, sports, playing board games, going out to dinner/movies etc…something which the adolescent can choose to join in on but may often refuse. This refusing family activity is part of his or her breaking away which is necessary and important.
  • Help the adolescent move into later adolescence and adulthood by letting go of the past. Do not treat an adolescent as a child. Do not treat a 16 year old the same as a 13 year old. Treat the 18 year old as an adult. Teenagers value being treated as responsible individuals and generally they will live up to that expectation.,
  • As a parent, seek guidance and assistance, read books, take classes. Communication and behavior management are topics which are interesting in and of themselves and also relevant to raising an adolescent. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” applies most appropriately to the adolescent and specifically to the needs of the adult/parent/caregiver in accessing the resources of the community to help ensure the adolescent is meeting the developmental challenges appropriately. This is especially true in our modern culture with an excessive amount of choices and diversions.

If an adolescent does not meet the development needs of acquiring a sense of identity, role confusion can give rise to fanaticism or repudiation. The fanatic zealously promotes rigid idealogic positions – kind of an over exaggerated identity. Such a person may join a cult or a gang. Repudiation is a rejection of society and its norms and such a position may give rise to criminal behavior or isolationism.

If all has gone reasonably well, the infant has grown up, reached adulthood and has become a responsible citizen in the larger world. But, that does not mean developmental needs have stopped. Higher needs will now beckon. Marriage, family, work, social contribution all becomes as important to the adult as initiative was to the toddler.

Needs to Know: The Young Adult


Needs to Know: Childhood

Needs to Know: Childhood

Between the ages of about 5 and 12 years, we refer to the growing person as a child. Childhood may be the most dynamic phase of human development. Unparalleled growth occurs in a short period of time. Body size and weight, lanquage acquisition, peer relations and social interaction, intellectual capacity, logic, reason…there is just so much happening within this period that it can become confusing and overwhelming for parents, especially with more than one child in the home.

The needs of the child, in addition to the basic physical/biological requirements, are becoming increasingly psychological/emotional. At this state of development, industriousness and competency become primary concerns. The child is now attending school and being confronted with many tasks. The child is forming relationships with schoolmates and neighborhood friends. The child is learning to use various tools and collaborate with others in joint projects. Parents are becoming a less dominant presence as the child spends more time away from home at school and in after-school activities. Teachers and peers become the dominant role models. Industriousness and competency are a challenge in just about every sphere. Even play, which, in the toddler phase was more for the pure satisfaction of play itself, becomes a means of developing competency. The care-free toddler is on the path towards becoming a youth concerned about method, achievement and accomplishment. One area of the need for competency is in some areas of knowledge. Children ask all kinds of questions; why this or why that – it can drive a parent nuts! Children will ask questions about sex as well: how are babies made? How come I have a penis (or vagina) and mommy (or daddy) doesn’t? Children will “play house” and act out parental roles. Despite these questions, the child is not interested in sex, per se; they are just curious about what makes the world the way it is. This is also a time when a child is most apt to become interested in and learn about the father’s and/or mother’s hobbies or favored activities such as any kind of arts and crafts, gardening, sewing, painting, singing, dancing, auto mechanics, computers….the list can go on and on. Outings into the community to parks, public pools, museums, libraries, malls….Children are like a sponge and soak up experience. Children benefit tremendously from exposure to a wide range of experience.

Some of the things a parent can do to help a child master the challenges of this stage include:

  • Support, encouragement and patience. It takes a lot to learn a method. There are lots of mistakes and failures in learning anything new. A child needs to learn, and to feel, that mistakes and failures can be corrected; that they are steps towards mastery. This is accomplished through positive coaching, realistic encouragement and supportive guidance. Children, when learning something new that they really want to learn, don’t accept failure easily. If a child wants to learn to ride a bike, they will take many falls and not be discouraged getting up again and again until they are riding down the street yelling “look mom, no hands.”
  • Allow a child to pursue what is of interest to them. If a child takes a keen interest in the electric guitar, don’t require them to play the piano. Of course, parents can introduce their children to all kinds of activities: singing, dancing, swimming, sports, cooking, sewing…However, keep in mind that every one of these, and all other activities, will be colored by the child’s need for competency in that area. If the child wants to partake of an activity, the chances of mastery are much higher. The child may loose interest after a while and want to move on to something else. This is not uncommon as the child explores the field of possibilities. Allow this exploration. Do not force a child into an activity he or she does not want. Find an alternative. Keep in mind that children at this stage NEED to be industrious and develop competency. They will choose an activity, or activities, by which this can be accomplished. Children don’t, by nature, want to sit around idling. However, it is a very good idea to limit TV time and make sure plenty of alternatives are available.
  • Provide exposure to varied experiences at home, in the neighborhood and in the community.
  • Reward successes. This is such a basic tenet that it hardly goes without saying. Nevertheless, it is important and must be incorporated into the life of a growing child. Even little accomplishments like completing a household chore on time — and correctly, can be acknowledged.
  • Do not punish for mistakes or failures. Punishment must be for violation of rules and that punishment is best in the form of natural consequences which have been laid out beforehand. For example, if a household rule is that all toys are to be taken out of the living room and put into the bedroom before going to bed or else that toy will be taken away for a week, and a toy is left in the living room overnight, then that toy is taken away for a week. There should be no surprise. Household rules and consequences should be known by everyone in the family. Children, even as young as 5, and certainly by age 8 and up, understand rules and consequences.
  • Answer questions honestly. The answers can be simple. When a child asks “how are babies made” the parent can answer simply “babies are made when mommy and daddy have intercourse.” The child does not need to know the meaning at this stage, just that he/she received a credible answer.
  • Be available to listen to your child. Spend quality time with your child. Communicate, collaborate and negotiate with your child. Children at this age are becoming increasingly social, and reasonable, creatures.
  • Play with your child. Children at this age are still very much interested in play, even though it may be more geared towards an end than a means in itself, it is still fun.

If a child fails to satisfy the need for being industrious and competent, a sense of inferiority and inertia can develop. Or, they may become accomplished in a very narrow area, perhaps even a virtuoso, but very limited.

All too soon Childhood comes to an end. Whether or not the tasks and needs of this stage have been fully satisfied, we enter the domain of adolescence. A difficult time, to say the least.

Needs to Know: Adolescence


Needs to Know: The Toddler

Needs to Know: The Toddler

The toddler is a human being between the ages of about 2 and 5 years. This is a very dynamic phase. By 2 years, the toddler is walking and starting to talk. Exploration is of high interest as is saying “no.” The early part of this phase is often referred to as “the terrible two’s” because the toddler is not only getting into everything around the house but is practicing the very, very important skill of refusal. The toddler is beginning to experiment with his or her individual will power and control of situations. The toddler is working, even at this early stage, in developing a sense of autonomy and initiative, purpose and direction. The toddler’s ability to walk allows a departure from mother’s constant presence (and control). The toddler is expanding, growing and maturing. These are fundamental needs of the toddler beyond the biological basics of food shelter and clothing. Certainly, safety continues to be of considerable importance. However, the growing mind of the toddler requires moving into new territory, new sensations, new experience, and their will naturally be risks involved.

Some of the things parents can do to encourage and support this stage of development include:

  • “baby proof” the house so as to allow safe explorations without the need of constant supervision and having to stop the toddler from exploring.
  • Allow the toddler to struggle and sometimes fail. You’d be surprised at the resilience and determination of a toddler. For example, if a toddler is trying to climb up on the couch, do not go and pick up the toddler and put him/her on the couch. Let the toddler do it on their own. The parent can observe and be present just in case, but the toddler must be allowed to try, struggle, fail, retry and achieve. This is very important for the development of autonomy and initiative. If a toddler’s sense of autonomy is thwarted, shame and doubt can develop. Impulsivity and compulsion can be symptoms of a weakened sense of autonomy. If initiative is thwarted, ruthlessness or inhibition can develop as compensation.
  • Allow the toddler to refuse. Certainly not all the time. But, it is important for the toddler to have the experience of having some control and this is often gained by refusing.
  • Set up choices and honor a toddler’s choice when not harmful or totally inappropriate. For example, you can present two different cereals for breakfast and the toddler can choose amongst those two. Do not provide a set of choices and then disallow what the toddler chooses.
  • Play. The toddler’s world is highly imaginative; pure basic fun play is very important at this stage. Although parents can play with the toddler, solitary play time is also important. Colorful building blocks and the other age appropriate items are useful but not necessary as a toddler will be happy with pots and pans, blocks of wood and various household items as well.
  • Toilet training should be accomplished during this period. There are many good publications about healthy toilet training which do not undermine the toddler’s autonomy and sense of control but actually enhance it.
  • Parents should pay particular attention to their own speech and behavior as toddlers are excellent mimic and will imitate much of what their parents say and do. This is not to say that parents need to be perfect. In fact, it is much healthier for a toddler to observe and internalize parents that are genuine and authentic than fake. However parents need to be “on the same page” when it comes to rules, regulations, discipline, chores, etc…so there is uniformity.

At this stage, he toddler is still very much in need of a stable structure and routine. Much of the toddler’s autonomy and initiative is built on the premise of an established structure. If there is no base structure, all the initiative that would go into developing autonomy goes into finding the structure. You can view the toddler as a blind person reaching out with their arms and hands trying to find the walls of the room. Once they know where the walls are, they can move freely within the room. The toddler will test the limits, try to push them. The toddler is seeking those walls within the room which are solid, not moveable. Once those unshakeable walls and rules are known, the toddler, now moving into childhood, will feel safe and secure, able to experiment with their own initiative and autonomy.

The primary model for the toddler has shifted from the mother as the exclusive parent to both mother and father, in a traditional nuclear family. In single parent homes, the toddler will model the single dominant adult. There is no doubt that a single parent household provides less modeling and interactive observations. However, in our modern day, that’s just the way it is. The nuclear family too is somewhat limited in that the toddler only internalizes one set of adult interaction. In more traditional and indigenous cultures, toddlers observe, model and internalize the behaviors from a much larger group of adults

Regardless of what has occurred during the toddler phase, the next developmental stage arrives with its own set of needs, challenges and crisis.

Needs to Know: Childhood