Today’s post continues the exploration of Sharon Daloz Parks/ model of the developmental needs of various age groups from her book Big Questions, Worthy Dreams. Please read the post from October 25 for an introduction to the model and an exploration of the second column, “Knowledge.” Here is the chart again:
While we may be clear on how developmentally we process outside stimuli, that is often not what comes out of our mouths. So, if Knowledge explores how what we say is received internally, Parks’ exploration of Feeling/Affect will shed light on how that response is expressed externally in relation to other people, particularly our understanding of sources of authority.
Because of their cognitive need to internalize outside parameters for understanding the world, children lack a wider perspective and trust unfailingly the agreed upon authority of parents, of teachers, even of television. These ties, however are not simply cognitive, but are deeply emotional and relational and must be treated with the respect they deserve. We must also realize the incredible power we possess as we often are within the scope of “trusted authorities” as teachers and “grown ups.”
When this system ruptures and the sky begins to fall there are sometimes feelings of anxiety, bewilderment, and devastation. In other instances, the change can more subtly emerge as a desire for more satisfying ways of knowing. Regardless, the new adolescents begin to understand that the scope of their world is far larger than they imagined and they begin to explore the early stages of independence, counterdependence. They know they don’t fit in the model they had imagined, but rather than step slightly to one side or the other they hurl themselves to the other side of the room. Instead of “I love you, Mom, but I don’t always like you” they shout “I hate you.” The expanse of the world beyond their childhood perceptions is so unfathomably great to them that they have no perspective of how to navigate it. While the resultant flailing about may look like independence, it is hugely dependent, relating conversely to the stability of the authority figure. Our role here is often to pad the walls even as we try to provide a sense of perspective.
Young Adults: Fragile Innerdependence
Parks uses the term innerdependence rather than independence or interdependence to relate that what is happening during this period is that young adults are coming to place themselves among the various sources of credible authority. This is fragile in that both the self and the outside authority are compromised during this period. The young adult doesn’t yet know how to trust herself, and because of that she is tentative to trust her own capacity to discern who else is trustworthy. There exists an incredible anxiety over falling back into dualistic and dependent ways of interpreting the world and yet a lack of self-knowledge to create a stable sense of internal authority. Young adults thus need space to explore and express both their own voice and the possible other external voices that might present helpful guidance in navigating the world. A plethora of options during this period is both overwhelming and absolutely necessary as the young adult discerns where to place her trust.
Tested Adult: Confident Innerdependence
The move toward confidence means the move from understanding others as mentors to understanding them as peers. This signifies a trust in oneself, one’s values, and one’s potential as equal to that of other sources of authority. While it is important that these sources become defined, it also means that other possible sources are excluded from the realm of authority. This can lead to closing oneself off to those beyond. Our role here is often to help tested adults name their own sources of authority and become cognizant of their presence, perhaps exploring them more fully and gaining a more complex understanding of each authority, including the self.
Mature Adult: Interdependence
If we are successful in this exploration many paradoxes will begin to emerge from the self-identified authorities, including paradoxes within the self. What Parks calls “the deep self” may emerge during this period including “the joys and sufferings of childhood, the unresolved issues of adolescence and…the dreams and hopes of young adulthood.” These paradoxes cause the tested adult to reach out to others to help them regain balance, resulting in an interdependence, not looking to the authority of the self or the other entirely, but looking to the authority of the encounter between the two.
When working in intergenerational environments it can often be difficult to tailor our language to the needs of each group, but we can be cognizant of the ways different age groups respond and their means of relating to us as educators and mentors. The message may be alike, but what does the follow up look like within each group? How many times will they need to hear the same message? From who? How can we engage their sources of authority to help them go deeper in their relationship with God?