It has been said that one of the reasons that teenagers in the western world struggle, is because there are no clear rites of passage to mark their transition from childhood to adult responsibilities. No cattle jumping ceremonies, no circumcision rituals, no going walkabout.
Instead, there seems to have been the almost random selection of a particular birthday to mark the start of adulthood. The age at which this happens has changed over the years, from celebrating the twenty-first birthday in my parents’ day when we were given the key to the door, to the eighteenth birthday in my youth – where I was among the first group of 18 year olds able to vote in Britain. At the moment there is talk of reducing this age of transition even further to sixteen.
One of the reasons for this long period of transition is the long period of education and training necessary for young people to learn all the knowledge, and skills, required to function in the modern world. This has become necessary because of the move away from a traditional, predominantly rural, hand-made world – one where there were clear boundaries between child and adult – to the modern industrial and digital age, where adolescence has become a long, drawn out affair, stuck in a twilight zone between the two.
In a world where many of the old certainties have gone, young people are struggling to develop a strong sense of identity and to grow to maturity in a world of rapid change. A world where technologies become obsolete almost as soon as they are introduced.
Most seem to cope well with this period of adolescent development, but a sizeable minority struggle, threatening to drown in this stormy sea of change and uncertainty. It is this group of young people who are at the highest risk of developing a depressive syndrome, with all the problems that this can bring to their future emotional, social, and personal development.
It is this group who would benefit from extra support and help in negotiating the transitional process.