Desperate in the Sanctuary-Prison of Adolescence

The alternative titles for this topic have been “Games, Manipulations, and Seductions in Counseling the Difficult Adolescent- Developmental, Cross-Cultural, and Strategic Principles and Approaches” and “Desperate in the Sanctuary-Prison of Adolescence- Keys to Successful Interactions with Adolescents.”

Games, Manipulations, and Seductions

“Make me an offer so I can spit on it” is one of the games.  A person often gets into dynamics where a kid, teenagers, and often times an adult play a “game” with them.  Not a fun or mutually entertaining game but a game of manipulation or seduction.  And if the targeted person does not “get” what the game is all about, he/she gets “played,” sometimes as a mouse gets played with by a cat!  The person (Avril the mom) may get manipulated into doing something not in his/her best interests, the best interests of the family, group, community, or of the gamer him/herself (Judy).  The game may be seductive in that the gamed person may believe or feel something good is coming out of acquiescing- usually the good will, adoration, or gratitude of the gamer. This is often a false gain that lasts only as long as the gamer is getting what he/she wants or until the gamer wants something else and the targeted person may dare to deny the new request.  Oh horrors!

Pseudo-Developmental vs. Developmental Theory

It may seem as this is a phase that some kids or teens go through, but one often knows one or another kid or teen who seems to have this as an incredibly enduring phase!  In fact, one may know an adult or two who seems permanently stuck gaming boundaries, expectations, rules, and relationships.  Hoping that someone important to you will eventually “grow out of it,” becomes basically a pseudo-developmental magical thinking.  Well, if wishes came true we’d all have ponies!  Instead, one can end up feeling like the wrong end of the horse wishing your kid or teen suddenly and without discipline, boundaries, and consequences will start acting with mature wisdom.  The important principle here is that if a child, teen, or person has somehow developed the gaming, manipulating, and seductive style and strategy to gain mastery in his/her life, is that is working!  Or, at least working well enough.  In other words, you and some other adults or those who should be leaders are essentially rewarding the gamer. Therefore, there’s no reason to “grow out of” a process that works at least well enough at home… or in a classroom… or a group… or an office… or some community, if the leaders (parents, teachers, coach, boss, etc.) fail to recognize what is being taught- being learned.  Another reminder that as we are teaching something, the person may be learning something entirely different!


In fact, there may be a significant comfort in the familiarity of the indulging group: home, classroom, group, office, etc.  Ideally, the family is a place of sanctuary where a person can relax.  Safe from predation, competition, enemies, and surrounded by supportive family members compassionate and in tune with one, the individual is relatively free from needing to stay sensitive or vigilant for dangerous intruders and intrusions.  While families may vary from the ideal, normal individual and social development includes the child and especially, the teenager eventually moving beyond and outside the family circle to embrace a group of peers.   As the child becoming a teenager becomes more and more invested in the attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors of the peer group, his/her experience can be conceptualized as a cross-cultural transition.  The attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors for functioning, surviving, and hopefully flourishing in the initial intimacy community of the family may or may not be transferable or applicable to the new community.  Much like an immigrant from another country, there becomes a cross-cultural challenge uncovering unacknowledged culturally-bond habits, recognizing cross-cultural differences, and adapting (hopefully) to the new communities cultural demands and expectations.  Where a Chinese or Mexican or Italian or Somalian or other immigrant to the United States anticipates the cultural differences, the evolving teenager may only semi-consciously be aware that he/she needs to be more and more bi-culturally functional.


Immigration must be one of the most radical choices for any person or family- to leave behind the language, customs, weather, people, traditions, food… everything that one is knowledgeable, proficient in, comfortable with, invested in, and more.  To leave all that behind, to go to a new world with so much that is different and with so many things that you do not even know yet will be different.  Interesting, many immigrants once they have made such a radical move, become highly conservative.  They may shut down in their house and try to become completely walled off from the mainstream society.  Dealing with the mainstream American world only when necessary, at home the furnishings, religion, language, customs, food, music- all that make up culture is practiced and enforced with an intense rigidity.  The home becomes a cultural sanctuary.  It becomes the sanctuary where everything is familiar, everyone knows you and understands you.  It is where you know exactly how to act… and how everyone will respond.  There is no need for vigilance or sensitivity to culturally ambiguous cues.  However, it can also become a prison where it is the ONLY place where one has sanctuary.  Stuck in a cultural island amidst the mainstream society, it becomes a prison of choice… a choice of emotionally cultural necessity.

For some teenagers, being with their group of peers with their adolescent culture that they are completely familiar with and highly conversant can become stuck in their sanctuary-prison of adolescence.  While often unable to shut down and wall oneself from the adult world of academics, vocational, and community responsibilities, such teenagers often instinctively revert to the adolescent sanctuary and adolescent behaviors ill-suited culturally to the adult world.  While they may present arrogantly and self-righteously, such teenagers are also desperate- terrified as they intuitively if not also consciously know that their peer functioning will not be sufficient to survive in the impending adult world.


While some individuals may find the outside, larger, or non-familial world intimidating and avoid entry, the family’s normal child development and discipline orientation has always been for the child-teen to enter the adult world.  Children and teenagers hear all their lives that they will be adults eventually, and that what parents, teachers, and others are and have been doing are preparing them for that world.  Easier said than done.  There is often significant stress and turmoil reconciling the differences between the children’s world and the adult world.  At twelve, or sixteen, or eighteen, or twenty-one years of age, the child is not abruptly an adult with adult awareness, maturity, and capacities.  Mechanism for a transitional period of gradually lesser child-like functioning and gradually greater adult-like functioning become critical for a successful entry into the demands of economic responsibilities, familial: spousal and parenting, and community involvement.

This transitional period was not conceptualized up until roughly a bit more than one hundred years ago in the late 1800’s.  Life expectancy in the middle ages was about 33 years; in the United States life expectancy at the beginning of the 1900’s was only 47 years, while nowadays it is almost eighty years.  Billy the Kid was a kid!  His years of criminal notoriety started when he was eighteen and ended when he was all of twenty-one.  Marriage vows of “til death do us part,” were not that much of a commitment!  Especially, for women who died often from complications of child birth prior to the advent of hygienic medical practices (such as doctors washing their hands!).  For thousands of years, boys and girls were men and women upon reaching puberty- they made and had babies in their early teens and had or were already accumulating all the responsibilities of adulthood.

Technological Demands

Much of this early ascent into adulthood had to do with a fairly low technological world where basic functioning could be accomplished with the physical and intellectual maturity of a post-pubescent individual- that is, manual labor was sufficient.  Reading was left to the aristocracy and the clergy.  Farming, hunter or gatherer skills, and so on did not require advanced training.  Informally and formally, ones gained necessary skills from adult models in the community.  However, as the world become more complex technologically, the skills along with accompanying attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors become more complex- too complex for the relatively short developmental learning period of childhood to approximately twelve or thirteen years of age.  Intuitively initially and gradually institutionalized in culture, more technologically developing countries acquired a longer period of development to transition from childhood into adulthood.

This transitional period- a gift to children to become more proficient before entering adulthood had many challenges.  Not the least of these challenges was sexual maturity, sexual knowledge, and raging hormones while still considered… and morally, socially, and often legally limited in sexual activity at an age where for thousands of years they would have been happily (or otherwise) sexually active in more or less socially and culturally sanctioned relationships (marriage of teenagers to teenagers or in the case of girls/women, to older men).  In addition according to intellectual development theorists such as Jean Piaget, at twelve years old they had the capacity for adult reasoning.  Yet, with adolescence they as children still (to society), they were not allowed to make many adult choices- sometimes, by family or community declaration or by legal mandates.  Over hundred plus years, Western society (United States and Western Europe primarily) struggled in to come up with new rules, boundaries, and models of advanced-but-not-yet-adult childhood for the 5-6 years extension known as adolescence.  Arguably… quite arguably, a more or less workable set of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors were overtly and implicitly codified for American parents and other child-teenage mentors, teachers, and developmental facilitators.  And then…

Lions and Tigers and Bears and the Internet… and smartphones… and sexting!  Oh my!

The relatively new process (beginning only since the late 1800s) for the adolescent stage… already very inconsistent… already barely or erratically effective… already conflicted and contested with centuries and millennial old culture… that is, problematically effective for the last century’s technological demands for advanced development (educational growth, literacy, social/cultural/political awareness and participation, etc.) now is further challenged with new technology and their cultural/social ramifications.

A functional definition of culture is that it is comprised of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors for survival in a specific environmental context.  That could be China vs. the United States, New York City vs. Eagle Butte, South Dakota, late 17th century vs. early 19th century Potomac River communities, or Google headquarters vs. Pottery Barn headquarters.  And it can be the adolescent world and the adult world.  Within culture (or attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors) are games, manipulations, and seductions for survival.  In the developmental stage of adolescence, these processes and dynamics are identifiable… and as a result, can be used to guide interacting and supporting teenagers.  Whether they admit it or not, many teenagers are looking for leadership.  They are desperate in the adolescent sanctuary-prison.  However, you or any adult cannot be that leader if you cannot past their test.  That test is whether or not you can be gamed.  If you are too ignorant or otherwise disengaged to recognize the teenager’s game, manipulation, or seduction, you lose credibility to be listened to or considered a resource for dealing with the adult world.  If you cannot relate or understand the adolescent world (the sanctuary) or how he/she is stuck (prison), then you cannot be the leader.  Unlike an adult “gamer” who has become characterologically immersed in manipulations, most teenagers desperately want someone- particularly an experienced adult credible enough to consider listening to.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s