Teenagers often feel enormous pressure to “grow up” quickly in today’s fast-paced world. This pressure isn’t just a harmless rite of passage; it can lead to significant emotional and psychological challenges. Adolescence is already a complex phase, and adding the hurry to mature can have long-term repercussions.
Societal Expectations Vs. Psychological Readiness
The urgency to mature is often imposed by various external factors like societal expectations, family responsibilities, and academic pressures. It’s as if we’re telling teens that they have to be a finished product before they have even explored the different versions of themselves they could be. Now, as a teenager, all of that is terrifying to think of. I’m not even thinking of what’s happening next week, how am I supposed to think of, at least, the next 5-10 years?
Post-high school, we’re thrust into juggling further education, work, and basic living expenses all at once. This disconnect between societal demands and our emotional readiness often fuels stress, anxiety, and depression.
Social Media and the Age of Comparison
Social media fuels the rush to grow up by displaying curated, seemingly perfect lives. Teens scrolling through feeds encounter peers who appear far more accomplished: starting businesses, traveling the world, or gaining early admission to prestigious universities, amplifying the pressure to excel quickly. While these platforms definitely have their upsides and are a great way for adolescents to connect, this comparison can contribute to an overwhelming sense of urgency and a feeling that we’re lagging behind.
The Financial Pressure
Another realm where the push to grow up takes shape is within the household, especially if there are financial constraints. These constraints can further escalate the struggles that may already be felt. Especially in economically challenged households, teens may feel obliged to take on part-time jobs or even skip higher education to help with family finances. These pressures not only rob us of our youth but also inhibit our emotional and psychological development.
What is often overlooked in the rush to adulthood is the importance of identity formation—a critical task of adolescence. Teens need time to explore different interests, belief systems, and relationships to understand who they are. Accelerating this process can lead to a shaky foundation of self, making it difficult for them to face future challenges with resilience and adaptability.
“The current generation may not yet be able to articulate how this reality is affecting them… We are seeing the effects of uncertainty on our youth, and this is something we cannot ignore.” ~ Lainie Liberti – Seen, Heard & Understood.
When we start to see this change and experience it for ourselves, our mental state starts to change. Some people become depressed and cannot see a reason to still enjoy life, because they are consistently told that the only life they’ve ever known is now over. Others, myself included, develop anxieties, due to becoming terrified of the unknown to come and no longer feeling in control of themselves and their life. The rest of us either land somewhere in between or get hit with a cocktail of it all, each person surviving differing levels.
These conditions can be further exacerbated when teens feel they can’t meet the “grown-up” standards imposed on them. We are most susceptible to adopting maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse or self-harm, as we grapple with our feelings of inadequacy.
Slow Down to Grow Up
Given these impacts, parents, educators, and society at large need to reassess the pressures they place on young people. As teenagers, as well as young adults, we are told to stop acting like the world is ending just because it’s ‘time for us to grow up’. When in fact, the world as we know it is ending. All we have known until now is how to be a kid, and a lot of us are pretty good at it. So when we’re told that we can no longer live the only way we have our entire lives, our world does end.
Suddenly you have this pressure dropped on your shoulders to start acting like an adult, when in fact you are still very much a kid. Teens need the space to stumble, make mistakes, and learn from them—essential components of growing up that should not be rushed.
Support us by encouraging exploration and offering a safe space for our concerns. We aren’t asking you to take the lead completely and pull us through life by a thread whilst you continue to learn and live yours. But we are asking that you help us learn how to pick that thread back up again after we’ve dropped it one too many times. Whether leading by example or simply standing by us, remember that growing up is a patient journey, not a sprint.