Some young people exhibit traits (i.e.intelligence and confidence) that suggest a maturity level well beyond their years, but the teen still needs a caring adult to give them direction.
I released a book called Artificial Maturity. It’s about helping kids meet the challenge of becoming authentic adults. Since that book release, I’ve met loads of staff who work with students who’ve groaned about specific characteristics in kids that masquerade as maturity. In other words, we can mistake a young person for being mature, when in reality, they’re not. It’s not always their fault either. Check this out:
1. We often mistake intelligence for maturity.
How often does a mother observe how smart her kid is, and assumed he must be mature for his age and ready for experiences or freedom—and it backfires on her. Scientists have proven that the reward centers of the brain are not fully developed until our mid-twenties. Many kids are emotionally immature but so knowledgeable they can look mature and do terribly “dumb” things.
2. We mistake giftedness for maturity.
Frequently, we observe a kid on a stage singing or on a field performing, and they’re so good we unwittingly assume that talent must pervade all areas of their life. We know better, but we mistake that huge talent for seasoned experience. It’s been said many times—there is no correlation between giftedness and maturity. Just ask Lindsay Lohan or Macaulay Culkin.
3. We mistake confidence for maturity.
This one happens a lot. Students today are frequently confident - very confident. They’ve watched hundreds of YouTube videos, visited hundreds of websites, sent and received messages via text and Facebook. They’ve been exposed to lots of content, but it is information without experience. It’s often content without context and it is context that leads to authentic maturity.
4. We mistake savvy-ness for maturity.
Have you ever had a conversation with a teen or twenty-something and been amazed at their savvy style of relating? They’re quick with sarcasm or a pun; we hear them tell of how they manipulated a teacher to do something and we assume they are mature beyond their years. These are posers for what matters—holistic maturity that includes EQ not just IQ.
5. We mistake ambition or passion for maturity.
Because it’s rare in so many young people, we can assume a young person who displays a little passion for a “cause” or ambition about starting a business must be mature. Passion looks like conviction and ambition looks like persistence. While we should celebrate both in our students, they can be fleeting qualities that have little to do with genuine maturity.
6. We mistake influence for maturity.
This one is sinister. We often say that leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps it is, but I think young people (or seasoned veterans for that matter) can persuade others to do what they want, and lead people astray. Leaders can be terribly immature, but persuasive enough to push others toward a goal. It becomes the blind leading the blind.
This article may sound horribly negative. I don’t mean for it to. I’m simply sounding a warning to parents (or coaches, teachers) who get duped into a wrong impression, and assume a student or athlete has the “goods,” is completely objective, and is in control of their emotions. Speaking from a purely neurological standpoint, it just isn’t so. There are rare young people who developed in all areas quickly, but most need a caring adult to mentor them and see through the masquerade.
My advice? Look closely. See what’s really happening. Love and believe in students, but be honest with them. Help them diagnose their own growth. Expose them to real experiences. Equip them to grow up authentically.