Editor’s Note: Thanks to, and appreciation for, Dr. Neufeld, who has written our 101st editorial – a measure of maturation for the Neufeld Institute as an organization – on the topic of maturation.
Everywhere I look in our society, I am struck by a seeming epidemic of polarization, tribalization, impulsive behaviour, dogmatism, black-and-white thinking, lack of consideration for context, lack of patience and grace, lack of perspective, lack of appreciation of the complexity of issues, lack of regard for fellow human beings.
What is missing, in short, is true maturity. I don’t mean the physical kind, but rather, the much more rare psychological or emotional kind. Growing older is no guarantee of growing up, and it seems that fewer of us are getting there these days, stuck in immaturity. The underlying condition in emotional immaturity is untempered experience and expression. The above-mentioned traits are but a few of its myriad manifestations.
What strikes me even more is that the construct of maturity has also gone missing in our society. Like emotion – which was eclipsed as an explanatory construct for more than 400 years – maturity (and its lack) seems to have all but disappeared as a way of making sense of individuals and their behaviour. Instead, we attribute the traits of immaturity to personality, typology, ideology, politics, socio-economic status, a lack of values, a lack of learning, mental illness, or even diagnosable disorder.
The problem with the current spate of immaturity is that it is not recognized for what it truly is. Once immaturity becomes the norm, especially in a peer-oriented society, it becomes eclipsed as an explanatory construct for what is wrong. The symptoms, now seen as normal, become more acceptable and even expected. One might say that the insidious enormity of immaturity is camouflaged by its normality. If we don’t recognize the problem for what it is, how are we ever going to effectively address it?
American poet and activist Robert Bly sounded the alarm about missing maturity in his 1996 book, Sibling Society. If immaturity was a recognizable problem 20 years ago, it has become an epidemic of tragic proportions today. Over ten years ago, in my book Hold On To Your Kids, I blamed this problem on the rampant peer orientation in our society – children cannot grow each other up. I don’t think it an accident that the worsening of peer orientation has paralleled the manifestations of immaturity in our society.
I do not believe we can blame the current epidemic of immaturity on the failure of education. In fact, I believe the opposite to be true: that a modicum of maturity is required for children to benefit from their schooling. Unfortunately, not even a PhD from an Ivy League university will eradicate immaturity. A lack of maturity cannot be blamed on the politics of the right or the left, or even the nature of the political system. However, it would seem that a working democracy requires a modicum of maturity in both its participants and its leaders. Immaturity cannot be blamed on poverty, mental illness, or behaviour disorder. There are no pills to cure immaturity; there is no discipline to correct the problem. No amount of money can buy maturity. Acting mature does not make it so.
The truth of the matter is that the realization of human potential is primarily in the hands of parents, pure and simple. It always has been. Thus our current epidemic of immaturity is home-grown (pardon the pun). It’s not that we aren’t trying as parents; I think as a whole we have never been trying harder. But we can’t effectively raise children who aren’t in right relationship with us. And we can’t grow children up by focusing more on their behaviour than on the conditions that are conducive to true growth and maturation.
Although we are responsible for raising children to their full human potential, the other truth of the matter is that none of us can cause growth to happen, in ourselves or in our children. This is where Nature comes in. But Nature cannot do this alone – any more than it can with the plants in our gardens. Nature needs us to provide the conditions that nurture the maturing processes. Together we can make this happen but it helps to know a bit about how Nature does things and what it requires to do its work. I am reminded of Aristotle’s observation that ‘in all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.’ It seems to me that, if ever something marvelous was needed in our world, now is the time.
If there is hope in this world – and I believe there is – it is in truly growing our children up. If one is inclined towards New Year’s resolutions, there could not be a more important one to make. We need to make this our priority above all. To do this, however, we need to know what immaturity looks like so that we will also know when maturation is the only answer to the problem at hand. And we need to know what Nature needs from us to do its marvelous work.
Fortunately, today’s developmental science does have answers for us, but this knowledge is having a hard time making it to the streets, or in this case, the homes of our nations. I have created some courses to help bridge this knowledge gap, and one in particular – Helping Children Grow Up – is apropos to the crisis at hand. If growing your children up is your goal, I invite you to give this online course a try. We are, after all, our children’s best hope for escaping the clutches of immaturity.
Our next online course for Helping Children Grow Up begins February 7, 2017. This is the second course in our signature Power-to-Parent series. As a special one-time offer, we are waiving the prerequisite Power-to-Parent I: The Vital Connection for this course. Registrants will instead be given access to Dr. Neufeld’s Roots of Attachment webinar as a substitute for this prerequisite.