I took my two youngest “children” (22 and 19) to the movie theater over the weekend and the subject of Miley Cyrus’ unfortunate VMA performance came up. My son asked the very relevant question: “What the frick is UP with her?”
The best thing I could come up with off the cuff was “When people skip certain developmental stages, they tend to stop maturing and remain “stuck” in adolescent mode.”
As an example, I told him that certain people are more at risk for social immaturity:
- Those who began abusing alcohol or drugs at a very young age
- Girls who become pregnant as teenagers
- Children who are sexually abused
- Child actors
Technically, I couldn’t explain why, only that it “is what it is.”
But, I found an excellent essay (gotta love the internet) that explains it very well, and offers some great information to help explain Miley’s behavior (to children old enough to understand it) without bashing her. Her issues largely came about from circumstances beyond her control. In other words, she needs help and is acting out because of it, let’s just wish her well.
Layers of Maturity
Back to the essay — an excellent resource on the subject written by mental health blogger Mark Dombeck; he makes some of the esoteric, technical language used by mental health professionals easier to understand. He extrapolates on, or rather nicely condenses Robert Kegan’s theory of social maturation: the process occurs in layers, just as cognitive development does.
When a young child begins to separate the world from himself, he comes to a point when he sees the world from his perspective and his perspective alone. He doesn’t have the capacity to consider the perspective of others or to even realize that those viewpoints could possibly differ from his own.
As the child progresses, he begins to realize that there are other perspectives out there but too-bad-so-sad, he doesn’t care. This is the narcissistic stage (by the way, these are NOT the official, psychological terms for these stages; rather, it’s how I eventually explained it to my son).
During this phase, kids tend to see themselves as above the rules; compromise and mutual understanding are difficult because they simply have not developmentally matured enough to embrace those concepts. Certainly, this contributes to adolescent rebellion against authority.
As the child develops further still, she begins to understand that there are multiple ways to tackle a problem or view a circumstance. Ultimately, a reasonably mature adult is one who can see another person’s perspective and although she might not agree with the other stance, she can understand where it came and ultimately respect it.
Therapists admit that people who have not experienced all of these phases are the most difficult to treat; successful therapy sessions require a modicum of social maturity. A therapist friend of mine says she will not treat someone with borderline personality disorder (bps are clearly socially immature) because “invariably I end up working harder than the borderline does.”
Those who began to abuse drugs and alcohol in adolescence often have difficulty maneuvering social interactions once they become sober because of this developmental lapse. Sexually abused children and girls who become pregnant at a young age suffer a similar fate. And child actors like Miley? There are likely several stages of development that are compromised in those situations.
When the maturity process is short circuited, there will be a price to pay; you can’t circumvent any stage of “growing up.” A friend of mine puts it this way: “if you don’t deal with your adolescent stuff early on, it’ll bite you in the butt later down the road.”
So, I told my son, “This explains Miley’s behavior, but it by no means excuses it.” We’ll save that conversation for our next car ride to the movie theater.