Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Adolescent Turmoil

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 29, 2011

   Graham, recently twenty,  says “it has been so long since I have partied, I am really worried I won’t like it.” Graham moved home from the dorms to save money and now he is going back to living on campus.  “I just don’t know how that lifestyle is going to be for me. I mean I did not like living with my parents, but I am worried what it will be like to be surrounded by people my age. I did not like it the first time I was there, so I don’t know how I am going to feel now.” “If you don’t want to party, are you afraid you will be lonely? Are you concerned that you won’t find like-minded folks who also don’t want to party?” I ask, thinking how prevalent alcohol is in this population, and concerned that for some kids this can be a major problem, but at the same time,I realize that parties are the social outlets for many college students. “I am just really anxious that I won’t make friends. I am sure I will, but I am still really anxious,” he says. “Coming home was a hard transition, and now moving back to school is also challenging. The change is so uncertain, so unsettling. ” I respond, trying to help him understand that his anxiety is understandable, although understanding it does not necessarily take the pain away.

  The social scene at college is so critical to Graham, like it is to so many people his age.  Fitting in, finding a peer group, seems to be a larger issue than the academic challenges that lie ahead. I wonder about college as a developmental milestone, and if it is, then what happens to kids who don’t go to college? Does college postpone maturity, promote it, or both? From patients like Graham, I see that college presents him a social opportunity that he hopes will compensate for his poor high school social life. At the same time, he knows that his lack of friends in high school, makes him insecure such that he might have a hard time making friends in college. So, university is both an arena of hope and despair for Graham. Maybe he can re-invent himself: hope. Maybe he will be that ‘weird kid’: despair. My job is to tie the past to the present, while at the same time helping him see hope in the future; hope in himself.

5 Responses to “Adolescent Turmoil”

  1. Shelly said

    Interesting. So going to college is really only a social experience if you move into a dorm or live in an apartment. If you live at home or don’t partake of the social life, then it really isn’t the earth-shattering social experience of a lifetime one expects. I lived at home while attending university and don’t recall any social life at all. I never had to worry about partying, alcohol, etc… So then, how does college postpone maturity if one lives at home or doesn’t partake of the partying scene? Or, as in other countries, one attends university after the army or after one marries and starts a family? When is university about gaining an education?

    • shirah said

      I think this is undocumented territory. The social aspects of college are unclear. My clinical experience tells me that college is emotionally very different for those who live on or near campus as opposed to those who live at home. I am not sure if college postpones maturity or helps maturity. Like adolescence, which was a 20th century concept, maybe now we have post-adolescence, or emerging adult, as the NYTimes said, as an added developmental phase in first world countries. Gaining an education is another aspect of the college experience, but again, my experience tells me that for many’kids’ this is secondary to developing a new social standing.

  2. jo said

    I hope he’s able to realize that people need friends that don’t party too and that, at most colleges, there will be plenty of others like him. The key is finding them and interest groups definitely make it easier to connect (rec sports, political groups, religious groups, etc). The other thing I’ve learned with age is that my partying friends don’t really care that I’m not a big partier. They accept me as I am and they like having a stable DD around.

    • shirah said

      Hi Jo,
      Thanks for your comments. You bring up a very good point. Interest groups are wonderful opportunties to find like-minded souls. A stable DD is certainly a good thing, but I imagine it is not much fun for you to go to a party while everyone else is intoxicated.

      • jo said

        Sometimes I have a lot of fun, especially when the drinking is lighter. Other times I wonder why I’m really there. Working on that ‘stuff’ in therapy. 🙂

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