By Michael Losoff, PhD
Staff Psychologist, Director of Adolescent Services
A book that has had a vivid impact on me, even though I first encountered it in the 1980’s, is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, he talks about moments in history when the view of the world changes in a deep and fundamental way. He talks about these moments as representing a paradigm shift—a fundamental change in approach and in our underlying assumptions. We are living through such a shift right now – the way we see and understand and approach the world will never be the same. Our very reality is in the process of change. Our lives are upended.
Who can help us live in a space of such great uncertainty, when we look at the world with which we are familiar one moment and then blink, only to see a fundamentally different world? Who will walk alongside us (at a distance of six feet!) through such a turbulent time? Who will model for us how to be flexible?
Wait, seriously, young people?
Yes, young people. Teenagers and emerging adults live in a world filled with change. It is developmentally precisely what is going on with them at all times. Their brains are making neuronal connections at a more rapid and robust pace than at any other time in life except for early childhood. The way they think about things, including their own identity, is evolving transformatively. The way they relate to others is becoming more varied and nuanced. In essence, they are Paradigm Shift embodied.
We often lament that teens and emerging adults can be impulsive, make poor judgments, that they need our guidance and direction. And that is all true. Yet, because they are in the process of shift, because their brains are not yet as fully formed and sealed into place as adult brains, young people are open to experiences that help the brain make connections reflecting paths with more contemporary resonance.
One powerful example of the benefits of this flexibility came for me as I was wrestling with using the pronoun “they” more conscientiously with gender non-binary or gender fluid individuals. There was something about my brain that prevented me from making the shift with the facility I wished. Then one day I had a lengthy conversation about the matter with my emerging adult daughter. With some patience on her part, and a willingness to listen to her on my part, she was able to help me see the world in which she grew up, a world in which a paradigm shift was being made regarding how gender is understood. I was in awe of how comfortable she was with this paradigm shift. I also was thankful, as it helped me to see and understand and sit more comfortably, effectively and respectfully with the shift. As we all work to take in what is going on around us, as we all wrestle with a world that is upended, a world that is in the process of a paradigm shift, it is okay—no, it is actually likely helpful—to turn to the teenagers and young adults around us and ask “Hey, what on earth is happening right now?” They might surprise in how much more comfortable they are about living with that question. It is a comfort we all could use at this time of such a sudden and rapid paradigm shift.