The Difference Between Adults and Grown-Ups: Dr. Lisa Damour (Transcript)

Full text of clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour’s talk: The difference between adults and grown ups at TEDxCLE conference.


Dr. Lisa Damour – Clinical psychologist

Hi. So everything that I know about what it means to be a grown-up, I’ve learned from teenagers. I’m a psychologist who works with teenagers and doing this work has taught me so much about growing up.

And when I say growing up, I don’t just mean aging into adulthood, lots of people do that. I mean maturing into a real grown-up.

Now, all of us are connected to teenagers whether it’s our teenager or somebody else’s. So I’m going to share what I’ve learned about the differences between people who are merely adults and people who are really grown-ups. And I’m going to do this to clarify how all of us fit in to the process of helping young people grow up.

Now I will tell some stories from my work with teenagers, and I won’t share the details of any one person’s life. But I’ll share really amalgams of many, many moments I’ve spent with teenagers over the years.

All right, so let’s get down to business.

So the first difference that I’ve observed between people who are adults, so not really grown up, and people who have really grown up has to do with risk assessment.

So, what I mean is, how do we decide what chances to take? The way I see it, is that people who are merely adults, who haven’t really grown up, assess risk in terms of the chances of getting caught engaging in risky behavior.

In contrast, people who are really grown up assess risk in terms of the chances… in term of the actual consequences of the behaviors that they’re considering.

So using this as an example we see signs like this all the time. So people who are not grown-up see a sign like this and think, “Yeah. But what are the chances there’s a cop around the corner.”

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People who are grown-ups see signs like this and think, “Well, of course you have to slow down to take a curve. you can’t safely take a curve going full speed.”

Now the issue of risk assessment is especially critical when we talk about teenagers. If we look at data like this about risk taking over the life span, you see this big peak in adolescence. The fact of the matter is – teenagers take more chances than they should. And as a result, they do have higher accident rates than almost any other age group.

So, here’s a story from my work that really clarified for me this whole issue about risk assessment.

So, it’s a Thursday afternoon and a 17-year-old girl comes into my office and she’s in a great mood and she says, “Oh gosh! I can’t wait to tell you about my plans for the weekend.”

So the plans for the weekend are that she’s going to have a sleepover on a friend’s boat. And she’s going to have this sleepover with a boy who she does not know well.

And the kicker, right? She’s going to do all of this without her mother knowing where she is.

So she’s telling me the story, but she says, “It’s okay. I’ve thought it all through. I’ve thought it all through.” And she goes on to describe what she’s thought through and all that she has thought through is how she’s not going to get caught by her mother, right?

So she’s telling me this and of course it involves she’s telling her mom she’ll be at a sleepover at a friend’s house, and that friend knows to call my client, should the mother call that house.

And I’m listening to this, right, I’m supposed to be coming up with something useful to say. But I’m listening and all I am thinking is, “I’m going to call your mom, right?”

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