TCKs are often seen by others (and often see themselves) as being mature for their age. As such, they are frequently more comfortable around older people in their community than their peers. Others sometimes look with envy at their assumed air of confidence and are impressed by their ease of speaking to adults or of travelling the world alone without hesitation. Pollock and Van Reken believe that this appearance of being advanced for their years stems from several aspects. TCKs generally have a broad base of knowledge and awareness about such things as geography, politics, current affairs, and often display a keen interest in areas which are typically not necessarily of interest to their contemporaries back in their home country. In addition to this, TCKs pick up some wonderful but less common social or practical skills which increase their confidence, for example, how to set up solar panelling or generators to provide power in countries which do not run on mains electricity.
Being able to connect with ease to adults results from simply spending so much time in their company; the TCK doesn’t feel awkward and uncomfortable in forming relationships with adults. Communication skills also contribute to a sense of maturity. Being multi-lingual allows the TCK to communicate with a diverse group, often effortlessly switching between languages because they commonly translate for their parents, who may not have picked up the new language yet. Translation would usually be associated with an adult’s task, not a child’s. In summary, this exposure to diversity generates a sense of maturity through experience.
Early autonomy is something that TCKs seem to get more of, in comparison to their peers back in their home country. The freedom and frequent encouragement to explore a new environment, travelling to school and back on a daily basis, and perhaps having to navigate the wider world of travel on their own, often forces the young TCK into early autonomy.
As usual there is a flip side to this early maturity, which has been described as delayed adolescence. Ruth Hill Useem and Ann Baker Cottrell carried out a survey of approximately 700 ATCKs and found that it wasn’t uncommon for TCKs to go through delayed adolescence, which often manifests itself around the age of 22-24, sometimes later. This presents itself in the TCK not feeling on the same “wavelength” as their peers; a feeling of disconnection, as it were. TCKs who are not familiar with the concept of delayed adolescence can feel very isolated while trying to figure this out.
What is meant by delayed adolescence? In our previous article ‘Why does it seem so difficult for many TCK’s to find a sense of identity?’ we explored five psychological and emotional developmental stages that have been used to describe the journey from infancy to adulthood, namely; Establishing a Personal Sense of Identity, Building Relationships, Learning Decision Making, Achieving independence and Adulthood. In essence, delayed adolescence equates to a slower progress through these stages: it often takes the TCK longer to complete than is usually expected from others in more “stable” environments.