The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Introduction: Adulthood—From the Inside Out
Represent staff

What does it mean to be grown: Finishing high school? Getting a driver’s license? Voting? Holding down a job? Aging out of foster care? Having kids? Turning 18? 21? 26?

Do you feel different when you’re an adult? Do you stop making mistakes? Do you have to do everything on your own?

When the writers here at Represent thought about adulthood, they first thought of practical things like getting a job that pays enough to cover bills and rent. Especially for youth who have been in care, it makes sense to focus on the challenges of survival.

But becoming an adult also has an emotional component. That internal part of growing up can get overlooked, but it is essential to achieving the concrete goals.

People who study adult success say that social and emotional learning (SEL) helps you achieve graduation, employment, and the other milestones. The five SEL “competencies” can also be seen as five aspects of maturity. Broken down like this, successful adulthood seems less mysterious and far away:

1. Self-awareness – recognizing your emotions and how they influence your behavior. Discovering your interests and values helps you see your strengths, which leads to self-confidence and hope.

2. Self-management – managing your emotions and actions so they help you achieve your goals rather than tripping you up.

3. Relationship management – establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation. This includes listening, negotiating conflict, and seeking and offering help.

image by YC-Art Dept

4. Social awareness – looking beyond yourself by empathizing with others. Recognizing and appreciating similarities and differences in diverse groups of people.

5. Responsible decision-making – figuring out what’s right and wrong for you, what’s safe, how to behave with different kinds of people, and thinking through the consequences of your actions.

We don’t automatically master these things when we turn 18, or 21, or even 40: We work on them our whole lives. Unfortunately, if we grew up in care, we often didn’t get the guidance and encouragement that helps people build these skills. But even if you haven’t had the best role models, you can still develop your social and emotional strengths.

This issue of Represent focuses on both the internal and external aspects of growing up, and how they feed off each other. Old wounds can block our path to maturity, but each success helps us grow.

The author of “Who Will I Be as an Adult?” finds herself stuck after she ages out of care. She had abusers instead of role models, and their insults ring in her ears when she considers work or college. She has plenty of self-awareness, but is still learning the self-management and decision-making skills she needs to persevere.

Marlo Scott’s “Learning to Succeed” also explores how working affected his SEL skills. In each job, he learns something about the world and himself and expands his confidence. To supplement Marlo’s practical advice, we include tips for improving your resume.

The issue also includes stories about foster youth aging out without housing and finances in place. They have insights for staff who are preparing teens for that fateful birthday. Several stories show tough choices that people who’ve aged out make when they don’t have enough money, and how they adjust their strategies after making mistakes.

We highlight young people figuring out their beliefs and values through reading and studying, which is a time-tested way to build self-awareness and social awareness. And we interview two adults who grew up in care years ago. They share the ways that foster care stays with you and how they keep healing and growing.

Aging out is scary. We hope this issue can expand readers’ vision of adult life beyond paying bills to include freedom, self-knowledge, mastery, and a lifetime of becoming who you want to be in the world.

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