Stephen Cowan

Stephen Cowan, MD, Director of Health & Education

This is the first in a six-part series on the Five Phase Journey through Adolescence.

Just when you thought you figured it all out, everything changes!

One of the profound wonders I get to witness every day in my pediatric practice is the way children transform themselves throughout their lives.  Preparing parents and children for these changes can help them navigate the deep mysteries of growing up.  Nowhere is this more important than during the dramatic transitions through adolescence.  Everyone needs a map when they enter new territory. I have, for many years now, used the Five Phase Cycle, the ancient farming map that has its origins in Chinese philosophy, to help guide parents and children to see through a wider-angle lens, the secret meanings held within all these changes.

The journey of a thousand miles begins right beneath your feet

Parenting is a spiritual practice that begins right in the middle of your life. For parents, in order to prepare to help your child move through the immense transitions and transformations of adolescence, you must embrace the spirit of change within yourself. The first step on this journey is to:


This means letting go of any fixed ideas and judgments you may have about how your child should grow up.  This may be the greatest spiritual challenge of all.  Let’s face it, no one likes to be judged, especially teenagers.  Judgments are the best way to ensure your child won’t hear a single thing you say.  On the other hand, when you open your heart to the unique style and power that each child has, there is a shared sense of dignity and respect that is much more likely to open healthy lines of communication between you.  In this way, you become a safe haven for your child to ask the deep questions that are bound to arise without feeling shame or embarrassment.

To understand the five powers, see the tournesol kids video here.

The stages of adolescence unfold like seasons.

The stages of our life are a microcosm of the seasons.  This is a basic premise of the map I use to track the ecological terrain of transitions and transformations throughout our life.  This is how the context shapes our secret power.  As each developmental stage transitions into the next, existential questions are raised that challenge your child to grow and widen their perspective, building a deeper sense of self and the world around them.  Each of these deep questions reflects one of the five seasonal powers:

Winter energy (Water power): Who am I?
Spring energy (Wood power): Where am I going?
Summer energy (Fire power): When am I going to get there?
Harvest energy (Earth power): How am I going to get there?
Autumn energy (Gold power): Why am I going through all this?


The transitions between the seasons are the very places where parents have the opportunity to support their children’s growth:

  • Winter (Water) transitions into Spring (Wood). 
  • Spring (Wood) transitions into Summer (Fire). 
  • Summer (Fire) transitions into Harvest (Earth). 
  • Harvest (Earth) transitions into Autumn (Gold).
  • Autumn (Gold) transitions into winter (Water).