Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become"

From an interview at Psychology Today with Robert Epstein, a psychologist, about his book The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen. He argues that the infantilization of teenagers creates most of the problems attributed to adolescence. Selections from the interview:
.... We call our offspring "children" well past puberty. The trend started a hundred years ago and now extends childhood well into the 20s. The age at which Americans reach adulthood is increasing—30 is the new 20—and most Americans now believe a person isn't an adult until age 26.

The whole culture collaborates in artificially extending childhood, primarily through the school system and restrictions on labor. The two systems evolved together in the late 19th-century; the advocates of compulsory-education laws also pushed for child-labor laws, restricting the ways young people could work, in part to protect them from the abuses of the new factories. The juvenile justice system came into being at the same time. All of these systems isolate teens from adults, often in problematic ways. ....

We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other "children." In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. ....

.... The teens put before us as examples by, say, the music industry tend to be highly incompetent. Teens encourage each other to perform incompetently. One of the anthems of modern pop, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, is all about how we need to behave like we're stupid.

Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become. When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world, which is not the world of Britney Spears, they have no idea what's going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out. ....

Are you saying that teens should have more freedom?

No, they already have too much freedom—they are free to spend, to be disrespectful, to stay out all night, to have sex and take drugs. But they're not free to join the adult world, and that's what needs to change. .... [more]
Thanks to Anna Williams at First Things for directing me to this interview. She comments:
Naturally I disagree with him about abortion, and I’m not convinced that we should roll back child labor laws or institute the competency tests that he favors. Broadly, however, I think he’s right that the myth of the shallow, irresponsible teenager is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Parents may not be able to give their teenage sons and daughters all the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, but they can at least encourage teens to find a job and give them enough freedom to learn from their mistakes, just like adults do. ....
Which means being held responsible for their decisions.

Trashing Teens | Psychology Today

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