Is there another way to do teenhood? In today’s society education lasts longer, we live longer, we delay marriage. We teach delay of sex until marriage. Yet biologically hormones still kick in when they’ve always kicked in. Are “kids” growing up too soon or not soon enough?
Psychology Today recently interviewed Robert Epstein about his new book, “The Case Against Adolescence.” PT states the premise of the book: “teens are far more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed on them.”
Some extracts from the interview:
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.
Imagine what it would feel like—or think back to what it felt like—when your body and mind are telling you you’re an adult while the adults around you keep insisting you’re a child. This infantilization makes many young people angry or depressed.
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. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. But we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable.
There are now massive industries—music, clothing, makeup—that revolve around this artificial segment of society and keep it going, with teens spending upward of $200 billion a year almost entirely on trivia.
In recent surveys I’ve found that American teens are subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as mainstream adults, twice as many restrictions as active-duty U.S. Marines, and even twice as many as incarcerated felons. …. The more young people are infantilized, the more psychopathology they show. What’s more, since 1960, restrictions on teens have been accelerating.
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.
According to census data, the divorce rate of males marrying in their teens is lower than that of males marrying in their 20s. Overall the divorce rate of people marrying in their teens is a little higher. Does that mean we should prohibit them from marrying? That’s absurd. We should aim to reverse that, telling young people the truth: that they are capable of creating long-term stable relationships. They might fail—but adults do every day, too.
The “friends with benefits” phenomenon is a by-product of isolating adolescents, warehousing them together, and delivering messages that they are incapable of long-term relationships. Obviously they have strong sexual urges and act on them in ways that are irresponsible. We can change that by letting them know they are capable of having more than a hookup.
Studies show that we reach the highest levels of moral reasoning while we’re still in our teens.
It’s a simple matter to develop competency tests to determine what rights a young person should be given, just as we now have competency tests for driving. When you offer significant rights for passing such a test, it’s highly motivating; people who can’t pass a high-school history test will never give up trying to pass the written test at the DMV, and they’ll virtually always succeed. … When we dangle significant rewards in front of our young people—including the right to be treated like an adult—many will set aside the trivia of teen culture and work hard to join the adult world.
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.
Unfortunately, the current systems are so entrenched that parents can do little to counter infantilization. No one parent can confer property rights, even though they would be highly motivating.
Read it all here. Questions for reflection:
1. Do you buy the premise?
2. Has the church followed culture and infantilized teenagers?
3. What can the church do different?
Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the pointer; see MR’s wisdom on the subject here.