Monday, February 16, 2009

Ending Adolescence

Shocking as it may be to many, there is validity to the claim that "adolescence" is a twentieth-century invention. Additionally, there is validity behind the argument that the creation of adolescence has been a huge mistake for contemporary society. As high schools struggle with establishing a reasonable level of education for all students, as state governments in New Hampshire and Massachusetts consider offering graduation at sixteen, as some school districts move away from grade levels toward basic standards of competency, as college presidents push to lower the drinking age to eighteen, as communities struggle with levels of driving privileges, it becomes clear that society needs to figure out what an adult is and what do do with all these teenagers. This issue is compelling explored in-depth in the book "The Case Against Adolescence" by Dr. Robert Epstein. He argues that as society has decreased the responsibility of adolescents and increased the restrictions on their freedom, we have complicated what should be a more seamless transition between childhood and adulthood. He may be right.

Clearly, age is a completely arbitrary factor in establishing competency for a myriad of rights and responsibilities. There are plenty of fourteen-year olds who can competently drive, sixteen-year-olds who can competently vote, and eighteen-year-olds who can competently drink. It's the last one, by the way, that I have the most difficulty with. However, I can reasonably understand that there is a disturbing discrepancy between the time societies have historically bestowed adulthood and the polls which show the average adult didn't consider himself an adult until about the age of twenty-six. Why does nature bestow adulthood at puberty and religions bestow it at about the same time, though American law pushes it to eighteen and twenty-one, and American culture apparently sets it in the mid-twenties. This is a problem.

I have long considered the idea that American society should consider lopping one year off of high school and two years off of college, as the current system is surprisingly inefficient. As a high school teacher, I always have a considerable number of juniors who are ready for college - as noted by the presence of AP classes. Granted, there are issues of emotional maturity to consider. However, those are not established by age, and many of my students who clearly seem ready for college and life often don't believe they are. That's sad. There is much to consider about Epstein's beliefs, and while some assertions make me (and him) rather uncomfortable, I hope his ideas begin to generate and contribute to the type of debate American society needs to have.

3 comments:

Mrs. C said...

Yep. I have a 13-y-o that if I HAD to, I would lump in with my 7-y-o if I had to home educate.

Then again, I have a 15-y-o I'd be happy to drop off at a "walking" college next week if I had about two weeks to chat with him about how to get from one place to another, and what not to eat at the cafeteria, and how to answer the phone (!). He'd be ready.

But that being said, the average family doesn't have to make a child as responsible if there aren't several younger siblings or other things going on. Patrick has had a hard time having to care for his autistic brothers and deal with me being on bedrest for the last two summers. BUT it's resulted in his being able to do all laundry, housekeeping and almost everything but paying the bills and the grocery shopping.

He can make the grocery list, though. He just can't drive to go get the stuff and use my credit card to pay for it yet. :]

Knocking on wood, but I also think having of necessity to pull together as a TEAM eliminates some of that animosity/teen rebellion. You'd better believe I respect Patrick and his hard work. I need him. And he knows that his lack of privileges aren't the result of meanness but genuine lack of money or time or van space. He's managed about everything here at home and is well-acquainted with the limitations of his brothers, the budget, etc. :]

drrobertepstein.com said...

I just wanted to thank you for your thoughtful blog. There's more info about the book at http://TheCaseAgainstAdolescence.com, and my online test of adultness can be taken free of charge at http://HowAdultAreYou.com. I hope at some point that you'll share your views about the book at Amazon.com, where the reaction has been mixed--as one might expect. Cordially, /Robert Epstein

drrobertepstein.com said...

I just wanted to thank you for your thoughtful blog. There's more info about the book at http://TheCaseAgainstAdolescence.com, and my online test of adultness can be taken free of charge at http://HowAdultAreYou.com. I hope at some point that you'll share your views about the book at Amazon.com, where the reaction has been mixed--as one might expect. Cordially, /Robert Epstein