Week 3: In the name of maximizing teens’ energy and talent, might it be time to end the concept of “adolescence”?
Dr. Robert Epstein
In my book Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence, I asserted that adults largely deny teens both the responsibilities and rights of adult life, yet we expect you to be serious about learning (as well as driving, your health, and many other matters). I discuss how “adolescence” was invented to help keep youth out of sweatshops and coal mines, but the long-term effect is that you are trapped you in a phase of life that’s unnecessary, restricting you from achieving a lot for yourselves and for our nation. For example, I found that U.S. teens have 10 times as many restrictions as adults, twice as many as active-duty U.S. marines and twice as many as incarcerated felons!
Consider these stories of “achievement” from a different time: At age 13, Benjamin Franklin finished school in Boston, was apprenticed to his brother, a printer and publisher, and moved immediately into adulthood. John Quincy Adams attended Leiden University in Holland at 13 and at 14 was employed as secretary and interpreter by the American Ambassador to Russia. At 16 he was secretary to the U.S. delegation during the negotiations with Britain that ended the Revolution. Daniel Boone got his first rifle at 12, was an expert hunter at 13, and at 15 made a yearlong trek through the wilderness to begin his career as America's most famous explorer. The list goes on and on.
What do you think? In the name of maximizing teens’ energy and talent, might it be time to end the concept of “adolescence”? Do you feel restricted, or held back from what you might otherwise be accomplishing? If so, in what ways? With less restriction, would you spend your time differently? If given more responsibility and opportunity, would YOU achieve more? How so?
I believe the youth of today are the most valuable resource to utilize. We experience life as citizens from a whole different perspective than adults. We understand things with a different sense of logic in comparison to adults. However, with the limits placed upon us, it is hard for adults to see how insightful we can be. I believe the concept of adolescence is imaginary, only made up by adults because they do not think we are capable, or mature enough, to handle "adult" tasks. In everyday life, I feel as a teenager we don't have the choice on most of the decisions that impact us. Our school district is cutting 363 teachers on the account of low funding, and the students are the ones being affected the most. However, we did not get a say in how the budget should be handled. Although I understand the logical reasoning behind saving money for the district, our opinions deserve to be heard. There may be possible alternatives to the crisis. With less restriction as a teenager, I would embrace this new found freedom and form partnerships with adults who make important decisions and be sure to put forth a representative voice of youth. I would be sure to achieve more as an advocate for youth and put some of our input on the table.
Personally, I don't believe in the idea, of someone suddenly becoming mature or capable at a certain age. My school is K-12 nd I have seen 6 to 8 year old students put projects together that some teens wouldn't even think of let alone do the work to put together. An example is one child I know who is 7 loves trains and can tell you about all the different models trains have, their gauges, where they are in the world, how old the train is, etc. He's very articulate and outspoken about it to, in a way I find even some adults would have difficulty in doing. I believe when someone truly loves learning about something, they will pursue learning it against all odds, including society's general idea that kids and teens are less responsible or less capable. To put it short and sweetly, I don't feel restricted in accomplishing things and I pursue having more responsibility and opprtunity for things I care about. As for ending the concept of adolescence, I feel it's more important to create educational environments where students of all ages feel able to follow the careers and life goals they want to then to end the "idea" of adolescence..
Although I sometimes feel like adults put unnecessary restrictions on my life and don't let me make desicions of my own, I think 'adolescence' is an important part of human development. I heard once that the brain of a teenager is closest to the brain of toddler than any other age group. I do not think that it would be the best idea to have people like me be completely free. I know my friends and I sometimes do not make the best descisions and don't think things through fully; this is probably because we are not as mature and ready to take on the whole world as our teachers, parents, and other adults in our lives are. If I had less restriction, I feel like I wouldn't spend my time much differently. I would still spend most of my time doing my homework and messing around outside. The only real difference I can think of is I would probably stop asking adults for permission when I want to do something. I would just head off to a friends' house on my bike without worrying about what the consequences might be. But although I don't think reducing restrictions would have a huge affect on my life, some people I know would run wild and do all kinds of crazy things. For know, I think that the best way teens can accomplish real world projects would be participating in things like this.
This is an intriguing question, and I'll probably weigh in again when I've had a chance to read Mr. Epstein's book. My kneejerk opinion is this:
I've had a bit of a bumpy adolescence, so I've been grateful to have eight or ten years to make mistakes. On the other hand, it's possible that I've had a bumpy adolescence precisely because I've spent it under the thumb of people who know better, or that I see myself as an overgrown child who needs to cook until she's civilized because I've been told that I am for years.
I am absolutely certain, however, that a number of these arbitrary restrictions for adolscents do need to be lifted, especially where their education is concerned. I probably wouldn't have the world's teenagers turned loose on the world's univerisities, but they can absolutely be trusted to collaborate with teachers and dicate their own curricula.
This is, essentially, the mission of my high school, which celebrated its fourtieth anniversary this year. The high school program at Jefferson County Open School centers on six intensive projects that are known as Passages, each with a broad theme. (Adventure, Career Exploration, Creativity, Global Awareness, Logical Inquiry and Practical Skills for those of you keeping score at home). Students are free to design their own projects within these themes. This year alone, students have embarked on slam poetry tours, taught classes in indigenous history, created full-scale wheatpaste murals, produced public-access televison shows and written novels through this program, and these are only the first few examples that spring to mind. My fellow students manage such dazzling accomplishments because they are permitted to find and explore their own passions instead of meeting one-size-fits-all requirements dreamed up by their elders in some misaimed attempt at producing "well-rounded" young people.
I think adolescence is an important time for teenagers to make mistakes and see consequences. If we were just catapulted into adulthood, there would be a lot less wiggle room to try new things, because obviously not everything works out. As an adolescent I feel less pressure to be so accomplished and I appreciate that a little less is expected of me because I can take the opportunities I'm not so sure about, and hey if it doesn't work out, it's still okay. While restrictions can be annoying, I like having a few years to be free of the responsibility I will have for many more.
As like us teenagers, adolescence is the perfect time to make mistakes. We are not like adults that have experience in this world. We try new things and mess up but we learn from it. I still have a lot of years in the future to go and i am going through my own abolescent right now. I often think do teens try to be adult already? Yes they do but they really should just do their own thing in ths world. Trying news things are ok and if you mess up. . . its ok cause you still have a long way to live in the future. An then we learn from it and wont do it again, i have done this many times and learning from the best is good! Growing up is how it works we cant stop it we learn from it.
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