Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Should Adolescence be Abolished?

There is an interesting article in Psychology Today this month with psychologist Robert Epstein, the author of a new book, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen. Epstein says that "teens are far more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed on them." Epstein mentions the trend starting about 100 years ago to extend childhood well into the 20's. "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."

Epstein looks at this extension of childhood as happening primarily through the school systems 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 abuse 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."

I think that Epstein makes some good points, especially when he says that "teens learn most of what they know from other teens who are 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."

I agree with Epstein that this infantilization is making teens angry and depressed. When your body screams you are an adult and the adults around you keep insisting you are a child, it has to be frustrating. I wrote an op-ed along these lines entitled, "Don't Treat Teens like Babies," about nine years ago but I think some of the points I made then are still relevant to teens and responsibility today.

What do you think--do we infantilize teens and young people to the point where they are having a hard time making it as adults in the real world?



Blogger Cham said...

I'll agree with you. The numbers of adult children choosing to live with their parents is skyrocketing and I am not sure it has to do with the increased cost of housing. Parents feel by restricting their teen children's movements they are protecting them from the local pedophile and the big bad world. However, these restrictions also prohibit children from developing confidence with real life situations.

It's no wonder there exists a propensity toward binge drinking, confusion about dating and sex with young people in their late teens and early 20s, not to mention lousy money management skills. Parents feel they have accomplished something if junior reaches 18 without a problem, but junior ends up completely confused and demoralized when life doles out the inevitable.

I seem to be giving the same advice over and over again to the young people I meet, "When you have over $30,000 in college loans, please don't buy the new car" and, "A Friend with Benefits rarely turns into your boyfriend."

9:09 AM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thoughts are not clear on this. I do acknowledge that we have almost abandoned the concept of adults socializing teenagers and left them to their own devices with lamentable results. Binge drinking results from leaving people who do not know how to respect and use alcohol (teenagers) to teach novice drinkers (teenagers again) how to drink. They do not know themselves, so they cannot teach.

At the same time, brains do not mature until about 25. So there is a neurological underpinning to our belief that we do not become adults until then.

It is wrong and insulting to infantalize teens, but it is also wrong and irresponsible to leave them to their own devices. Is the abdication of parenting teens due to the dwindling two parent households? I wonder, and suspect that is at least part of the answer.

So I agree with the problem and Cham's post, but I think that the answer is having responsible adults spend more time and energy socializing teenagers into young adults. Now if I could just find the time and the energy!


9:50 AM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


Epstein looks at some of the competencies of teens and finds that they are equivelent to that of adults. I expect that some teens can take on more adult responsibilites and some cannot. Somehow, in times past, people under 25 were able to take on more responsibility than people of that age do now, so part of what is going on has to be cultural in some sense. I agree with you that teens need more time with adults who can help them learn about the adult world, but it is hard and I think, not particularly rewarding.

9:56 AM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Connie du Toit said...

I read somewhere (??) that an 16 year old (of our generation) is the equivalent of a 25/26 year old today.

I don't know if this is a bad thing, as our life expectancy has increased. When folks died at 35, the need to get on with things was greater.

But, in general, I agree that there are too many limits imposed by laws. Our daughter, for example, was essentially finished with high school when she was 15. She had to sit around until the world would allow her in the adult realm. She was ready to go to college and start working, but the child labor laws wouldn't allow it.

Our youngest was in the same position. He tried to enroll in community college and was not allowed because he was "too young."

I think the staying at home thing is a distraction. People didn't used to leave home in the same way we think of it today. Sitting around and living off your parents is all too frequent (and unhealthy), but leaving the family homestead/community is a modern invention... and a bad one.

The Mister uses the phrase "all the hardware, but none of the software" to describe many young people today. Their parents fear of something-or-other appears to be the enabler to stifle their development. Even the word "teen" was a 1950s/1960s invention. "Teen rebellion" is also a modern dynamic, (I believe) as a result of day-school incarceration and freedoms in many areas, without the commensurate responsibility. They're "young adults" and should be treated that way. If they are out without chaperone (parents decision to allow it) and get into trouble, then the young adult should be held accountable for their actions.

10:31 AM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger DADvocate said...

I fundamentally agree, also. I think some of this is that we are still struggling to adapt to societial changes, such as moving from an agrarian society to an industrial / professional / technical, etc. one.

Seventeen years ago, I moved from the suburbs of Knoxville to the rural town of Maysville, KY. My ex-wife and her siblings grew up on a farm and several still farm. Farm kids work with their parents on a regular basis. They are given responsibility for a multitude of tasks involving livestock, crops and machinery. They clearly understand the link between their efforts and income.

In the past, many professions other than agricultural, allowed kids to work with their parents or assist their parents in work, blacksmithing, woodworking/carpentry, cobbling, tailoring, cooking, metalworking, etc. Visit a place like Colonial Williamsburg and you'll see a plethoria of businesses from those times in which children could effectively work with their parents.

Few kids can actually perform "real" work with their parents any more. What work they do perform are often semi-meaningless household tasks with little relation to the family's well being. This lack of child / parent interaction in a meaningful work environment leaves many kids with having "no idea what's going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out."

10:39 AM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just listend to some of Candice Pert's CD's and she also mentiones that the frontal cortex does not mature till the 20's. I agree with the comments above, teenagers need adults in their lives that will spend time with them and teach them as they mature into adulthood. It is difficult when the adults are so busy themselves and really out of touch with their teens, especially when it comes to the inner workings of maturation.

I had to become an adult in my very early teen years. But as an adult now, I realize that I missed so much and had to figure out so much on my own.

11:36 AM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

I always think, "What would Laura Ingalls be doing?" when I look at teenagers. She was teaching school at 15/16 and living away from home.

People talk about all the financial reasons why one must live with ones parents until late 20s, early 30s and I say they are hogwash. You can afford to live on your own, just not with all the amenities of home. I didn't have my own washer and dryer until I was 27, but I still managed to get laundry done.

Parents who choose to entertain and befriend rather than raise are making the world more difficult for the rest of us.

11:47 AM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think infantilization is often used as a tool. Witness the families of child actors bilking them, and then the families of wealthy older people bilking them. Witness the various episodes of racism during colonial period slavery - the slave groups were "like children" and therefore needed to have someone take their property. Whenever it is possible and profitable to use infantilization for a particular goal or agenda it will be used.

I'm skeptical of the "people don't neurologically become adults until their 25". There might be some changes that occur up until that point, but it seems like this a push for certain authoritarian and totalitarian elements in society - social science academia, the education-industrial complex, government, and assorted others - to extend more control over society.

And its clear that age-related government restrictions are opportunistic and authoritarian. Yeah, you can be sent to kill for your government at age 18 but don't try to have a beer. That is insane.

11:53 AM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good pointsd everyone. Helen, I wonder which cultural changes are contributing to the problem. Running through the (to me) likely candidates I sound like an old fart. I think Dadvocates point about work and EHR's point about responsibility (the Laura Ingalls factor)contribute too.

Good science can be used in bad ways, and while the brain maturation data at 25 is solid, it should not justify more of the nanny state. Nothing should justify that.

But this is a practical question for me as I have children that I want to assist in finding their maturity and responsibility. I bet a lot of us do. My eldest daughter is interested in politics, and we discuss that topic often. It gives us a chance to discuss life and human nature, and she learns how to disagree and persuade. But I think if I had a better conceptualization of how to help her become mature, but not TOO mature, we would all benefit.

Ideas please.


12:04 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post and comments. I really thought the "teen-ager" was a Boomer phenomenon, with parents who went through the Depression and WWII trying to protect their children from similar experiences. Evidently, it's much older than that.

I think that part of the reason adolescents have trouble growing up is that, in schools, there are few if any formal attempts to socialize kids. While there are plenty of "opportunities" to be social - such as sports, clubs, dances, etc. - there's no one to help kids learn how to function well interpersonally. While the teaching of academic subjects is highly structured and arguably successful, the teaching of "people skills" is largely left up to the kids themselves. Apparently, the thinking is that if we dump them in a building together, they'll just naturally work out how to get along with each other. To me, that's like putting someone in a room with a computer and assuming they'll just naturally learn to code in JavaScript.

This may not be true today. The Columbine incident seems to have gotten peoples' attention. Maybe Dr. Helen can comment.

12:14 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the Orkneys, at a site called Skara Brae, is a Neolithic settlement. It is characterized by well-built stone living quarters mostly buried--or were then--with subterranean connecting paths. There were also immense tombs for the late lamented. Examination of the remains in the tombs indicates that practically nobody there lived past twenty-five. IMO, it was a matter of spending too much time around a smoky fire in the cold, damp weather north beyond Scotland. Nevertheless, the situation must have been reasonably congenial in order to allow production of surplus enabling the labor on non-productive tombs and public works of other types.
What does this mean? Skara Brae is only a modest exaggeration of the truism that, until recently, most of the world's work was done by teenagers.
When my son hit sixteen, I told him that, a thousand years ago, we'd have been down at the armorer's getting him a shield and full-size spear. No more running messages and scouting in his Speedo. He was not impressed, although I was right.
I see no reason to believe that the capacity of late adolescents to do meaningful, complex, and productive work has regressed in the last couple of centuries.
Unfortunately, there is nothing in our society as useless as a teenager and most of them have figured it out. They're not even cute, like babies. Or if they're "cute", it means "hot" and that's a different and not at all good thing.
Those of you with current or past high-schoolers may recall the enormous scope of extra (or "co") curricular activities available. Wouldn't have worked if there weren't huge numbers of kids looking for something useful to do. The school can set up a club of some kind, or a project, but they can't make the kids show up.
That the kids show up must mean something.

I once wrote a short article on the point that, except for sports stuff, all toys are analogs of adult tools and equipment. It is impossible to conceive of a toy which is not. Doll=baby. Toy gun=real gun. Nerf hammer=real hammer. Toy car=real car. Toys, I said, were to make adults feel better about not integrating kids into the family's daily work.
The parenting magazines I sent it to suggested I consider their advertisers (Toys r'Us) in picking my subjects.

Kids are hard-wired to grow up. Or we wouldn't be here. To frustrate that drive is both a waste of energy and a disservice to young people who want and need to be useful and productive.

That said, the opportunities are more limited. In the old days, a kid could shovel out the barn. Nasy work, but necessary and appreciated. Today, he comes home from school and kills a million invaders from the planet Mongo. Nobody cares.

12:16 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like every other problem, folks are long on anecdotes and complaints and short on detailed solutions.

That's what I'd like to hear.

I don't disagree with the assessment, doctor. But what EXACTLY should I do.

p.s. I don't have kids yet. So, you can tell me what to do from the very beginning.

12:28 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon. 12:28.

I'm not a doctor. But my prescription is to send your kids to school as a place to learn stuff, not as a world in which to live.
Pay attention to them. Make an effort to integrate them into the family's activities.

Youth groups at church do more than sing hymns. They usually have projects requiring effort and planning and which have identifiable results. Taking a turn at cooking breakfast for the homeless at the soup kitchen. Painting the home of an elderly person, or raking her lawn.

My kids' hich school has a big food drive for the local food pantry. I believe they get about 20,000 items. It involves a lot of kids.

It can be done, but it requires, in effect, manufacturing a world in which it is possible, rather than living in one where it is unavoidable.

1:02 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My sons are almost to their teens. I hope to mentor them, myself, and with the helpd of others if I can find some.

As a teen, I worked on my grandfather's farm. In my early teens, I hated it. But as I got older, I wasn't too stupid to recognize certain things. It was hard work, but a lot of it was worthwhile. It's not all shoveling slop. There was plenty of that, to be sure, and it taught me to dig in and get it done. But on the farm I also learned engine repair from two-strokes to diesels, auto mechanics, rough carpentry, basic electrical work, basic agriculture, animal husbandry, and a raft of other things of lesser value (like the answer to the age-old question "What's the stupidest animal on the farm ?")

At 17, I spent a summer working for a family friend building houses. Also hard work, but educational, relevant work that better prepared me for taking care of my own house (and helping out at my church, my sons' school, etc).

My challenge will be in keeping my boys engaged. Some of it will be "now it's time to shovel the $#%#^ out of the barn" type of work -- I will NOT make the mistake of not teaching that important lesson -- but other things I hope to make more interesting.

Mostly, I hope to spend time with them, well, working on "stuff." For example, as the weather turns warm, we grab some bags and walk around the neighborhood, picking up trash and talking about whatever comes up. While I don't know even 10% as much about nature as my grandfather did, I can still identify trees by their bark and leaves, and from that springs conversations ranging from woodworking to naval warfare. Lessons that even a Catholic school doesn't have time to pass on...

Along the way, I hope to teach my boys that life is not all play, work doesn't have to suck, and that you can find enjoyment in many ways, not all of them leisurely. If I keep my eyes open, I'm sure I'll find opportunities -- church groups that need help, blood-drives, etc. an maybe they'll be exposed to responsible, giving adults rather than exclusively teenagers.

1:09 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Matthias said...

I think this is spot-on.

I spent several years as a staff member and couselor at a wilderness camp in upstate New York. We would routinely send out groups on overnight hikes in which an 18 year-old and a 17-year-old were in charge of a dozen 9 year-olds. We understood the responsibility given to us and were serious about carrying it out.

Most teens can rise to the occasions with which they are presented. I entered college at 16 and was tutoring calculus 2 months later. Now that I'm 26, it seems like 16 was terribly young, but the fact of the matter was that, when placed in a situation where I was hundreds of miles from family and friends, I was able to adapt, accept and excel.

But only because I was given the chance.

1:39 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

To all,

Look, I don't have all the answers, I wish I did! But the infantilizing of teens does seem to have much to do with the restrictions on teens combined with the "freedom" to spend too much, stay out all night, use drugs and drink while no adults are around and to engage in the world of sex with abandon. Yet, some teens cannot drive--states keep upping the age, teens have a harder time getting jobs and they are stuck in school, often until 25.

Epstein points out that the current systems we have are so entrenched that parents can do little to counter infantilization as no one parent can confer property rights--he advocates that teens should have all of the privileges of adults (I am not sure I agree with this) and teens should have more options--to marry, work, own property, sign contracts, start buisinesses etc. and advocates for a competency-based system that focuses on the abilities of the individual.

I think the current crop of teens may not have the ability to make the judgements necessary to act in that sophisticated a way. I think one has to start early with kids and teach them responsibility by teaching them how to budget their money, clean and take care of the house, and basically how to live in the world on their own, and how to treat others with respect. Yet, at the same time, without the help of the state, we may be unable to move kids forward. Kids are told what to wear at school, get expelled or suspended for making hand gestures for a gun, and have curfews regulated by states and cities and various other laws that parents cannot do much about. Bottom line is, if the nanny state continues, our teens will suffer and need mommy more than ever, but maybe this is the idea.

1:45 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Oligonicella said...

There aren't any answers, other than to do the best you can raising your own. You ain't gonna convince parent-set#2 that you're beliefs are right or will work better. And they very well might not, being that #2 is an entirely different mix of personality types.

Life's like that, no instructions. Do your best and don't feel guilty about it. Guilt should be reserved for when you do something bad, not for failing to live up to the arbitrary levels someone else sets.

Shoot for this result: your kids are as bright as biologically possible, healthy and psychologically stable enough that they don't look like a piece of potassium when thrown into the waters of life. (My own arbitray level)

2:01 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm fortunate to teach Sunday School to a group of 16- and 17-year-olds (they teach me more!). I have been amazed and impressed by the things these kids are willing to take on--real stuff, like mentoring elementary-age children, not "resume-fillers" for their college applications. Heck, they are willing to get up an hour early on Sunday to come to class! (It's a TWO HOUR class.)

In my limited experience, part of the problem is that the chance to do things in mixed-age groups is very, very limited. Teenagers need adults who are willing to know them as people, and who are willing to be (imperfect) role models. In turn, younger children need to see the teenagers growing up. Our society tends to group by age, which just reinforces the craziest behavior since there aren't any "wiser" voices saying to slow down. Teenagers, in particular, seem to me to feel very confused about how to fit in to the larger society they are going to be in within just a few years. I have started to be very intentional about mixing ages of friends and even community activities for my own kids because of this, and it isn't easy.


2:03 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. Like Trey, I want some specific ideas and I see that 1Charlie2 and richard have given a few. (Thank you.) When I was young, I had plenty of chores--washing dishes, hanging clothes on the line. Somehow, loading the dishwasher and throwing things in the dryer just don't seem the same. As life gets easier, the numbers of chores diminish.

2:08 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm only 30, but when I was little, I was allowed to go make myself grilled cheese on a gas burner when I was 6. When I was 8 or 9, I remember building the fire in the morning for my girl scout troop. (I was amused by the parents standing around without any coffee yet, trying to make a fire out of wet leaves.)

I know a little girl who is now 9 or 10 who isn't even allowed to work the toaster oven. Why? I don't know... but it seems to me children aren't allowed to get hurt anymore. Not physically, not emotionally. But the little hurts are what trains them to avoid hurt in the future, and how to deal with bigger hurts they might get anyway.

And heck, how are you ever going to learn to cook if you're just learning to make toast when you're 10?

I was already responsible for dinner one night a week when I was 14 or so. I was always responsible for cleaning my own room -- if I left it a mess, I didn't get in trouble, but I did learn I hated it being a mess. (And my sister would get upset if my stuff made her side of the room messy). I had a bed time when I was little, (but not when I was 12 or so), but it was up to me to decide to go to sleep. If I wanted to stay up until 3 am reading, well, that was my problem. I soon learned that if I was tired, I felt awful and didn't do well at school.

People don't let children make mistakes. You can't learn nearly as well from advice. You have to be allowed to go against advice and really live through what happens. And parents need let it happen on the little insignificant things.

3:10 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From The Command of the Ocean (about the 18th century Royal Navy):

We meet a midshipman of fourteen taking charge of a watch, and another of the same age still sucking his thumb. There were boys of eleven or twelve risking their lives in a boat action one day, and playing marbles on the poop or building a model ship the next….Frederick Chamier commanded a boat in a landing operation for the first time at thirteen, and was greeted by his captain on his return: ‘You are fairly a sailor now; been drunk, been aloft, and been in action. Take your hands out of your pockets youngster, or I shall order the sailmaker to stitch them up.’

Note that in Mansfield Park, Jane Austen clearly thought it entirely normal for William Price to be sent to sea, and the war, at twelve, and for him to be second lieutenant of HMS Thrush seven years later.

3:14 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Kathy said...

I'm not an expert. My oldest is just 6, but here's what we are doing. The oldest and the second (now 3-1/2) both get an allowance (not the same amount) and must use it for discretionary spending. The oldest has pet birds for whom she must provide food and other necessaries out of her allowance. She cooks some simple foods, even on the stove, and plans one meal a week for the family (but doesn't necessarily cook it yet). She cleans the toilet and damp-mops the kitchen. She helps me care for the baby (now 18 mo). When we work in the yard, they all help.

The oldest does some hand sewing now and will learn other useful skills as she gets big enough. The American Boys Handy Book and American Girls Handy Book come very highly recommended for this sort of thing. Kids need to know how to do something useful with their time, and there are useful things they can do if we will teach them. Why play video games when you can knit or crochet an afghan or build a bookcase? But parents have to insist upon that use of time. And parents have to be willing to spend the time helping them learn the skills.

It helps that we have three kids. With number four on the way, there will be more opportunities for the older ones to help with the new baby and the old baby. We're planting a garden, in large part to give them something to help with outside. Eventually I expect it to be their project on their own.

Church, as mentioned above, can be helpful here too. My older two are excited about the prospect of helping in the nursery when they get old enough. They'll be able to go on mission trips or teach ESL classes.

Also, since we homeschool they are around mixed age-groups almost anytime we leave the house. I have mixed thoughts about youth group at church because it does separate them so much from the adults. I may have them do some youth group activities but for instance come to adult classes on Sunday mornings once they are old enough. I don't know yet.

I think if we're creative and we don't try too much to shelter them, we can find useful things for them to do that teach them how to get along in the real world.

4:17 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of good comments already, so I won't belabor their points. I can tell you that I was one of those kids who couldn't wait to grow up. I thought high school was a load of crap; not the education necessarily (although most of the good stuff could have been crammed into a shorter time frame), but everything else that went with the high-school experience. I was only too happy to finally graduate and leave it behind. College, on the other hand, I regarded as an adult experience, and I was quite happy there.

For my money, the primary school sequence (in the U.S. at least) could stand to have two grade levels hacked off of it. Take the last two years and let the students start branching out and actually working their way towards adulthood. For the students who are both advanced and reasonably mature, why shouldn't they just go straight to college at 16? The ones who are academically advanced but less mature could maybe go into a college prep program, or start at a community college. Students who want to learn a trade will get much more value out of spending those two years in a good vocational school. Students who want to go straight into business might be best served in an apprenticeship with an existing business. And, some students are always going to have further interest in school; since they are probably going to drop out anyway, why not help them find a job? (And, maybe, lean on them just a bit to keep up their studies enough so they can pursue a G.E.D. later.)

silvermine, I agree with you that we don't let children make mistakes, and because of that, I think they are being taught entirely the wrong lesson about pain. Back when our houses had some sharp corners, and we went out on our bikes and skateboards and occasionally crashed and got skinned up, the lesson we learned about pain was: pain is mostly the result of doing stupid stuff, so if you don't do stupid stuff, you won't experience much pain. However, through experiencing some pain, you eventually learn that a) you can tolerate it if you have to, and b) there are some things that are worth the risk of incurring pain.

However, today everything in our houses is rounded off and padded, and kids don't walk out the front door without helmet, welder's goggles, and full body armor. They either don't get the opportunity to do stupid stuff, or they don't suffer any consequences when they do. So, they don't get any experience with pain that way. They experience pain when they go to school every day, and get physically and mentally abused by the class bully. The school won't do anything because the teacher is overwhelmed, and the administration doesn't care (it serves the victim right for not making more of an effort to "fit in", dontcha know). So what the student learns about pain is: it is random, it doesn't go away, you can't avoid it, and there is nothing you can do about it.

4:46 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Bruce Hoult said...

Like some others here I grew up on a farm, and that was probably a good thing. I started to drive tractors before I was 10, and farm motorcycles at 11 (basically as soon as they became available in the mid 70's). I remember being 12 and thinking nothing of being told "take the post-driver off the Leyland, put the haymower on it and go around to Metcalfe's runoff and mow the 2nd paddock on the right".

The potential for personal and property damage was considerable!

But it didn't happen because of course I was familiar with the equipment and had been using it for years already.

I had cousins who lived in the city. And school friends. All of them loved to come out to the farm in weekends or holidays. I guess they got more freedom there than at home. To just wander freely, explore the hills and forest, build stuff using anything from hammer and nails to oxy/acetylene and electric welders, roar around on motorcycles, shoot rifles (slug gun, .22, .223, .303).

So, yeah, we did a lot of "stupid stuff". And sometimes some skin was lost. Every kid should have the chance to do that.

5:26 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I"You are fairly a sailor now; been drunk, been aloft, and been in action."

I wonder if we aren't a little too romantic about the distant past. Knowing how little they talked about such things then, I would guess that young boys saw plenty of *action* when they went to sea with all those old gobs. I have no handy numbers, of course, but read a book like The Fatal Shore to see what happened with the British convicts in Australia..or read Dostoevsky or Proust about the disposition of little girls by their otherwise propertyless parents..our perversions are nothing new.

Methinks in the last century there has been a tacit effort to insulate youth from rubbing elbows in the cold cruel world of men, and for good reason.

5:39 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would agree that some teens have greater abilities than we give them credit for and there are a great many bright and talented kids out there who are more responsible than some adults. I don't, however, believe that teens are being severly limited by child labor laws or lack of property ownership as Epstein suggests and I think it's the position that individual parents take rather than the system as a whole that infantilizes them. Having teens take competency tests to obtain adult rights is an interesting concept, but this definitely begs the question of whether certain adults should have to take such competency tests as well. Instead of the impractical idea of revamping our entire legal and educational system all at once, perhaps we should simply lower the voting age to 16 years old and let those teens who are interested enough in their rights have more say in what their rights should be.

6:13 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger knox said...

I agree that some restrictions on should be lifted. I remember being pretty depressed when I was in my early teens--too old to play outside in the summers, but too young to be allowed to drive and/or get a job. The boredom was a killer.

Another problematic issue--as I see it, anyway--is that every kid is steered to go to college. School is simply not for everyone, regardless of "intelligence." I think it can put kids on a path of avoiding adult responsibility and decisions and unless you make your kid pay their way, it does nothing to prepare them for the real world.

6:39 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I didn't expect you to have all of the answers. But in light of this quote from your op-ed:

"Unfortunately, our political leaders aren't showing much maturity in dealing with the problem. Rather than addressing real issues, they produce simplistic solutions, such as "zero tolerance" and "three strikes" - bogus solutions, obviously designed to help adults avoid responsibility."

...I DID expect you to have SOME solutions.

6:51 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much medieval history is illuminated when we realize that, like as not, the king was a teenager.

7:14 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What do you think--do we infantilize teens and young people to the point where they are having a hard time making it as adults in the real world?"

Yes......not only that the pressure on pre-adolescent kids is just as alarming. Any advise would be appreciated.

7:22 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

amused reader said, "'s the position that individual parents take rather than the system as a whole that infantilizes them." I think this is correct.

I also think that protecting the skulls of our children by requiring helmets does not get in the way of children learning responsibility. I grew up when no one used seat belts, no one wore helmets, and children regularly drank beer. Our parents weren't exactly careening around thinking, "to hell with the brats; let them all die." They were protecting us as much as society expected at the time--which is what we are doing when we make them buckle up or wear helmets or take away their beer. I don't buy the idea that risking one's life as a child is a necessary lesson.

Too many children are raised with the idea that they are "as good as" adults; that their ideas are just as valid or important. Letting children believe this does them a disservice. Children like passing those milestones to adulthood--it gives them a map to follow. Now I'm responsible enough to cross the street; now I'm responsible enough to make pancakes; now I'm knowledgeable enough that Mom talks to me about politics...and so on.

Back to the original question: should adolescence be abolished? I'd say that child-centered adolescence should be abolished and adult-centered adolescence should be encouraged.

Sorry for the scattered post--trying to do a couple of things at once.

7:37 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would guess that young boys saw plenty of *action* when they went to sea with all those old gobs.
Such acts, even between consenting adults, carried a very rigidly enforced death sentence. And there was no privacy aboard a warship...

At any event, the point is that the Navy did expect young teens to act responsibly, and it seemed to get what it expected. So clearly, it is possible.

7:44 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Helen,

In A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman also said that the sovereigns and other notables had been unloved until age five or so--the infant mortality rate was so high as to discourage investing much love in the toddlers--and were thus damaged.

9:07 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Admittedly, I have not read through all of the comments, but I have read the first 8 or 9, or so.

I remember reading a Newsweek special issue report on a long-term study that had been done in which brains of teens and adults were compared. I think this may be behind the not-adult-until-25 idea. I realize Newsweek is not a scientific or medical journal. Nevertheless, as I was then trying to teach young adults at the college level, I found the article explaining a whole lot. The idea that the brain does not fully develop until (according to the article) about the age of 21 to 23, and that the part to develop last is that part where judgments are made and long-term consequences can be seen, just made so much sense, to me.

On the other hand, obviously, some teens are more responsible and exhibit better judgment than many of their peers. This is one layperson's hypothesis that fits with some of what I did read, above: Those who are more responsible, more mature and able to make good decisions were probably taught all of that, starting at an early age, by their parents.

Yes, we send 18-year-olds off to war, but maybe the reason so many are so ready to go is that they really can't envision the possibilities of their being maimed for life or even killed. Just as, in my 20's and early 30's, I knew that I would probably live to a very ripe old age (family longevity), I could not really imagine myself or my then-husband as "old." By my mid-40's, it was a little easier. In my early 60's, it's an all too real transition.

As I layperson's hypothesis.

9:31 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Sirena said...

Complicated, but I will give an overriding "no" we don't infantilize teens so that they are not making it as adults on basis of few points:
-one strong indicator of adulthood is becoming a parent --from working with (albeit mostly troubled)teens myself I do not see most teens being ready to become parents.
-if teens interact on the same level with adults they will inevitably interact sexually with adults and for the most part entry into sexuality seems to be most "safe" with one's age group
-in every stage of life we need guides and I feel it is important to learn respect for your guides/elders therefore a somewhat clear delineation btw age groups are appropriate

If we framed this issue in terms of teens being treated like prisoners and adults acting like prison guards (which I do see) then I would definitely agree that some adults fail to facilitate mutual respect with teenagers (which is a major source of frustration) but I don't think that we can fully expect teens to take on real adult responsibilities.

10:10 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Some people want an idea or two. I'll give one that I'm sure will cause some eyes to roll at first, Boy Scouts. The trick is to find a good Boy Scout troop like my son's troop.

Good Scout troops put the boys in leadership positions and other positions of responsibility. The boys plan activities, camping trips, etc. The make up the list of needed materials, food, etc. The older boys teach the younger boys.

The adults provide a little needed supervision but mostly stay out of the way. My son is in his fourth year of Scouts. When he started at age 11, the older boys were great, took him under his wing and he loved it. I must say I've never met a finer group of boys than these.

They include a high school All-American swimmer and a soon to be Naval Academy cadet. Recent graduates of the troop are equally impressive. Obviously, not all of this is due to Scouting but it sure helps. But, as I said, the trick is to find a good troop.

10:42 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the 1960's and 70's, there was a tremendous surfeit of young adults, so it perhaps made more sense to have people going to school getting multiple degrees. Better than sitting at home and watching TV. But now that we have a shortage or workers, it makes no sense at all. The sooner we get people out of the public school systems of today, the better. Since even teachers tests in California only require 8th grade reading, writing, and math skills, I say start giving them that test and as soon as they pass, get them out in the work force. If they can pass the college entrance exam at an earlier age, admit them. Why all the wasted time?

11:43 PM, March 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Dadvocate, my wife and I were wondering about the scouts for our boys, I think your recommendation clinches it.


12:05 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:16 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think teens are fully developed yet, but they're developed enough to have much more responsibility than lots of people give them credit for.

They pretty much run the fast-food industry.

Amy K.

12:46 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is adolescence has been abolished and the teens are kept as children. Adolescence is when you get to try at being an adult but with nets. Today, kids don't get jobs mowing yards or delivering papers. They don't even have to mow their own yard. Too dangerous? They have planned activities where their "self esteem" is paramount instead. Adults have responsibilities and not meeting them has consequences. At 10, it was my job to mow the yard and it was a big yard. At twelve, I was mowing neighbor yards for money. By fourteen (mid 1970s), I was painting houses and learned quite a lot when I was fired the first time.

Nowdays, you have 25 year olds who've never worked or had any responsibilities. They have Masters degrees but no work ethic. They are usually very stunned when they are held to account the first time. On the positive, most rise to the occasion and meet the standards, eventually. Maybe the others learn something from being fired? It doesn't help that anyone under 40 hasn't ever seen a down economy. In any case, give me a kid from a poor family any day. They've had to work in their life and generally gain maturity early. Same for all those who join the military.

There needs to be a return to an adolescence where teens are gradually given responsibilities and everything is not done for them. There needs to be a return to raising children to be adults rather than keeping them as toddlers requiring constant mothering.

1:41 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to thank everyone for the supportive and thoughtful comments about my upcoming book. It's been a very long journey for me, involving quite a bit of learning--or unlearning, really. To Dr. Smith: I wish I had known about your 1998 op-ed article before the book went to press. Your article is quite good, and I certainly would have cited it. Again, my thanks. Cordially, /re

2:55 AM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think there are arguments on both sides of this. Anyone who has done genalogy is aware that waiting to get married until their late 20's / early 30's was a very common thing throughout the 1800's and early 1900's. Those people stayed on at home.

Yet, the unmarried adults were indeed adults. I'm not sure how to put all the pieces into place.

4:54 AM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Bruce Hayden said...

A lot of trends coming together here, and maybe not to our benefit.

First, as to education - it isn't that we all want to be going to school until our mid 20s, but rather that the world in general and technology in particular, have gotten complex enough that that is required. More and more jobs need more and more education. Sure, some of it is credentialing, such as pushing bacheler degrees up to masters and doctorates. But realistically, most of it isn't. You just don't have the knowledge to design ICs or complex software systems, prescribe drugs, do surgery, etc. until at least your mid 20s.

Another is that our mortality rates have gone down, way down. So, now instead of having a half dozen or so kids, expecting to lose at least half of them, we have one or two. But because there aren't any spares any more, we coddle them and protect them.

Others have mentioned above that our brains don't fully mature until our mid 20s, and the last part that fully matures is the frontal portion, which includes judgment.

Meanwhile, puberty is dropping, if anything. We are bigger and healthier, and thus are maturing a bit earlier. And as a result of all that, our kids are basically sexually mature for half their life times by the time we expect them to marry. Contrast this with a couple of hundred years ago, when kids went into marriage a year or so after puberty, if that.

But I don't see it being realistic for our kids to go into marriage or start having kids as soon as they can. For one thing, there are the scary statistics about lifetime earnings compared to when you have your first kid, esp. for females. One of the best ways for a girl to find herself stuck in poverty throughout her lifetime is to start having kids before 18. And if she really wants to make or marry a lot of money, she should wait at least through an undergraduate degree, preferably an advanced degree.

I don't know the answers though, and am not going to really try. There is a big difference between getting drunk at 16 and riding your horse home, or riding in the wagon, and today, when you are driving a ton of metal powered by a couple hundred horses, and you have the potential of accidently killing a dozen people. And notably, those people are more valuable, at least to their families, given the vastly shrunk family sizes.

5:08 AM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Bruce Hayden said...


But I am not sure how many of those late marriers had that many kids. At least in my grandparents generation, born in the end of the 19th Century, there seemed to be two groups, those who got married and had a bunch of kids, and those who either married late or not at all. In my family in that generation, it was split fairly evenly, about half married and had the kids, and the other half didn't.

BTW, violating this at the end of WWII is supposedly the reason for the Baby Boom. All those maiden aunts and uncles of a previous generation were now pushed into marriage after that war to get the women out of the factories, freeing up the jobs they did during the war for the returning vets. Family sizes for those having families was, if anything, slightly lower than the previous generation - just a lot larger percentage got married and had kids.

I think we have moved back to the older norm now, with a lot of us not having any kids at all. I probably know more in the Baby Boom generation who never had kids than had them.

Of course, pre-WWII, some of this was ethnic or demographic. Fairly recent immigrants tended to have larger families than did WASPs whose families had been here for hundreds of years.

5:27 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. What a great thread. Reading through this, and thinking about it, I will have to say perhaps I have been holding my kids back in a few areas.

The last thing I have wanted them to do is fall down and skin their knees. I remember how much it stings.

The truth is, they have to be allowed to do that.

5:52 AM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Dr. Epstein,

It's a pleasure to have you stop by, I do have a question. I wanted to order your book from but there is a six week wait. Is there some faster way to order it? You can email me at or answer here. Thanks!

6:33 AM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Oligonicella said...

There's been a lot said about the brain not maturing until mid twenties. It don't mean much. So you know, I am a biologist.

To prove the point, look around and find an emotionally immature thirty year old. Got one? Good. Now, describe why this guy or gal is immature with a 'mature' brain.

Can't? Good reason.

Now, look around and find a teenager who shows remarkable maturaty 'for their age'. Describe how this is possible with an 'immature' brain.

Can't? Same reason. There's no real connection.

In case you need the word from someone in the field; from "Mapping brain maturation" in Trends in Neurosciences, first sentence:

"Human brain maturation is a complex, lifelong process..."

Following the argument that one isn't emotionally mature until the brain matures, one must assume that no one is emotionally mature.

Big mistake to conflate physical, sexual and emotional maturities. There is more disconnect than connect between them.

10:06 AM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger me said...

My parents made me get a job when I was 16, and there was no problem. My dad actually picked out the job and asked the guy to hire me, of course I didn't realize that then (it was at a bakery/coffee shop). Dad showed me how to open a checking account and how to balance the checkbook and pay for my own gas, etc. etc. It was a very good experience. They didnt make my younger sister do any of that because she played sports and was busy after school every day, and I think that really hurt her. She has a REAL hard time when the parents made her get a job during summer in college, in her mind she was being persecuted. lol. People do act like teens are babies and it is ridiculous. Why do you think 22 year olds act like 12 year olds and can't hold down a job and take 7 years to graduate from college? Because their parents let them. Stop sending them money and they'll be getting a job pretty darn soon.

10:19 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sirena: I think we're coming from the same place here, in that we are trying to ease teens into adulthood rather than dumping them into it all at once just because some arbitrary age has been reached. I kind of understand how that came about; the law has to have an easily measurable point at which to confer adult rights. That's the way law has to work, because the alterntive -- where the government decides who is an adult and who isn't -- is a sure path to tyranny. However, we don't have to, nor should we, organize our entire child-raising mechanism around that legal principle.

I have to somewhat disagree with you in that I do see a lot of teens these days whose mental and emotional maturity basically screeched to a halt at about age 10. I don't know that it's the prison guard thing so much as it is that this is probably the age where they start feeling conflicting tensions, in regard to separating from the parents vs. remaining dependent.

Just from the point of view of what is less trouble, it's easier to remain in the dependent state. Now, my rule of thumb is that about 10% of children are self-motivated and will mature regardless. However, the rest need a push. In the past, there were both social and practical pressures on parents to provide that push. But today we have a social pathology where the pressure on parents is in the opposite direction -- keep children of that age sheltered; don't let them start growing up. That's where I see the main problem. The kids stop maturing at that age, and they don't make any further progress until the day when they are suddenly turned loose on the world. At that point they are ill-equipped to deal with life's problems, and they have to spend a significant portion of their young adulthood -- a time that should be the greatest time of their lives -- catching up on all the stuff they missed. A fair number of them don't survive it, psychologically.

10:41 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Olig wrote about the connection between emotional maturity and brain maturity: "Can't (find it?) Same reason. There's no real connection."

While I appreciate your point and logic, I believe that you are perhaps underestimating the effects of brain maturity on emotional maturity. Certainly some brain maturation is ongoing (thank God) and some is irrelevant to emotional maturity, but there is certainly some connection between frontal lobe functioning and maturity.

Mylenation still occurs in the prefrontal cortex in the early 20s! I believe, and so do people with much more brain knowledge than I, that the mylenation contributes to ongoing maturity.

And of course there are mature 14 year olds and immature 50 year olds, but average maturity is different for these groups. My concerns about brain maturity are not that teens should be infantalized, but that they still require adult direction, contact, and mentoring. Hopefully by a mature adult!


10:45 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

me: When I was 15, during the summer I had a job running a small print shop in the office where my father worked. One of my jobs was to run an old-fashioned diazo blue-line ("blueprint") copier. It ran on pressurized ammonia, and it leaked like a sieve... After a period of exposure, I got to where I couldn't smell it any more. Occasionally the receptionist would come around and make me turn it off, because it was stinking up the whole building, and I was the only one who couldn't tell!

I'll admit that at the age of 15, I was pretty grouchy about the idea of coming home in the evenings covered in printer's ink and smelling like ammonia, while the other kids were out playing all day. But it was an experience that served me very well a few years later when I was in college, and some unfortunate family financial matters intervened. I was able to scramble for jobs and put myself through my last two years, and keep up my studies, even though it did mean doing my grocery shopping at 3:00 AM at times. (Advantage: no crowds. Disadvantage: having to go find the clerk to check me out...) And at least I didn't graduate with a $30K student loan albatross hanging around my neck.

10:50 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tmink, I'm aware of the brain research you mention. However, I wonder which is cause and which is effect: does the brain development drive the completion of maturity, or is it the other way around? Or are the synergistic in some way?

In any event, I think we're talking about degress of maturity here, and trying to get away from the all-at-once phenomonen.

10:56 AM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Rich said...

There is an old saying:

Good judgment comes from experience.
Experience comes from bad judgment.

The earlier in life you screw up something of consequence, the more time you have to recover from it and to learn from the experience.

The sooner your kids learn that actions have consequences, they better off they will be.

11:37 AM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They didnt make my younger sister do any of that because she played sports and was busy after school every day, and I think that really hurt her."

Sounds like me, only I wasn't even active in sports. My mother worked and said "you have your whole life to work--" but I think she just didn't really know how to help me find a job. We did't have all the fast food joints back then.

As a result I was SO paranoid about working, so afraid of failure, that I'd hate it..then made a mess of my first good job. Now I see my husband, who has worked since he was 8, doing the same thing with his son.

Fear of failure in the work world, I believe, is what drives lots of nice young kids into professional studentism, if they're lucky, or lives of failure and dissolution if they're not.

It goes against all the old literary clichés, but a son who can follow in his father's footsteps is very lucky indeed. Most of us didn't have a clue what to do with our lives, and therefore got a lot of stupid ideas from TV instead.

12:35 PM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Oligonicella said...

cornutt: Synergistic, I believe. Findings support ongoing mental exercise delays senility.

Trey: You can be fifty and start an exercise program to beef up. Same with the brain, but the beefing up is the firming and extension of the small structures. Perhaps the immaturity is really just inexperience? And, no, I don't equate the two.

1:13 PM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cornutt posted: "However, I wonder which is cause and which is effect: does the brain development drive the completion of maturity, or is it the other way around? Or are the synergistic in some way?"

Ain't that the question! As for the mylenation, that is physiological and I bet seperate from experience. But in terms of stregthening or weakening pathways, behavior and experience certainly can cause it or be the result of it.

And I agree about the conversation moving away from the absolute to more nuanced.

Oli, good point about immaturity and inexperience, I am sure that is part of it.

By the way, this has been one of the most emjoyable and helpful threads I have read on Dr. Helen's blog. Thanks for the reasonable and thoughtful discussion everyone!


1:22 PM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Oligonicella said...


Why on earth would you believe improved firing and speed of transmission to be seperate from experience. George Brett, a K.C. ball player, claims he could watch the stitches on the ball as it was thrown at 90mph. I'd have to conjecture that was due to some physiological advantage he had and it certainly made his view of the world different.

2:43 PM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Extended breastfeeding definitely helps. It's what made me the man I am today.

2:53 PM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Sirena said...

Okay, Cousin Dave,
I'll try to be succinct
to address, "a social pathology where the pressure on parents is in the opposite direction"
The law holds parents responsible for their children until they are 18.
With rights come responsibilities.
If you are legally held responsible for another person's actions --you want to assure that you do not end up having negative consequences for that individual's actions.
Parents view society as pressuring children into adult situations and they want to "protect them" from social ills (i.e. internet predators, drugs, teen pregnancy, lack of education, abuse, etc...)
--while parents want teens to remain free of these ills they are understandably trying to cover their ass with a deep sense of responsibility.
Parents sense of responsibility, protection and need to cover their ass amongst an environment of varying social ills is what I think you mean by "social pathology." So I see parents being justified in overprotecting their kids even if it is nuerotic.
yes, I know in the "good ole days" teens were seemingly adult like. But the good ole days were agrarian and industrrial economies
--we have moved to a technological economy and family patterns, age expectancy and information shift with changing economies
therefore, trying to compare contemporary teens with those from even 30 years ago is not an accurate comparison
--romanticizing the past is a barrier and cop-out

the "construction of teenagers" began to occur in the 50's due to shift in economics --before 50's there was not a market for teenagehood
before the 50's the word teenager did not mean the same thing as it does today
just ten years ago you would not have used the word "tweens"
we ideologically construct age groups (and this construction is often economically driven)
I tried to be succinct.

2:58 PM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Olig asked: "Why on earth would you believe improved firing and speed of transmission to be seperate from experience."

Because I was talking about myelination (I was misspelling the process before) not increased connectivityor synaptogenesis. And because the data states this. 8 )Myelination is the process of fats coating the neural dendrites and axons, increasing transmission effeciency and speed. I cannot find any mention of this process being linked to experience.

Increased connectivity of neurons is widely thought to be connected to experience. For instance, sensory deprived animals have brains with lower synaptic connections than animals that were not so deprived. But this is a different process in which groups of neurons become more integrated through repetitive firing.

Myelination would occur in brains that are not exposed to any sensory or experiential input.

Increased connectivity comes from increased usage.


3:32 PM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sirena: You covered part of what I meant by the "social pathology". There's a lot more people out there willing to prey on teens (or younger), and it's harder for parents to get roped in. The point I'd like to make in response to that, though, is that it would be better if parents could give teens the tools to deal with those problems themselves. In the long run, it would not only be better for the child, but it would be less work for the parent. Of course, the child has to be mature enough to grasp the nature of the problem and what needs to be done to avoid it. I'm not up for protection children from minor scrapes, but some scrapes are major enough that learning through experience becomes impractical.

The other part of the social pathology, though, is that there is a lot of pressure on parents to coddle children these days and allow them to remain free of responsibility. Trying to encourage children to become more mature and self-reliant is considered tantamount to abuse in some circles. Stages of maturity or not, I just don't think it's healthy for either the individual or for society to have a large number of young adults reaching their mid-20s having never held any sort of gainful employment, and having no concept of same. In her line of work, my wife hires and supervises a lot of women in the 25-40 age bracket who went straight from home to marriage. Inevitably, they come in looking for work after a divorce. Many of them have were previously supported by their husband. They've never held a job before, and they totally fail to understand basics like getting to work on time, or that jobs have to be done a certain way, or that you just can't take off from work any time you feel like it. I hear some real horror stories...

You did touch on one other aspect that I didn't think about at the time -- parents being increasingly held legally liable for any harm that comes to either their teens, or to others through the actions of their teens. Yes, if I were a parent today, that would scare me into trying to keep my child more confined.

6:07 PM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Bruce Hoult said...

>Good judgment comes from experience.
>Experience comes from bad judgment.

This is very true but we add a bit more to it in sport aviation:

Try to learn from other people's mistakes
You won't get the chance to make all of them youself.

8:34 PM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger geekWithA.45 said...

Mrs. duToit makes an excellent point, that high school kids are socialized to an entirely artificial and temporary society that does much harm and little good in terms of preparing people for adulthood, and I tend to agree, at least in the large brushstrokes.

8:35 PM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Oligonicella said...


"8 )Myelination is the process of fats coating the neural dendrites and axons, increasing transmission effeciency and speed. I cannot find any mention of this process being linked to experience."

I didn't mention dendrite growth or connectivity. I was referring to myelination (that improved firing and speed).

Not finding a mention of the connection sounds about right. You'd have to identify someone with greater myelination than normal and run a battery on them. Probably near impossible at this point.

The battery would also necessarily involve some subjective stuff.

Bottom line in my opinion, if the circuitry is operating better, you get a better experience. Hard for me to envision otherwise.

8:51 PM, March 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I managed to buy my first house at age 21. It wasn't fancy, but it was mine, and I was on my way. Never occurred to me to continue living at home. I've always been pretty much independent.

11:38 PM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Telford said...

Amen to the Scouts recommendation earlier. I'm the father of four, and our oldest just started Scouts last fall. I saw right away how brilliant the structure is. Parents (mainly fathers) show older and younger boys not just skills, but judgment, work ethic, planning, organization, the works. The older boys lead the younger boys, learning leadership and how to set a good example. The younger boys grow quickly, learning how to follow a good example. The activities aren't videogames, pop music, and sex; they're challenging physically as well as psychologically.

Our troop is small and laid-back, and the high schoolers are absolutely tremendous. Their character, compassion, maturity, and good judgment knocks the socks off of us dads. And they are kind and helpful to the younger ones. The younger ones are goofy, but they're good kids, and they're rapidly growing up and straightening up.

The program achieves the opposite of infantilization. My twelve-year-old is hiking hard ten-mile days up and down California mountain ranges, lighting fires, pitching a tarp tent, learning to cook, learning nature and orienteering, consulting with adults over merit badges, having real discussions with high schoolers, and getting more time with me than ever before. He has already advanced two ranks. All of this would have been inconceivable to both of us nine months ago when he practically broke down a quarter-mile into the first hike. He is simply growing up. He's becoming a man.

That's what Scouting does: it helps turn boys into men. That is not what schools do, or churches, or most nonprofits, or just about any other institution in America except families.

My eleven-year-old has been on only one trip and he's hooked. He needs the endurance and the self-confidence, and he'll get it.

Much of this happens not because we have every hour planned out -- meetings are actually pretty loosely planned -- but because the kids are basically apprenticing under those more experienced in life in structured and unstructured tasks that remind me of some of the work that some commenters described on the farm.

My seven-year-old daughter is jealous. If only Girl Scouts were like Boy Scouts!

I was an Eagle Scout, but I never expected to be cheerleading for the BSA until I saw it in action as a father. Look into it, not just for your own children but for plundering it for ways to counter the creeping infantilization of preteens and teenagers.

12:50 AM, March 16, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

I've been thinking about this article on and off over the evening (having read it just before leaving work.) I think it misses the point in a small, but critical, way; all of society is being infantilized, not just adolescents.

1:57 AM, March 16, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

bruce hayden: Of course! Waiting until your early 30's to have children is a good method of ensuring a smaller family. It was and I guess is to some extent a valid family planning method.

BTW, To the discussion of Scouts:

My son had the same experience with Air Cadets. The military cadet programs here in Canada are worth their weight in gold in terms of what they teach a child.

4:31 AM, March 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe has a good point. I worry about the effects of all of society being oriented towards accommodating the needs and desires of its least capable citizens. It's a macro version of the classic grade-school classroom problem: unless the teacher takes action to prevent it, then the class's progress will be determined by its slowest student.

9:49 AM, March 16, 2007  
Blogger Teri said...

I have three teenagers, 18, 15 and 14. One of the things that absolutely amazed me was that as they got older, they needed me more, not less.

Sure, they didn't need help bathing and dressing and feeding themselves, but they needed more and more talking and thinking and discussing and reassurance and checking in.

My parents basically abandoned us emotionally when we got old enough to "take care of ourselves". They started taking trips and leaving us for days on end. Sure, we fed ourselves and got ourselves on the school bus but there was no one there when we got home. My mother worked, but when we were younger we could call her at her job. When we hit the teen years she discouraged us from that and when on trips she was unavailable.

My brother moved out at 17 and got killed in a car wreck, my sister got pregnant at 16 and I joined a cult at 14. Did I mention that we came from a very well-off middle class home, Dad a top executive at a large transportation company?

The cult left me and my husband about a decade behind on career development, once we wised up and realized that it was a cult, so my kids have grown up a lot poorer financially. However, I did not want them to have the emotionally empty experiences I did so I tried my best to stay available for them.

We live in a very small house so we are all constantly interacting - none of the seclusion of each child having their own TV and skulking off to their room

I see a huge difference between them and many of their friends, the ones whose parents provide them with a wonderful physical environment and figure that's all they have to do.

My kids aren't coddled by any stretch of the imagination. My son has been involved in adult writing and film groups since he was 16. The difference between his involvement in the adult world and mine at 14 (in the cult) was that he and I were constantly consulting and discussing what was going on. I allowed him to go, facilitated it by giving him rides, crossed my fingers and let him drive with a 17-year-old friend when she got her drivers license.

So far, nobody has assaulted him, nobody has forced him to drink (they meet in a bar and the adults absoultely refuse to let them drink) and he has entered a film in a city-wide competition that was judged by a real-live professional filmmaker. He is both confident and careful and I have seen him make a lot of very mature decisions. He has gotten a good scholarship based partly on his involvement with this group - that he wouldn't have gotten if he had the usual school-facilitated manufactured "volunteer" activities on his resume. So I feel pretty confident that my "experiment" and my determination to do it differently from my own parents has turned out well.

I think a lot of the craziness of adolescence comes from parents not realizing that they need to stay involved with their kids on this kind of level - that they need to not smother, not control, but stay involved. Monitoring rather than directing. The kids need to find their own way and their own interests but they need a lighter touch as they grow older.

It isn't appropriate to completely turn them loose at 12 and it isn't appropriate to completely control them till they're 18 or 21.

You need to make a very gradual shift from direction to support. It has to be an intuitive process because there sure aren't any hard and fast rules or calculations about when to let go of what.

2:09 PM, March 17, 2007  
Blogger ElvenPhoenix said...

For those interested in raising responsible kids, "Parenting with Love and Logic" is a wonderful resource. Of course, I was already utilizing some of the techniques in the book before I read it, which might be why I like it so much.

In regards to the infantilization of teens, part of the problem may be governmental - but a larger part of it comes from parents. In my own experience my ex and I were on the same page regarding consequences for actions and requiring our kids to work for extra money. Unfortunately, once we divorced he decided that the kids didn't need consequences. He'd teach them "moral choices" by letting them do pretty much whatever they want until he gets angry. And I ended up being the "bad" parent because I have rules at my house and broken rules have consequences that are enforced. Just like real life.

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