Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Myth of Inevitable Teen Rebellion

File under things to remember while parenting teens in a few years. Via

The Myth of Inevitable Teen Rebellion

Dr. Robert Epstein (Ph.D., Harvard University) is a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind and a former editor in chief of Psychology Today. In the April/May 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind, Epstein penned an outstanding article entitled The Myth of the Teen Brain.  It goes right after the notion, regularly popularized on the covers of magazines like Time and U.S. News & World Report,  that incomplete brain development accounts for the emotional problems and general irresponsibility for which teenagers in our day have gained infamy, and that, consequently, rebellion and general incompetence among teens is inevitable.

Epstein’s perspective is the polar opposite: “any unique features that may exist in the brains of teens,” says Epstein, “–to the limited extent that such features exist–are the result of social influences rather than the cause of teen turmoil” (emphasis original).  He sites anthropological research data on teens in 186 preindustrial societies which found that “about 60 percent had no word for ‘adolescence,’ teens spent almost all their time with adults, teens showed almost no signs of psychopathology, and antisocial behavior in young males was completely absent in more than half of these cultures and extremely mild in cultures in which it did occur.”

Epstein argues that the angst we see among many teens in the U.S. today is the result of an “artificial extension of childhood” past puberty. He writes:

Over the past century, we have increasingly infantilized our young, treating older and older people as children while also isolating them from adults. Laws have restricted their behavior [see box on next page]. Surveys I have conducted show that teens in the U.S. are subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as are mainstream adults, twice as many restrictions as active-duty U.S. Marines, and even twice as many restrictions as incarcerated felons. And research I conducted with Diane Dumas as part of her dissertation research at the California School of Professional Psychology shows a positive correlation between the extent to which teens are infantilized and the extent to which they display signs of psychopathology.

The 7-page article’s conclusion reads:

Today, with teens trapped in the frivolous world of peer culture, they learn virtually everything they know from one another rather than from the people they are about to become. Isolated from adults and wrongly treated like children, it is no wonder that some teens behave, by adult standards, recklessly or irresponsibly. Almost without exception, the reckless and irresponsible behavior we see is the teen’s way of declaring his or her adulthood or, through pregnancy or the commission of serious crime, of instantly becoming an adult under the law. Fortunately, we also know from extensive research both in the U.S. and elsewhere that when we treat teens like adults, they almost immediately rise to the challenge.

We need to replace the myth of the immature teen brain with a frank look at capable and savvy teens in history, at teens in other cultures and at the truly extraordinary potential of our own young people today.

You’ll want to check this article out. Epstein’s most recent book is The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen. Also well worth checking out on this subject is Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris.

Posted via email from daveyounce's posterous

1 comment:

Unknown said...

So interesting and I definitely think he's on to something. The number of post-college age adults who live at home is horrifying to me. I can't decide if it's really a reflection of the economy or just an extension of the same permissive parenting that have led so many of the 8 year olds around here astray. Are we really so incapable of taking care of ourselves in our 20s? I mean, I know we don't want to go way way back in time but shit, moving out of your parents house at 18 has been the norm for so long now, and it's only in the last few decades that we assume you get to extend your freedom of responsibility a few years beyond that before having kids and getting a job. The number of 30 years olds I know with no direction, no plan and no sense of self is scary. I mean, I don't care what you DO, be a plumber or a proctologist, but DO something. And I really think there's something legitimate in the author's suggestion that this confusion and selfishness is because we don't allow kids to grow up faster.

What a terrible position we're in these days. I'm always trying to extend my children's childhood. No DS, not to much tv, unsupervised time outside, riding bikes in the neighborhood alone, no aftercare or too many summer camps. So when do we stop keeping them innocent and push them into adulthood? I guess I'll have to wait until they're teenagers to find out how/when/why, I just hope I haven't fucked them up too much by then!