Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Inspired by this FB meme:


Interesting argument: that adolescence is basically a modern construct forced upon the teenagers who would otherwise grow up much faster. So, kids are stuck in this weird limbo, where their normal neural development tells them to start becoming adults, but in their lives they are forced (by the parents and the society) to remain kids. Result: the rebellious (or "troubled") teenager phenomenon.

Historically, people behaved like adults right after the start of puberty. In Jewish communities, people would get married at 14. (Both boys and girls. The founder of Chabad movement, Alter Rebbe, got married at 16.) People just state the fact that "teenagers of today are not like the teenagers of back in the day", but where did this dichotomy come from? Furthermore, we see now even 30-year-olds who behave like teenagers. (I won't mention our government and its spending habits.)

Now, since I am a libertarian, I have to blame the government, right?.. :) Well, when the government made it its job to protect kids from "harsh realities of everyday life" (read: adulthood) like working and defined "childhood" as "before 18/21", it created this phenomenon.

Right? If someone is going to become an adult at the age of 14-15, he has to be able to get a job, get his own apartment, marry, drink, smoke and do whatever he wants, taking full responsibility for his life and be treated as an adult (which includes equal respect for his freedoms) both by his parents and the society.

But if he can't get a job (and minimum-wage laws don't help: they tend to increase unemployment among the lowest-paid wage earners, since the minimum wage is now above their marginal profit for the employers), he is forced to live with his parents. And, of course, "my house, my rules". Adulthood out of the window.

He has all the exact desires (all the same "pursuits of happiness") as all the adults. He wants to make his own choices in education, employment, hobbies, recreation, and relationships. But the society forbids them to him (through its social norms or its laws). If he is free-spirited (read: adult) enough to pursue them, he is labeled as a rebel or a criminal.

Note how kids who grow up on the street tend to be more adult in many areas than the kids who live with their parents until they go away to college. These 14-year-olds have to survive and support themselves (and, sometimes, their little siblings). Those come home to a cooked dinner and then go to their rooms to their playstations. (Also look at the 18-year-old shluchim and shluchos who go to Taiwan or India or Madagascar and start their own Chabad Houses, creating communities around them. Most Americans look at them in awe. I've heard many 30-year-old women say: "I could not run a Chabad House and take care of two kids the way that Chaya [21 years old] does.")

I am not arguing that we should throw the teenagers on the street. Just like I am not arguing that we should throw 18- (or 25-) year-olds on the street. My point is that if the society recognized teenagers' equal legal/societal rights and offered them employment opportunities, they would "grow up" just like the kids living on the street. Except they would not be living on the street; they would be doing all the jobs that modern college kids do and living in cheap apartments with roommates.

What about education? First, I don't think the current "education program" is for everyone. People should be free to choose work or education at their own pace. But even for those destined for the school–college (–Ph.D.?–post-doc?) career, living on their own (and supporting themselves through work, internships, or scholarships) should be a choice. For that, again, we must abolish all economic measures that limit teenagers' employability (minimum wage laws, etc.) and recognize their equal legal rights to everything.

Not to mention that the government-funded mass education facilities very likely exacerbate the problem. I've gone to a public high school for three years (my 13th to 16th years of life; most Americans' 14th to 18th). Quick description: feed-forward cycle of idiocy. Teachers treat students as idiots; the students behave as idiots and treat teachers as idiots. And the cycle continues.

Bottom line: you want the teenagers to grow up? Start respecting them as adults.


mor said...

I think that everything you wrote is true. However, you skipped over the idea of the false peer culture (created by adults)which is another element at play and what the facebook meme is mainly talking about. More about that here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0375760288/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=20541211208&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=2143604351752805083&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&ref=pd_sl_5yj9mtgf1b_b.
Interestingly, the Rebbe addressed this part of the problem in a yechidus I hear someone tell over. He said not to move to E'Y because the cultural norm there is for children to be "raised" by their peers, not their parents.

Anarchist Chossid said...

I think that perhaps this idea is they other side of the coin. It's like homeostatic vs. Hebbian plasticity. You need the second to learn; you need the first to keep signal/noise ratio high and so that your brain doesn't become epileptic.

Kids need to learn how to become independent. The "content" of that independence also needs to be appropriate. I think these two actually go hand-in-hand: parents/society not only slow down their children's growing up, but also create a false direction/environment to grow up in/into.

Thanks for the book link; I'll buy it for my wife.