Why do teenagers behave the way they do?
A better question would be why did we as teenagers behave in such a manner?
Why all of sudden when you were allowed to be an adult, and your parents and other compulsory laws regarding minors no longer applied to you suddenly become a lot more responsible, more civilized, and the girls who couldn’t give you the time of day in high school are no longer snobs, and you were generally happier?
I’m currently finishing up “The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen” by Robert Epstein, Ph.D. that was published last year. He makes a compelling case, which teenagers are indeed not children and we need to stop treating them like children at all levels in society. If we do nothing a teenager’s natural desire to be independent will only be expressed through obnoxious, criminal, and irresponsible behavior.
Epstein takes a historical look over that past 100+ years in how we treat individuals who are just past puberty. He takes a look at the roots of the progressive movement that created restrictive labor laws and mandatory schooling of individuals well past puberty, then a marketed youth culture that preoccupies teenagers and cuts the continuum from them becoming adults, and how parents fail to teach personal responsibility in an adult context (not as a teen) at younger ages to help children make adult decisions and be an adult. It’s a vicious cycle that I believe not only needs to be stopped at home but a better look at how our public policy treats teenagers will help minimize natural want to be independent adults at their age.
He makes it clear that he may not be talking about the teenager of today, but since for all of human history except for recently the issue of being a teenager didn’t exist because individuals were treated and behaved liked adults soon after puberty and believes we can bring back that potential in young adults but society will have to make some drastic changes, some whether conservative or liberal may think is too much.
If we’re the adults, then why are we doing such a poor job controlling teenage behavior?
Well that’s the problem, we shouldn’t be controlling teenagers.
the obvious response is
“What? We let them do whatever they want? Look at them now; they can’t handle the little freedom and personal responsibility they have. They can’t even keep their room clean. They can’t even remember to bring a pencil to class.”
Let’s back up here where the problem starts.
My oldest is entering the ‘tween’ market for consumerism. Corporations like Disney/Viacom want to sell the idea that being a teenager is cool, parents are dumb idiots, and since being child with little to no responsibility is the best time of one’s life let’s milk it for all it’s worth and extend it out, which 95% of us will attest to that being a child was great, but being an adult is much better then being in middle/high school. I’m not teaching my daughter that Hannah Montana is the anti-Christ or that High School Musical is the devil’s creation. We don’t have cable, we didn’t before we had children, but she is keenly aware of what her peers watch and do.
Even at the age of six, I explain to her that these situations are not realistic of what it means to be a grown up, and as she enters later stages of childhood I have to explain to her that this market is simply prepping her for the MTV market, which roots were admirable in the 80s, before they entered the reality realm of “The Real World” in the early 90s and stopped caring about music.
One of the main themes in Epstein’s book is that we isolate young people from the true adult world, they need to spend more time not just with adults but in adult settings, seeing adults handling adult situations and consequences. Children and teenagers see very little, even at home they spend little quality time with their ‘uncool and controlling’ parents whose obligation is to guide them into the adult world. Studies showing dinner time has had positive effect on families, probably not because parents know the lives of their children, but children more importantly know about the lives of their parents. By the way while I’m at it on parenting repetitive lines such as ‘because I say so’ and ‘as long as you live under my roof’ is not parenting.
It’s more then just marketing, it is also how we school teenagers especially forcing them to extend school whether or not they want to be there. We not only push for more extra-curricular activities, but also to keep raising the mandated age to 18 (something Gov. Patrick and many educational lobbyists advocate) before an individual can choose leave school. The obvious response is we need to keep teenagers out of trouble, but aren’t we then treating school more like a prison then an educational institution?
I am nor is Epstein arguing against education or even recreational activities, but one can’t force a 7 year old to play t-ball what makes you think you can make a 17 year old? What the threat of a truancy officer, that will most likely get your poor stressed out overworked mother and no dad in the picture to blame in trouble with the law rather then you? Yeah, I would be mooning a police officer too. What’s the worst house arrest or a treatment program? It’s not like a teenager is going to lose his job, house, or way of life, or anything meaningful if he commits a crime. Teenagers have nothing to lose, so consequences and punishment mean little.
If a teenager doesn’t want to go to school don’t force them, but also don’t make it legally impossible for them to find work or do something else that is constructive. There is a difference between safety laws and age restriction laws; if a person is properly trained and supervised does it matter if they are 14 years old? Also we shouldn’t focus so much on graduating with one’s class or being a part of a class, rather once you pass an MCAS type test, you graduate. Period. If a 15 year old wants to take a year or two off, let him, with the possibility that he can truly earn a high school degree and pass the MCAS later on, not just sit there and pass him along learning nothing and have everyone upset about his failed it five times wasting his time and our money.
Why should high school be so aged/social/clique focused, we don’t do it in post-grad and as we see more ‘non-traditional’ aged students in four year college settings. If you like football, find an intramural league, if you’re good, a scout will find you. If you like to play an instrument or sing, great, audition for American Idol. You like political activism, it’s a free country, and do it on your own time. If you are truly that gifted and talented in something, you should be a productive member in the adult world, rather then jumping through hoops for the praises of teachers for academic achievements awards and a school’s bragging rights until someone else says you’re can be productive.
One of the most sensitive subjects in the book is sexuality and teens. Epstein believes that teenagers are perfectly capable and should in engage in mature sexual relationships, including marriage and children, rather then what is promoted as safe teenage sexual behavior. He is not advocating forced or arranged marriages, what is he saying is that a young woman is perfectly capable of deciding who should be her husband and raising a child herself. Young women can now access Free pregnancy tests in most places. This helps them to decide the next part of their life, they have a big decision to make. It’s so crucial that they are making the decision themselves without anyone influencing their choice. Some people will view their decision as wrong, whilst others will view it as correct.
The perfect example of this debate is the current brouhaha over Jamie-Lynn Spears. Nickelodeon was extremely upset at the real life pregnant teen and more of their image, but her high school character on TV even though not sexually active had a romantic interest. What do we tell the ‘children’, meaning the tween market the show is geared to? Jamie-Lynn Spears is an actress; she plays a character, in which there are fictional teen romantic relationships on a scripted TV show that doesn’t have to deal with real life repercussions. In real-life she is a woman who has chosen to have a mature relationship with a man and they had sex and created a baby, just like mommy and daddy did with you.
Epstein goes into several passages how marriage and parenthood is actually good for young adults, it gives them meaning, purpose, and motivation to be more responsible. Is the problem today really young mothers or fatherless children? Teenagers have always had sex, in fact it’s normal for them to have sex, it was just that we treated them and respected them and called them adults and gave them a pathway to be responsible with sex. For many couples, both teenagers and older, sex is one of the main reasons why they’re able to stay together for a long time. Those in a healthy relationship will tell you that they work to keep their love-making a priority. This doesn’t mean the same old same old at the end of the day before they go to bed. They need to experiment a bit and use their imagination, recommend the relationship experts working at DatingPilot. As long as boundaries are set that you are both comfortable with, there is nothing wrong with getting a bit wild and daring to keep sex fun and exciting. Some people believe this is the key to a successful relationship.
Today, while we all like to pat ourselves on the back that teen pregnancy is down through forms of education and contraception, the rise of children born out of wedlock and without a dad in adult women is up, it makes us ask what we’re not teaching them?