Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Then Why Call Them "Young Adults?"

And I thought reading diaries and secretly drug-testing your own teen was bad. A couple of articles about the infantilization of human children crossed my desk yesterday. On the one hand, in the Mar/Apr 2007 issue of Psychology Today, psychologist Robert Epstein says, "Imagine what it would feel like—or think back to what it felt like—when your body and mind are telling you you're an adult while the adults around you keep insisting you're a child. This infantilization makes many young people angry or depressed, with their distress carrying over into their families and contributing to our high divorce rate. It's hard to keep a marriage together when there is constant conflict with teens.

We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other "children." In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. But we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable. In 1904, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall said it was programmed by evolution. He was wrong."

On the same day, I read this in London's EducationGuardian: "A school uniform maker said yesterday it was "seriously considering" adding tracking devices to its clothes after a survey found many parents would be interested in knowing where their offspring were. ...

Clare Rix, the marketing director, said: "As well as being a safety net for parents, there could be real benefits for schools who could keep a closer track on the whereabouts of their pupils, potentially reducing truancy levels."

No comments on whether this would increase adolescent anger toward the parents, but common sense says it will. And I'm not sure I agree that teen angest is the cause of the high divorce rate, but are there really parents out there who have no idea who (yes, I mean "who") their "young adults" are and what they are doing? I suppose I may have been blessed with hyper-responsible teens, but it would never occur to me to put a tracking device in my child's clothing, nor would I allow the school to do it for help with "truancy issues." If we want children to grow up to be responsible adults, we need to give them responsibility (appropriate to their age, of course) and treat them with respect, not do everything for them until they're 30, then push them out the window into adulthood.

DH and I were just discussing this with regard to Klaus' first week at college. DH has emailed him half a dozen times and then got mad when he didn't get an instant answer. I reminded him we need to stop micromanaging the boy (although the boy does need more micromanaging than some because of the ADD). Then I told him there is nothing more demoralizing than being about to take some initiative or to handle something on your own, and then your parent tells you to do that very thing.

For example, "Hm, I think I'll take the dog for a walk to get some exercise," thinks Wolfie, feeling very grownup and responsible. "Why don't you take the dog for a walk?" yells Mom as he's hooking up the dog's collar in the other room. Now walking the dog is a chore and Wolfie doesn't want to do it anymore. The passive-aggressive thing to do is to pretend you didn't hear, walk into the room where Mom is and announce you're taking the dog for a walk and what did she say? But that just leaves you feeling bitter and untrusted. Better for Mom and Dad to follow up sparingly, if at all, and let the kids surprise us with their ability to be responsible.


Zany Mom said...

And we wonder why a lot of teens engage in a lot of boneheaded behavior (graffiti, vandalism, jackarse stunts, etc)...

To them, life doesn't even begin at 18 any more. Now it's 21... said...

Actually, a recent survey suggests that Americans now consider adulthood to begin at age 26. Lot's more about these issues in my new book. Info at: Thanks for the school uniform piece; I hadn't been aware of it. /re