Friday, March 12, 2010

Rejecting Adolescence in the Church - Part 2

A Reasonable Response to an Unfounded Psychological Theory
by McKrunk

Part 2
[Part 1]

A Reasonable Response

Having established the idea of the adolescent as lacking both historical lineage and universal acceptance, one can open up one’s mind to examine the validity of this category remaining part of our society.

Is it possible that the “adolescent” has always existed in history, and exists today in pre-industrialized people groups, but many have simply failed to label or recognize the existence of this stage of human development?  Examining the lives and accomplishments of teenagers in both historic and contemporary pre-industrial civilizations leads us to a logical conclusion.

Robert Epstein has completed an excellent work on this very question, gathering much of the extraneous research of various anthropologists and historians into his monumental opus, The Case Against Adolescence, wherein Epstein makes a thorough case that the stage of adolescence and the behavioral phenomena associated therewith are unique to post-nineteenth century industrialized nations (Epstein, 2007).  A multitude of philological and historical studies confirm this through etymology, nomenclature, and common use of words related to any stage of development peculiar to the teenage years; historical vocational records of the ages at which people began participating in societies as a active wage earners; and birth records, indicating that shortly after the onset of puberty men and women formed independent and functioning families.

In his article “The Myth of the Teen Brain,” Epstein references two anthropological studies which indicate that contemporary pre-industrialized cultures neither share the belief in adolescence as a developmental stage, nor share the problems associated with adolescence in industrialized Western countries.  He points out that, as these psychological ideas are introduced into societies in which they did not previously appear, the adolescent stage, with all of its behavioral trappings, suddenly becomes a reality.

Alice Schlegel of the University of Arizona and Herbert Barry III. . . Reviewed research on teens in 186 pre-industrialized societies.  Among the important conclusions they drew about theses societies: 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 these cultures and extremely mild in cultures in which it did occur.  Even more significant, a series of long-term studies set in motion in the 1980s by anthropologists Beatrice Whiting and John Whiting of Harvard University suggests that teen trouble begins to appear in other cultures soon after the introduction of . . . Western-style schooling, television programs and movies.  Delinquency was not an issue among the Inuit people. . . Until TV arrived in 1980.  By 1988 the Inuit had created their first permanent police station (Epstein, June 2007).

The fact that the phenomenon of adolescent behavior is so unique to industrialized societies should settle the question.  However, many people believe that recent research into the biology of the brain indicates a fundamental difference in the brains of teenagers that warrants the belief in adolescence as a developmental stage.  However, these studies consistently make cum hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacies (the fallacy that A corresponds with B, therefore A causes B).  Demonstrating a correlation between a biological phenomenon in the brain that corresponds with a behavior set, does not prove causation.  Societal pressures and personal beliefs have consistently been demonstrated to be capable of causing said biological phenomena, demonstrating a strong possibility that behavioral phenomena cause the biological phenomena in a healthy brain.

Furthermore, studies that demonstrate developmental activity in the brains of adolescents to conclude the reality of “adolescence” neglect the facts concerning the continual presence of the biological phenomena throughout adulthood (ibid).

The Cultural Effects of Belief in Adolescence

Ideas do not exist on islands unto themselves.  Ideas which are brought to fruition have both consequence and effect.  If we are to answer the question of whether or not the concept of adolescence is beneficial to our culture, we need to understand the consequence that this belief has had on young adults.  As outlined in the above sections, it is a historically provable fact that the introduction of the belief in adolescence as a life stage has drastic and negative effects on societies.

Newt Gingrich, in his article “Let’s Scrap Adolescence and Grow Up,” gives specific quantification to some of the effects of adolescence:
It’s time to declare the end of adolescence.  As a social institution it’s been a failure.  The proof is all around us: 19% of eighth graders, 36% of tenth graders, and 47% of twelfth graders say they have used illegal drugs according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan.  One of every four girls has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a recent study for the Centers for Disease Control.  A methamphetamine epidemic among the young is destroying lives, families and communities.  And American students are learning at a frighteningly slower rate than Chinese and Indian students.  The solution is dramatic and unavoidable; we have to end adolescence as a social experiment.  We tried it, it failed.  It’s time to move on.  Returning to an earlier more successful model of children rapidly assuming the roles and responsibilities of adults would yield enormous benefit to society (Gingrich, 2008).
David F. White writes in his article “Youth Ministry in Modern America: 1930 to the Present” that:
Since the early 1970s the real earning power has diminished by approximately 30 percent, while requirements for securing middle-class employment have escalated, leaving the young less free to explore vocation and make their mark on history. . . The church has relegated the youth to the periphery of congregational ministry. . . There have been times when the contradictions of adolescence were not felt so starkly as today.  In preindustrial American villages, youth worked alongside adults, exploring adult roles, values and norms, and making their mark in the world in valued social roles (White, 2002).
In “Reconceiving Youth Ministry,” Richter, Magnuson and Baizerman point out the various scripts by which young adults are imprisoned due to the myth of adolescence.  Rather than being free to be humans created in the image of GOD, they are merely consumers that fit a market image of the “teen.”  While there is still the possibility of transcendence, this is very difficult when there is no guidance or encouragement in a young person’s life to help them so much as question the paradigm of adolescence (Richter et al., 1998).

Through a combination of social scripts and restrictive laws, childhood is artificially extended further into adulthood with each passing generation’s unquestioning acceptance of the adolescent narrative.  While the first child labor laws were created to protect very young children from dangerous work, with each new law passed the motivations for the laws became confused; mixed with socialist dogma, union pressures, and profiteering of powerful industrialists.

As these laws moved from protecting children to protecting increasingly older people, those young adults aged thirteen to twenty-one years found themselves “regulated” out of the adult world.  As this regulating of childhood into adulthood took place in government, naturally there needed to be a place where the new “adolescent” could be placated -enter compulsory government education.

This segregation of young adults has also caused an increasingly rapid change in values, mores, and traditions from year to year.  Even in the recent past, with generations such as the Romantics or the Moderns, many years, births, and deaths had to pass before a new generation could be defined.  Now, new generations are defined in increasingly shorter increments of time.

It’s interesting that many researchers group the "Traditionals" as those born 19011942-5.  A huge 45 year group.  Why did they last so long?  Were the Traditionals in many ways living off of the bank deposit of values of their parents and grandparents before them?  Though not perfect by any stretch of imagination, I think that group known as "Traditionals" were given the last widespread model of at least a semi-biblical parental discipleship.  By contrast, Baby Boomers run from 1945-1960, only 15 years.  Gen X'ers 1961-1981, Millenials 1982-2002 and the current "Z" Generation 2003 till who knows when.  I can't help but see this largely as a function of age segregation in education, church life, social life, etc (Vestal).
The isolation of youth from elders causes them to, with increasing rapidity, form their own beliefs and traditions based within a very narrow peer group with little input from outsiders.

With every passing generation since the psychological invention of adolescence, young adults are struggling with increasing length to put childish ways behind them.  They remain in or return to their parents’ homes and fail to secure steady employment due to their own irresponsibility.  Instead of recognizing the false scripts and infantilizing laws of the myth of adolescence, older adults are seeking to go further in the wrong direction.  Some legislators are now pressing for compulsory education laws to extend into the ages of the twenties.  The first year of college is a year of being subjected to endless programs, systems, and schedules that are designed to hold the students’ hands as they remain dependent on others.  More laws are constantly being passed to regulate both the decisions and choices of young adults, and the ability of parents to decide or recognize when their children have become adults.  Initially, there were no laws restricting the age of a driver.  Then laws were passed not based on competency, but age.  Those age limits were recently raised from sixteen years to eighteen years in many municipalities.  While a sixteen year old once had the freedom of an adult to drive, now they have curfews placed on their driving and governmental restrictions on with whom they may drive.  As young adults consistently live out the scripts of adolescence, more laws are required to restrict their adolescent behavior; further infantilizing them and worsening their juvenility.

Cont'd.  [Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

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