Friday, May 04, 2007

Teens Won't Be Teens

Brian
Should we eliminate the concept of teenagers? Robert Epstein, a behavioral psychologist associated with UCSD and the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies who hosts "Psyched!" on Sirius Satellite Radio, thinks so:
Epstein's book, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, . . . says that once they can prove themselves competent, kids should have all the rights of adults. "Just about everything we do tells [teens] they're incompetent," Epstein writes. "We protect them from danger (driving, cigarettes, alcohol); we don't trust them to work or own property ... We don't allow them to make basic decisions about their health, education or religion." Epstein's proposal? Allow any kid--of any age--who can "pass one or more relevant competency tests" not only to do constructive things like sign contracts and vote but also to do essentially anything he or she wants: have sex with people of any age, drink, smoke, drive, get a tattoo. "If they can pass an appropriate test of maturity," Epstein writes in a passage that left me a bit queasy, "young people of any age should have access to pornographic materials commensurate with adult access."
Link. YPulse's Anastasia Goodstein argues that, from a historical perspective, Epstein might have a point:
The author Thomas Hine, in his very informative book The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, argues that both “teenagers” and “youth culture” are modern social constructs that originated from adult workers’ need to keep teens out of the workforce in order to protect their own jobs and that was made permanent with the universal adoption of compulsory high school. These historic facts spawned a new class of young people in between childhood and adulthood called teenagers (the word began to be widely used in 1945).

It was only after World War II that the word teenager began to pick up steam, especially with marketers. That said, we're now on our third generation of teenage culture or youth culture. Right or wrong, historical events/shifts in the labor force pushed teens out of working full time and into compulsory high school, laws were passed raising the drinking age and dictating when teens can drive, work, etc.
Link. But in his review of Epstein's book, Time's John Cloud makes the same case that the Supreme Court did in rejecting the death penalty for minors. Teens may have some adult-like qualities, but there is something real to our sense that they aren't quite as mature as full-grown people yet, and at least for the sake of administrative efficiency, that's enough to draw a bright age line for access to adult rights, privileges, and penalties.

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Image credits: "Emma Watson Drinking a Beer," from some dude's PhotoBucket, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

4 Comments:

Blogger drrobertepstein.com said...

That short article in TIME was not based on an actual review of my book, as far as I can tell. My book is not about giving dangerous privileges to children but rather about the dangers of infantilizing teenagers and the importance of reconnecting teenagers with adults. We especially need to liberate teens from the idiotic world of teen "culture." (Culture? I don't think so!) In the book I show conclusively that the turmoil our teens experience is entirely a creation of modern society, brought about by practices set in motion after the Civil War. In more than 100 cultures around the world where the connection between teens and adults in strong, teen turmoil is completely absent. For more information, please see http://thecaseagainstadolescence.com.

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