The Case Against Adolescence

Phsychology Today is out with an amazing article about Psychologist Robert Epstein’s new book “The Case Against Adolescence,” in which he argues “that teens are far more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed on them.” Here are just a few clips from this insightful article that all of us teenagers have known all along.

The whole culture collaborates in artificially extending childhood, primarily through the school system and restrictions on labor. The two systems evolved together in the late 19th-century; the advocates of compulsory-education laws also pushed for child-labor laws, restricting the ways young people could work, in part to protect them from the abuses of the new factories. The juvenile justice system came into being at the same time. All of these systems isolate teens from adults, often in problematic ways.

What kind of problems?

What are some likely consequences of extending one’s childhood?

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.

If teens are so competent, why do they not show it?

What teens do is a small fraction of what they are capable of doing. If you mistreat or restrict them, performance suffers and is extremely misleading. The teens put before us as examples by, say, the music industry tend to be highly incompetent. Teens encourage each other to perform incompetently. One of the anthems of modern pop, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, is all about how we need to behave like we’re stupid.

Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become. When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world, which is not the world of Britney Spears, they have no idea what’s going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out.

There are at least 20 million young people between 13 and 17, and if they are as competent as I think they are, we are just throwing them away.

This article is not one to miss, with so much truth found within the statements of this man on the myth of adolescence. Every teenager in this movement should read this article.

HT: Tim Chalies.

5 responses to “The Case Against Adolescence”

  1. Chad says:

    This article has much truth in it: being in that 20 Million age group, I feel “infantilization” quite a bit, despite my striving to let no one despise my youth.

    The Hebrew culture (not so much today as was the case 2000 years ago) knew the competency level of young adults: boys were expected to become men at age 13. After age 13 hit, they developed their trade, built a home (often times building onto their parents house), got married, and were viewed as fully adults before many modern teenagers have even graduated from high school.

    Perhaps some of this infantilization is due to us settling into this very mindset and failing to do those things (doing hard things!) necessary to show our competency to our fellow adults, thus confirming to them their suspicions that we are not capable of being an adult. Therefore, we are segregated into our own culture, void of the wisdom that comes with age, and as a result each generation is getting weaker and weaker. Once again, this is due in part to our failure to seize opportunities to work and learn along side adults, as well as work as an adult (I’m just as guilty of this as anyone).

    Thanks for posting about this article, Tim. It puts a whole new meaning and emphasis for me on 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (ESV)

  2. I just wanted to thank you for your supportive comment and to point out that I explore these issues in great detail in a new book called The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen. It includes a foreword by renowned psychotherapist Albert Ellis, who calls it “one of the most revolutionary books I have ever read.” Dr. Joyce Brothers calls it “profoundly important.” If you’re interested in teens, I hope you’ll check it out. For further information, please see:

  3. Trevor says:

    Remember, though. The arguement is not to stick an age label on becoming an adult. Thirteen years old may be a good starting point, but it seems to me that adulthood education should begin at an age decided by the parents – based on maturity. I know some very mature thirteen year olds. And some very immature eighteen year olds. Of course, not all parents are godly, and some may not agree with this article. But I’m just saying… you can’t put an age brand on adulthood.

  4. Chad says:

    I agree with you, Trevor. Turning 13 does not “magically” transform a boy into a man, rather, it is a process that takes years. Parents ought to be closely involved with their children’s maturing process. Just because a young person might be very mature does not mean that he or she is no longer obligated to be under their authority; the scriptures clearly teach this. However, adulthood has to start somewhere, and many times (as outlined in the article) teens are kept away from the maturing process by being separated from other adults (even parents) into a “sub-culture”. But yes, one can definitely not put an age brand on adulthood.

  5. David Ketter says:

    Chad: The Scriptures are under the assumption that adulthood began at 13…so our Western idea needs some reworking on that part if you’re going to make that argument.

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