Thursday, June 24, 2010

Teen 2.0 (Chapter 1)

Robert Epstein brings up the problem he's addressing in Teen 2.0 almost immediately:
For the first time in human history, we have artificially extended childhood well past puberty. Simply stated, we are not letting our young people grow up. By holding back our young, we have created a new disorder: Extended Childhood Disorder, characterized by feelings of hopelessness, anger, and a lack of control over one's life. (pg. 5)
Giving examples such as a California proposal to extend mandatory schooling to age 21, or a brief survey revealing that teens experience more restrictions and boundaries than prisoners and military personnel, Epstein's argument is clear: teens are truly adults, fully capable of adult responsibilities, but American culture has infantilized them.

Yet some of Epstein's specific historical examples of how young people have historically been viewed as adults aren't as positive as he tries to make them sound. E.g. Alexander the Great conquered territories by age 16 and became king by age 20, but that doesn't make him a positive example or role model for our young people (i.e. possibly murdering his father). Whereas one-hundred years ago children were working 12-hour days in dangerous conditions, smoking, and drinking alcohol, it appears that we may have actually made progress as a society by including some boundaries in these areas.

"Young people are capable of making great contributions to society, but they currently have virtually no way of being heard (pg. 13)." Epstein points out four positive shifts that have allowed other minorities to have a voice in our culture, calling them "enabling premises." The four premises are:
  1. Individuals are unique. Stereotyping and painting minorities with broad brush strokes ignores the unique beauty of each individual.
  2. People are competent. We've shifted from viewing people's abilities by age or demographic to their own proven competencies and strengths.
  3. People have unrealized potential. We can learn how to be better people with appropriate education and experiences.
  4. Labels are dangerous. Disparaging labels can hinder growth; how we use language is important.
The implications of these premises are, in my opinion, the strongest points in the opening chapter. Teens need to be viewed as unique and beautiful individuals, not as a stereotyped group. Maturity and competency doesn't necessarily follow age--I know 19-year-olds who are far more competent leaders than 29-, 39-, or 59-year-olds. Seeing the positive potential in a teen follows what I've been saying all along: that positive expectations lead to greater growth and progress in people.

I'm now rethinking the language I use for young people. I asked the junior high students recently what label they preferred: "kids," "students," or "junior highers." They all reacted quite negatively to kids and students, and seemed to prefer junior highers the most. Yet I wonder if there are still better labels for young people that connote a more positive tone. I'm definitely watching my language, working hard to not call them "kids."

What do you think: is our culture doing a disservice to teens by placing more restrictions, or are boundaries and regulations a positive contribution to society from the past 100 years? And which of the four premises do you see as most helpful to our view of teens in our culture?

3 comments:

  1. We're certainly thinking about this at Education|Evolving! Check out earlier posts this week at www.educationinnovating.org

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  2. Part 1 from an email sent to me by a parent and friend:

    Hey Joel, 
    This is super long. I will understand completely if you don't have time to read it.  Just writing it was a good for me & will provide our family with lots of discussion.

    From your blog:
     
    What do you think: is our culture doing a disservice to teens by placing more restrictions, or are boundaries and regulations a positive contribution to society from the past 100 years? And which of the four premises do you see as most helpful to our view of teens in our culture?

    Let me begin by stating that I totally agree with the following statements that you quoted from Epstein:
    For the first time in human history, we have artificially extended childhood well past puberty. Simply stated, we are not letting our young people grow up. Teens are truly adults, fully capable of adult responsibilities, but American culture has infantilized them.

    Your first question makes me think of the familiar phrase:  "Which came first the chicken or the egg".   Did the restrictions & boundaries cause the "extended childhood" or are the restrictions a result of the "extended childhood"?  My first thought is that we now need those restrictions & boundaries because the adults have stopped teaching children how to become adults.  For whatever reason (another long topic we could get into) many parents have the attitude that "young adults" acting like "teenagers" is the norm.  I have seen numerous parents stop "parenting" when adolescence hits, saying "that's just the way teens are.  Its a phase we have to get thru."  When observing this, I always think about the "terrible twos"  - a specific phase in child development, but one that we help our children grow out of.  We walk them thru those tantrums and fits with lots of love, restrictions & boundaries until they grow thru it.  Who helps our children walk thru adolescence, when parents have decided to stop parenting thru this phase of development?  Small children are meant to have numerous restrictions & boundaries while they are learning (don't touch the stove, hold hands in the parking lot etc.).  As they learn, the boundaries & restrictions are loosened or lifted. Then we get to adolescence and decide to stop training & teaching.  Chaos ensues and then regulations & boundaries are put back in place.  Because the parents continue to be absent, the youth are stuck there:  a time warp with restrictions that don't let them continue their development.  They have little adult interaction and the expectation is for them to act exactly like all of the peers they are constantly surrounded by (unless of course a really caring, awesome youth worker steps in, or they are homeschooled by a mom who is determined they don't have the struggles she did  & have the best dad ever )

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  3. Part 2 of the email. The entire thing is well worth reading:

    Your second questions asks which of the four premises is most helpful to our teens in view of our culture. Rather than having 4 premises, lets roll them all into one since I can't decide:
    "Individuals (young & old) are unique and have their own competencies and strengths with unrealized potential, so quit labeling, embrace the uniqueness of each person & help them realize their unlimited potential in Christ."

    One thing that is not  addressed on the blog (yet), but is vital to this discussion is how important expectations are.  There was a study done at Harvard years ago comparing the academic expectations that lower income/minority parents had for their children compared to their caucasian counterparts.  The study found that the minority parents hoped that their children would get a "C" grade, hopefully complete high school and get a job.  The expectation for the other children was that they get "A's" and continue to college.  Each group of children, for the most part, reached the expectation placed before them. . . and nothing more.

    When thinking about restrictions, boundaries & expectations, I think of Ron Clark, the teacher who has worked with disadvantaged students in rural North Carolina, Harlem & New York. If you haven't yet read or watched his story, it may be worth the time. Kind of cheesy, but has a lot of parallels to this discussion.  He had to establish lots of rules/boundaries, but eventually, because Ron had far reaching, yet attainable expectations and because he truly cared about them, the students thrived. 
    So, what are our expectations for our youth?  Spiritually? Emotionally? Academically? Keep in mind, I am not suggesting that we exasperate them with meeting our own unfulfilled hopes & dreams or that we expect more than they are truly capable of, but how do we know what they can do if we don't push them beyond what is comfortable?  How do we know what expectations to place before them if we are not constantly in prayer with the One who intimately created them?  How do we expect to encourage them in their God given pursuits when we don't have a relationship with them?  
    Ok, time to stop. I have a LOT more to say (big surprise, huh) but I actually have to get on with my day - as do you = )   
    If you have made it this far, I congratulate you!! Greg & I just might have to take you out to lunch as a reward for making it thru my ramblings.  Can you tell, I get just a little passionate about this kind of stuff??

    Sorry this is kind of scattered and probably has a bunch of typos.  No time now, to go back & correct : ( 
    I really do love your blog & the discussions I hope it is staring in lots of places - in addition to our own home.
     
    Dawn 

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