Monday, June 28, 2010

Teen 2.0 (Chapter 2)

The second chapter of Teen 2.0 offers a comprehensive history of the creation of adolescence. Epstein makes the case that the cultural view of teens has dramatically shifted since the Industrial Revolution due to a variety of factors: increased legal restrictions on children and teens; mandatory schooling; the arbitrary age of majority; and the rise in industries catering to teens and creating a youth culture. Ultimately, this all stemmed from the widespread cultural view that teens are helpless and/or incompetent.

Epstein goes into great detail about the emergence of child labor laws and other legal restrictions. "The rate at which such laws are being passed has increased substantially since the 1960s, with an increasingly wide range of new crimes being invented just for young people (pg 23)." Before 1700, there were few relevant laws to Epstein's search, and only a few more in the early 1800s. By the mid-1800s onward, Epstein records a steady increase in restrictive laws, with a sudden sharp increase beginning in the 1960s. So why the dramatic increased restriction in the past 50 years?

Epstein seems to paint many of these historical laws and shifts as inherently negative, that we are harming our young people with the increased restrictions. Yet aren't some of these laws beneficial? Isn't it a good thing that young children are protected from working 14-hour-long days? Isn't requiring that our young people be accountable for education a benefit to them and society as a whole?

Yes, some of the laws seem ridiculous, like the 1981 Illinois law requiring that arcade video games be placed only in "licensed liquor establishments" and that young people had to be at least 21 to play them unless accompanied by an adult. Epstein repeatedly points out that many of the restrictive laws weren't/aren't followed, such as laws against under-aged drinking or smoking, seeming to suggest that we should just throw these laws out anyway. Perhaps there is a balance somewhere between giving teens all the rights and freedoms of adults and the recent rampant restrictions placed on them.

Epstein includes a chart about the vicious cycle between teens acting out and the increased restrictions. It feels like a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" problem. Is society finally realizing that young people need more restrictions in order to become healthier adults? Or is an overly negative view of teens motivating teens' poor behavior, resulting in a need for restrictions? It seems like the more teens act out, the more restrictions are placed on them, which in turn makes them act out in more extreme ways.

The restrictions on young people hits close to home. I recall going to a rental company to pick up a 15-passenger van for a junior high event, only to be told that I wasn't old enough to rent and drive the van; I was 23 at the time. Our student ministry is also struggling with strict insurance policies that won't allow any paid staff--including our college-aged interns--to drive any minors until they turn 21. So my 19-year-old intern can't drive his younger brother's friends to youth group or take students out for dinner. It sends a mixed message when our culture says, "we think you're capable of leading and shepherding teens, but aren't capable of driving a motorized vehicle."

The cultural view of teens being helpless and incompetent directly affects ministry; when one views teens as problems to be solved instead of people to love, one's philosophy and practice of ministry is dramatically affected. This also affects young leaders, both in high school and college, like my 19-year-old interns. Should I view them as incompetent and in dire need of constant supervision? Or can I view them as adults-in-process, fully capable of responsibility and leadership, yet also in need of mentoring?

Do you tend to view teens and young people as helpless/incompetent or as capable/responsible? Which do you think came first in the cycle: increased restrictions or teens acting out?

1 comment:

  1. From an emailed response via my awesome mom-in-law:

    You forgot that we send 18-19 year olds off to war and expect them to kill people. We hand them high powered weapons and expect them to be responsible with them. Yes they have commanding officers above them, but they are still put into a position of carrying the weapon and shooting to kill when the time comes. We also let 18 year olds vote and many of them haven't taken the time to check out the candidates to any length and then we as a society deal with the consequences of their votes. Society is always sending mixed messages to their youth, but then again so do parents wanting them to grow up and then when they try to we pull back and say not so fast. I am sure that you have seen this with your jr highers.