Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Teen 2.0 (Chapter 3)

In chapter three of Teen 2.0, Epstein begins with the question, "is it possible that many teens today feel empty, frustrated, and angry because their lives lack real meaning?"

The short answer, in my opinion, is yes. But where do they find their identity and meaning? Epstein argues that the Western concept of adolescence doesn't exist in other undeveloped cultures and that our views on work, education, and media have shaped adolescence into what it is today. Even more, he concludes that "one can track the emergence of full-blown pathological, Western-style adolescence in countries undergoing Westernization." Basically, adolescence has been created by our Western culture and is slowly spreading worldwide.

Epstein's observations about teen-adult interaction in other cultures is the contrast to Chap Clark's ideas in Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers. Clark speaks of systemic abandonment in America--adults have both glorified youth culture while also isolating and abandoning teens to fend for themselves. It seems that other cultures are the opposite--young people are integrated into adult life, spending much of their time around adults and learning adult responsibilities and behaviors. There are either clear social markers for entering adulthood or a continuum from being a child to being an adult. In preindustrial societies, adults are the role models for teens; in America, teens are the role models for teens. (And, strangely, role models for adults. Just look at the Twilight phenomenon with American moms for a perfect example of teen culture having an increasing influence on adult behavior and values).

A cited study also includes data about teen interaction with their fathers:
"For those lucky enough to have a father, the average teenager now spends less than half an hour a week alone with his or her father." Half of this time is spent watching television, "a situation that does not readily lend itself to quality parent-child interactions." Father-teen interactions in the United States are certainly "not enough to transmit the knowledge, values, attitudes, and skills that adult males should pass on to their children." (pg 93)
After reading Donald Miller's Father Fiction and wondering on this blog whether there was a connection between extended adolescence and lack of father involvement, it's astounding to see that my wonderings have sociological support. Great fathers help foster great children, who in turn become great adults (and great fathers themselves). As a youth pastor, I honestly don't know how to combat this kind of fatherly abandonment apart from being the best father I can possibly be to my own family and model that kind of father to the teens I shepherd.

While the picture being painted is that Western teens are spiraling downward into chaos and turmoil while preindustrial society teens are well-adjusted and responsible, I have to remember that people are people wherever you go. Regardless of cultural upbringing, teens are searching for identity and meaning and belonging. It seems that preindustrial teens find it in work and contributing to their community, while American teens largely don't find it. Both are inadequate to finding one's identity and meaning and belonging in being a disciple of Jesus in the kingdom of God.

If you've been to other countries and interacted with teens, what was your impression of the them? How do we combat systemic abandonment in our culture?

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