Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Extended Teenage Weirdness

The Wall Street Journal had an excellent article on why our teenage pre-adult years are so long, and why they are so strange.  I only want to touch on one of their ideas here.
First they note that in your traditional society, children of even very young ages would often work around their family, learning the basics of child rearing, hunting, farming, clothes making, etc.  Children generally crave social acceptance, and are very willing to learn these tasks.  By the time the youthful exuberance of the teenage years is arrived at, they are actually equipped to take on the challenges of making a go of it on their own.
Alison Gopnik, Wall Street Journal, 28 January 2012
In contemporary life, the relationship between these two systems has changed dramatically. Puberty arrives earlier, and the motivational system kicks in earlier too.
At the same time, contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they'll have to perform as grown-ups. Children have increasingly little chance to practice even basic skills like cooking and caregiving. Contemporary adolescents and pre-adolescents often don't do much of anything except go to school. Even the paper route and the baby-sitting job have largely disappeared.
The experience of trying to achieve a real goal in real time in the real world is increasingly delayed, and the growth of the control system depends on just those experiences. The pediatrician and developmental psychologist Ronald Dahl at the University of California, Berkeley, has a good metaphor for the result: Today's adolescents develop an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.
I have seen studies that indicate that children from farm families tend to be a little bit ahead of their peers when they get to college: a time when many children are first on their own.  Likely this is not because there is a resemblance between working with a combine and Calculus, but the very fact that children raised on a farm have some experience with tasks that have real responsibilities with real consequences.  As the saying goes “It’s not their first rodeo.”
Some of the current problems are somewhat a matter of accident, rather than design.  Teenagers are in less demand in the workforce, as we already have a glut of semi-skilled adults to do this type of work, and the extensive prep-time of some students makes a part time job difficult to manage. 
It does indicate that our education system does not give much in the way of experience with practical responsibility outside of the rather artificial requirements of homework and studying: activities of learning, rather than doing.  But I will concede that it does somewhat beg the question of what exactly we are willing to allow our teens to be responsible for?


Degringolade said...

You have hit upon one of my big concerns as a parent.

My boys are great boys, but they really are having big problems finding even little side jobs to do. The adults are beating them out of the work because the adults need the money too.

The summer jobs programs of the past aren't going to come back soon, so the kids now don't have anything of consequence to learn with.

I am trying to figure something out.

Anonymous said...

I think there is even more that has been lost. Real self-confidence comes from performance, not from the narcissistic inducing "you are all precious" drivel that the schools and the media promote. Children who have responsibilities and perform them learn that they have abilities and are of real value. Those who don't are little more than parasites living at the expense of their parents, sometimes into their late 20's at which time we see them on tv at the OWS protests demanding that the government cancel their student loans and provide them free services (just like mom and dad.)

country life said...

My children have always had responsibilities, depending on what age they were at the time. This they did not always like, but I think it has helped as they grew. My oldest has been living on her own for 3 years and in college for 4 (she still has 5 years left). My son is in his second year with 2 left and my younges has already applied for school in August. My first and second children thank me a lot (now) for their childhood. It is not always easy having chores and getting up at the break of dawn. But I think they turned out to be good kids! I was never mean or threatened them, it was just our way of life on the farm. I think when kids know that meals are at 7am, noon and 5pm this helps, they need the repetition in their lives and a lot of I love you's too. The love and knowing they always can come back home and are very welcome no matter what (again this is what I think) builds the self-confidence they need in life and helps them become better and more stable adults. Sorry so long :)

Humble wife said...

This one I have decided to make a post about!!

So I will refrain from a long winded comment!


russell1200 said...

Sorry so late replying. I had choir practice with my little one last night (a new thing for me), and had my work break out of the office yesterday, and then worked on a post today. Excuses Excuses.

Country Wife: great input. You don't threaten your kids? I do, but most of the time he knows that Daddy means business, and the actual statement of a threat is not needed. Amazingly, he actually has a sense of shame that can be used against him as well. I don't recall having that at his age.

You have no idea (LOL) how long the comments can get around here: with me being the worst culpret. I wish I could remember where I saw that report on farm children and life skills.

Annon: Yes, I think the WSJ article really strikes a chord. I am not sure I want to call my 8 year old a parasite, but I don't want him to grow up to be one either.

Degringolade: Mine is only eight, so I am not there yet. I am more at the stage of trying to start on some lifetime skills. In a non-rural setting they are one area they can work toward competance. But I agree very much with what you are saying. I never did a review on it, but in the dystopian satire (with pa flavoring), Super Sad True Love Story, one of the jokes is that people are dying to get their foot in their door at the retail stores: the implication being that that and electronics are the only drivers of the economy. You need connections to work at a clothes store.