Why are teens so angsty and rebellious? Because they are biologically adults, being treated like children.
Jane Addams likely had good intentions when in the early 20th century she helped create the juvenile justice system and laws against child labor. But fast forward to present day and her influence on how society treats young adults has disastrous effects on young individuals and society at large.
Many people believe the psychological and social problems associated with American youths is a natural part of the teenage years. Epstein explains that the root of the issue is treating people who are physiologically young adults as children.
It started with Jane Addams creating a culture that prolonged childhood. The government went on to require public education which grouped youths with peers their age. At a time when teenagers should be learning from more mature and intelligent adults, they are instead exposed to an echo chamber of immature peers.
Epstein cites studies which prove the competency of teenagers is often higher than the competency of adults. He argues that nothing magically changes at age 18 or 21. In their teen years, some people are capable and some people are not. But these will likely be the same people who are and are not able to be productive members of society in later years.
Industries now seize on “teen culture.” Hollywood and the music and fashion industries sell their products by appealing to this unnatural subculture. The pharmaceutical industry exploits the psychological problems caused in teens to sell their drugs. There’s nothing wrong with teen brains. There is something very wrong with how society treats teens. But instead of tackling the issue, the drug industry has a pill for that.
Child labor laws sound like a good idea when you think of 8-year-olds in factories. But what about 15-year-olds in mechanics’ garages? Why can’t a 13-year-old work for a restaurant without government permission? And even when these young folks get permission, they have to schedule their work around compulsory education. The government forces them to waste their time, eliminating actual opportunities to learn from work experience while making money.
And the myth that teenagers are still children permeates American culture. How often do you hear people refer to young people from age 13 and well into their 20’s as “kids”?
The solution always comes back to individual freedom. Of course, if we immediately started treating all 13-year-olds as adults there would be issues.
But luckily this is one of those problems where the solution really does come down to individual action. Parents have ultimate control over the environment they provide for their children. As their children become young adults, parents can give those teens a degree of autonomy on a case by case basis.
Homeschooling is growing, which is a good sign. Many people don’t isolate their kids (and teens) from social interaction. Instead, they join co-ops and social groups that don’t segregate by age. Kids have an opportunity to learn from teens, who have an opportunity to learn from adults.
There are far-reaching implications of this myth of adolescence. This is just an introduction to the idea. Tell us in the comments what impact you think this myth has had on society or would have if reversed.