The Case Against Adolescence

Continuing the conversation about how children and teens don’t want to be locked away in school surrounded only by their peer group… Psychologist Robert Epstein published a book in 2007, “The Case Against Adolescence“, that shows how the more young people are infantilized, the more psychopathology they show.

Psychology Today has a great interview with the author. In It, Epstein points out that childhood naturally ends with puberty.  As American society has increased the legal and emotional constraints over the past 100 years on American youth, it has led to teenage isolation in dysfunctional peer groups.

Contrary to the cultural myth that youth are not capable citizens, studies show that teens are just as capable as adults biologically – cognition, emotional intelligence, etc. It is the culturally imposed limitations that restrict their capabilities.

Studies show that we reach the highest levels of moral reasoning while we’re still in our teens. Those capabilities parallel higher-order cognitivereasoning abilities, which peak fairly early. Across the board, teens are far more capable than we think they are.

Imagine what it would feel like—or think back to what it felt like—when your body and mind are telling you you’re an adult while the adults around you keep insisting you’re a child.

Locking youth away in schools, where they are often forced to study and regurgitate material that is not meaningful to them in a way that is not conducive to their natural learning abilities, deprives them of the hero’s journey of discovering their innate gifts, soul’s calling and personal purpose. This leads to disaffected, depressed and aggressive youth who anesthetize themselves by consuming clothes, gadgets, alcohol and drugs.

We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other “children.” In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence.

Contrast my small town in California where the local humane society will not allow any volunteer under the age of 16 to walk a dog with the indigenous culture of Bali where a child under the age of 5 will be responsible for tending an open fire.

In the SelfDesign community, youth are allowed the freedom to pursue their interests and discover themselves – even when they choose to go to school. (Notice who is doing the choosing.)

The adversarial relationship between parents and offspring is terrible; it hurts both parents and young people. It tears some people to shreds; they don’t understand why it is happening and can’t get out of it. They don’t realize they are caught in a machine that’s driving them apart from their offspring—and it’s unnecessary.

Robert Epstein advocates allowing youth to pursue meaningful ventures of their choosing. He goes on to say,

Too often, giving children more responsibility translates into giving them household chores, which just causes more tension and conflict. We have to think beyond chores to meaningful responsibility—responsibility tied to significant rights.

Why do parents view schooling as such a necessary part of their children’s future? Why have they bought into the story that without forced schooling the child will go astray? Higher education and our military-industrial complex feeds on the fears of parents that their child will not be “competitive” in this world if they don’t learn the quadratic equation, state history, and how to write an essay.

I think it’s for the sake of convenience and also a result of the prisoner’s dilemma as detailed in SelfDesign by Brent Cameron. It is not convenient to keep a child our youth out of school and forego that free day care. My life as an entrerpreneur and home learning mother is messy and often chaotic. And I wouldn’t make any other choice. However, I can envision a Flex Space in my community that meets my family’s needs and those of other entrepreneurs and their children.

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