CAN WE DO WITHOUT ADOLESCENCE?
Adolescence is a recent developmental stage. Some societal changes and influences have lengthened
this time period. Adolescence emerged as a result of the industrial revolution and the resulting need
to limit the number of people in the work force. It is reported that the requirement of more education
is the surface manifestation of the underlying need to delay entry into the work force. With increased
longevity, mandatory retirement is the corresponding effect on the other end of the life span. Many
policymakers and scientists are saying that the period of adolescence is no longer needed because young
people are not using this period of development wisely. You can find some of the arguments in the videos
below. Listen to them and ponder the question, Could we do without adolescence?
On the other hand, we live in a privileged society - one of the few that allow teens to have more free time
and the luxury of an extended period called adolescence.
Consider other not-so-contemporary quotes below describing the characteristics of adolescents in earlier times.
There seems not to be much difference in viewpoints centuries ago, with those being made today.
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today,
for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words....When I was young, we were taught to be discreet
and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.”
–Hesiod, 800 B.C.
“The children now know luxury; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter
the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company and tyrranize their teachers”.
–Socrates, 470-399 B.C.
“The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or
old age; They are impatient of all restraint; They talk as if they alone know everything and what passes
for wisdom in us is foolishness in them. As for girls, they are foolish and immodest and unwomanly in
speech, behavior and dress.”
–Peter the Hermit, A.D. 1083
What is your opinion about this? Do we need adolescence? How would society need to change if
there was no period of adolescence? What would happen to our society and to the group of people
we call adolescents?
Compare and contrast these views with a discussion, description and characteristics of adolescents today.
What’s the same and what’s different? Are the issues different today? Why, in your opinion?
What societal factors or changes contribute to the differences in issues today and the past? Describe what
it is like to be a teen today in the 21st Century.
Are there cultural variations and differences between teens? What are they? Poll members of your
group that may be from different cultures and ask them to provide an overview of their teen culture
from their ethnic perspective. Are there differences in cultures? What are the similarities and differences?
Should we continue this developmental period? Why? Speculate how our society would change if teenagers
could compete for jobs with adults on an equal basis. What would be the resulting effects?
Related Learning Links
Beloved scholar and educator Dr. Howard R. Bernstein died on Jan. 15, 2007. This is an excerpt
from one of his final interviews. This is an early edit of a documentary about Dr. Bernstein's life,
his academic career, and the lives he has touched in the classroom. Interviews with several generations
of students in an attempt to explain Dr. Bernstein's uncommonly sucessful teaching methodology. Dr. Bernstein
is battling terminal cancer. Directed by Eric Byler, former student of Dr. Bernstein's at Wesleyan University.
Newt Gingrich describes how the 19th century concept of adolescence fails young adults by robbing
them of engagement in the adult world.
Prepared for adulthood? Former Psychology Today editor-in-chief Robert Epstein makes the case against
adolescence. Then, are teenagers kids or little adults? The agenda examines whether adolescence is
lasting too long.