What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind?
February 1, 2012 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Children today reach puberty earlier and adulthood later. The result: A lot of teenage weirdness. Adolescence has always been troubled, but for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age. At the same time, first with the industrial revolution and then even more dramatically with the information revolution, children have come to take on adult roles later and later.
posted by Ruthless Bunny (79 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 

I've been wondering for a while how it is that our kids are growing up faster than ever, and yet seem more immature and unable to handle adult responsiblities. I think this article explains this pretty well.

I'm always amazed in old movies at kids in high school who are contemplating marriage and getting out in the working world. I know it happened, but I can't wrap my head around the teenagers I know doing the same, it's like they're wired differently. Now, it appears that there's a scientific reason for it. Thank goodness because I was beginning to think that I was just turning into one of those crusty old people.

Now get off my lawn.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:20 PM on February 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


In terms of early puberty, isn't that heavily speculated to be due to growth hormones in food, plastics and even the water supply?

As reaching adulthood: What's the rush?
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:25 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


In terms of early puberty, isn't that heavily speculated to be due to growth hormones in food, plastics and even the water supply?

No, the corporations who use growth hormones are completely sure that doesn't have anything to do with it.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:26 PM on February 1, 2012 [29 favorites]


" curious, the children of today don't seem as egear to jump into a life of soul crushing drudgery as they used do, maybe something is wrong with thier brains?"
posted by The Whelk at 1:28 PM on February 1, 2012 [62 favorites]


Synthetic organic compounds with one or more secondary carbons in the primary backbone which allows for increased bending, twisting, and contorting to conform to any number of sensitive and potent cell surface receptors expressed as the body anticipates adult development.

Or something.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:29 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't there some pushback against the early puberty idea? It's been a bit of a moral panic for at least three decades.
posted by dhartung at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2012 [10 favorites]



" curious, the children of today don't seem as egear to jump into a life of soul crushing drudgery as they used do, maybe something is wrong with thier brains?"


EXACTLY. This is called options, people. It's what progress is supposed to be about. Now that kids have the option of not getting married to the first vagina/penis they touch, can't really buy a house at 19 and don't have to go off to war via the draft, what the fuck reason do they have to kill their spirits at 21? There are way more options and we're living longer anyway. If your life span on average is 52 years...yeah, 15 to 21 is a lot more of your life. If you're living to 79 or 80, fuck it.
posted by spicynuts at 1:37 PM on February 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


Does this have anything to do with the observable fact that women today seem, on average, to be at least six inches taller than those of the Boomer generation? Women 5'10" and taller were rare back in the Olden Dayes, but now one routinely sees women in flats at 6'+.
posted by the sobsister at 1:37 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


My takeaway: bring back child labor! (says the father of a 17-year-old who's not yet held down a job)
posted by tippiedog at 1:38 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


More seriously, the article has this piece: This is the system that turns placid 10-year-olds into restless, exuberant, emotionally intense teenagers, desperate to attain every goal, fulfill every desire and experience every sensation. Later, it turns them back into relatively placid adults.

And because I have a one-track mind, of course the first thing I think of is how more kids should play organized sports. I'm totally biased, but one thing I notice about kids who are playing organized (and not even especially competitive) sports as teenagers, is that they seem to have the "practice --> try --> practice --> try --> success" thing more firmly organized in their little brains than their counterparts who just show up to watch the games and hang out with their friends. And (boarding schools figured this out a long time ago), the more time you spend at practice or games, the less time you have to crash your car or have unprotected sex or send some poor girl harassing text messages about her looks.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:38 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


'Soul crushing drudgery'? Maybe you're doing it wrong.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:39 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does this have anything to do with the observable fact that women today seem, on average, to be at least six inches taller than those of the Boomer generation? Women 5'10" and taller were rare back in the Olden Dayes, but now one routinely sees women in flats at 6'+.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE. As someone who's 6'6", I demand to know the name of the town which is hoarding all the people my size.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:40 PM on February 1, 2012 [12 favorites]



Actually, I was thinking more about how I babysat at the age of 12 and that most of the 12 year olds I know still NEED baby sitters.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:41 PM on February 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


Yeah, it's not at all universally accepted that puberty is beginning earlier. This is not so much as a "scientific reason for it" as shitty pop-psych masquerading as science.
posted by enn at 1:41 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's nothing "Mysterious" about earlier puberty - it's the same reason people are taller today then they were in the past. More access to food.

When people don't have access to food, they're shorter and they hit puberty later.

Yet, for some reason because it involves "sex" suddenly it's a "bad thing". No one in Japan freaked out because kids born in the 70s and 80s were taller then kids born in the post-war era.

Why should people think it's weird if kids mature earlier then even a few decades ago?

Now, that said, a lot of people feel Kids are getting too much food these days and Wikipedia backs up the "puberty is caused by being to fat" theory a little
The onset of puberty is associated with high GnRH pulsing, which precedes the rise in sex hormones, LH and FSH.[16] Exogenous GnRH pulses cause the onset of puberty.[17] Brain tumors which increase GnRH output may also lead to premature puberty.[18]

The cause of the GnRH rise is unknown. Leptin might be the cause of the GnRH rise. Leptin has receptors in the hypothalamus which synthesizes GnRH.[19] Individuals who are deficient in leptin fail to initiate puberty.[20] The levels of leptin increase with the onset of puberty, and then decline to adult levels when puberty is completed.
Leptin is a hormone that is generated by fat cells and helps you regulate your weight (i.e. too much leptin, your appetite will go down, although not everything is known about it)

So, if puberty is triggered by Leptin levels, it might make sense to say "if kids are too fat they'll go through puberty earlier"

But the mechanism is probably pretty complex.

Also, maybe there are some studies looking at BMI and age of puberty onset?
posted by delmoi at 1:43 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]




Also, maybe there are some studies looking at BMI and age of puberty onset?
Okay yes, it looks like there are studies like that
Pediatric Research in Office Settings puberty data by comparing the age-normalized body mass index (BMI-ZS; a crude estimate of fatness) of girls who had breast or pubic hair development versus those who were still prepubertal, looking at the effects of age and race.
....
For white girls, the BMI-ZS were markedly higher in pubertal versus prepubertal 6- to 9-year-olds; for black girls, a smaller difference was seen, which was significant only for 9-year-olds. Higher BMI-ZS also were found in girls who had pubic hair but no breast development versus girls who had neither pubic hair nor breast development. A multivariate analysis confirms that obesity (as measured by BMI) is significantly associated with early puberty in white girls and is associated with early puberty in black girls as well, but to a lesser extent.
So, I guess if you want to prevent your kids from going through puberty earlier, you can make sure they stay in shape.
posted by delmoi at 1:46 PM on February 1, 2012


Early adolescence is enabled by access to food. Prolonged adolescence is enabled by access to someone else's money.
posted by No Robots at 1:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [32 favorites]


Why should the kids hurry up to become adults? It's not like the adults are in a big hurry to become senior citizens and make room for younger folks. Nobody gets all up in a moral panic about how adults these days are putting off ending up in a retirement home until later and later in life.

Intuitively it seems to me that prolonged adolescence is going to come hand-in-hand with prolonged middle age and prolonged old age and prolonged lifespans, period.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:53 PM on February 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


Spicynuts mentioned the draft. War does have away of growing you up, I'd imagine. After WWII or Korea a sedate life in suburbia probably didn't seem so bad, but it was different for veterans of subsequent wars. It'll be interesting to see what happens with our latest veterans as far as this goes.
posted by jonmc at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Slackermagee:

Chocolate City, baby. Although it's more like Milk Chocolate City now, but, yes, at rush hour in the younger parts of town—Dupont Circle, U Street—you will see many tall people.
posted by the sobsister at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brain-Dead Teen...To Be Euthanized

Guffaw-worthy.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, I was thinking more about how I babysat at the age of 12 and that most of the 12 year olds I know still NEED baby sitters.

Indeed. I've been wondering lately why this is. Are children of today given less independence and/or responsibility than children a couple of generations ago, or is that just conventional wisdom? Also wondering whether this is true along all class & cultural groups.
posted by smirkette at 1:57 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Women 5'10" and taller were rare back in the Olden Dayes, but now one routinely sees women in flats at 6'+.

Not where I live. I'm kind of attuned to this as a six foot tall female myself. I think the last time I saw a woman as tall as I am was about three years ago at a volleyball event for my elementary-school-aged daughter, held at UT and taught by the women on the UT team.

I see the occasional woman who is 5'10" or so more frequently, but even that's quite rare. I dunno why, but all the super-tall women I come across are all young and thin and beautiful (I am none of those things).
posted by marble at 2:00 PM on February 1, 2012


I'm totally biased, but one thing I notice about kids who are playing organized (and not even especially competitive) sports as teenagers, is that they seem to have the "practice --> try --> practice --> try --> success" thing more firmly organized in their little brains

Or in my case with sports growing up, "practice --> try --> do okay --> practice --> try --> fail badly --> practice --> try --> give up forever and become a computer nerd"
posted by burnmp3s at 2:00 PM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Let's also remember that getting married young is a bit of a historical aberration; the age at which young people decide to "grow up" is more like the turn of the 20th century than the 1950s. (Women, though, may be the exception, due to the influence of feminism.)
posted by Cash4Lead at 2:01 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does this have anything to do with the observable fact that women today seem, on average, to be at least six inches taller than those of the Boomer generation? Women 5'10" and taller were rare back in the Olden Dayes, but now one routinely sees women in flats at 6'+.

Blame Wilt Chamberlain.
posted by travis08 at 2:02 PM on February 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age

I'm sure it has nothing to do with breeding freakish chickens that are 90% breast and all that jazz.
posted by Behemoth at 2:03 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, I was thinking more about how I babysat at the age of 12 and that most of the 12 year olds I know still NEED baby sitters.

God, I know, kids these days, right? When I was 11, I ran a chain of profitable barber shops. "Mr. Griphus," they'd say "give me a number six." And I'd give them a number six and they'd go home satisfied. We had little shops all over the country, from Brooklyn to Peoria to Alameda County, all earning a tidy profit and sending home happy customer after happy customer. Most of the eleven-year-olds I know probably couldn't even tell the difference between Gentleman Bob's pomade and Sassy Bitch styling wax.
posted by griphus at 2:03 PM on February 1, 2012 [34 favorites]


Early adolescence is enabled by access to food. Prolonged adolescence is enabled by access to someone else's money.

Or by access to credit... hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of credit in student loans, credit cards, subprime mortgages, and other various ways that the future labor of young people is mined and extracted by more savvy adults in the now.

Let's not pretend that it's just young people who milk the system and lavishly profit off of the work, wealth, blood, or oil of others. It's pretty endemic at all levels of society. Things we call "toys" are bought by adults in every income bracket, not just the young and the rich any more.
posted by XMLicious at 2:04 PM on February 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Or in my case with sports growing up, "practice --> try --> do okay --> practice --> try --> fail badly --> practice --> try --> give up forever and become a computer nerd"

Yeah, that was totally my experience, too! But basically there are several different models of sports participation (experiential, confidence-building, teamwork/challenge focused and some other stuff) that could have intervened for you at the "fail badly" stage, but they are getting outpaced by the hyper-competitive model that focuses on pushing all but the best athletes out of sports by the age of 15 or so. I think that model COMPLETELY SUCKS and it really bums me out because sports can be a really positive force, but its current incarnation basically makes most people who play collateral damage. Sports at their best, I think, can be a really good laboratory for trying on the kind of "adult" responsibilities the article is talking about in a very safe environment that also satisfies the craving for amazing drama and intense feelings that a lot of kids have from the age of 12-18 or so.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:06 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does this explain why I have friends in their thirties that still like Thundercats, Star Trek and NinjaTurtles?
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:06 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Adolescence" is socially constructed. It's a cultural phenomenon, not a biological one.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:08 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thundercats, Star Trek and NinjaTurtles

What's not to like?
posted by ZeroAmbition at 2:09 PM on February 1, 2012


When you turn 32 a dump truck full of Updike novels pulls up to your house and buries you.
posted by The Whelk at 2:09 PM on February 1, 2012 [36 favorites]


Nobody gets all up in a moral panic about how adults these days are putting off ending up in a retirement home until later and later in life.

Actually, I have seen some moral panic about how baby boomers are refusing to step aside for younger people. And if you think about it in terms of who benefits, it's really two sides of the same moral panic. Older workers aren't cheap enough, so they should retire; younger workers aren't compliant enough, so they should tie themselves down to a mortgage and tone down their creative aspirations.

(I wrote this before even realizing the FPP was a WSJ article.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 2:11 PM on February 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


I found it hilarious that she cited Romeo and Juliet to try to make the point that kids *now* are hitting puberty earlier. Um, great passionate love to define romance for all ages ever since— at 13? Wouldn't *that* be early puberty? Doesn't that show that parents have always been freaked out by young love?

And yeah, I'm not convinced that teens are really hitting puberty younger— the data I saw suggested that if this is true, it's generally by a few months, not years.

The babysitting thing—I babysat at 12 or so, too— I think is just today's paranoia and the fact that so many middle class kids now don't have younger siblings so they aren't even experienced with childcare the way they used to be.

Also, the older you get, the younger kids seem so if you see a 12 year old now as insanely young, 12-year-old you wouldn't have thought so.
posted by Maias at 2:16 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thundercats, Star Trek and NinjaTurtles

"Do you remember Thundercats?"
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:21 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]




When you turn 32 a dump truck full of Updike novels pulls up to your house and buries you.
posted by The Whelk at 2:09 PM


And this right here is why I never post my address on the internet.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:21 PM on February 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


most of the 12 year olds I know still NEED baby sitters.

As far as I can tell, they're just barely allowed to ride in a car without a child seat at that age these days. Here in BC children in cars have to be in a child car seat up until the age of nine. NINE! I was always tall for my age, at 9 there was no such thing as child seat that could fit me.


God, I know, kids these days, right? When I was 11, I ran a chain of profitable barber shops


Yeahyeahyeah. I babysat at 12, too, and it wasn't an unusual thing for kids my age. I also cooked dinner for the family twice a week at that age. This would have been around 1989/1990, so it's not like we're talking about the mythical good old days politicians always talk about where the streets were crime free and there was no such thing as stranger danger. At 12 it was accepted that I was old enough to mind my younger sister for a few hours after school until my folks got home at 7 or 8.
posted by Hoopo at 2:22 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Actually, I have seen some moral panic about how baby boomers are refusing to step aside for younger people.

I've seen lots of economic panic about that, but not much that tries to paint it in moral terms, that is a Bad Thing to not retire in the moral and ethical scheme of things, that it is Right And Proper to hie thee off to a nursing home, post-haste. But maybe I don't read the WSJ enough?

You're pretty much spot-on about who benefits from both ends of things, though.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:24 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Indeed. I've been wondering lately why this is. Are children of today given less independence and/or responsibility than children a couple of generations ago, or is that just conventional wisdom? Also wondering whether this is true along all class & cultural groups.

It certainly seems that way. Although kids do seem to have more academic responsibilities piled onto them in exchange for the removal of the adult responsibilities. I'm sure there is a socioeconomic component to this.

I found it hilarious that she cited Romeo and Juliet to try to make the point that kids *now* are hitting puberty earlier. Um, great passionate love to define romance for all ages ever since— at 13? Wouldn't *that* be early puberty? Doesn't that show that parents have always been freaked out by young love?

I think that is pointed out as an example of the short post-adolescence, pre-adulthood mindset of olden times.
posted by gjc at 2:25 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


“Adolescence” is socially constructed. It's a cultural phenomenon, not a biological one.

On this topic, I was disturbed to find out recently that the youngest pregnancy on record was of a 5 year old. That happened in 1939 but there are numerous instances of girls younger than ten becoming pregnant extending back into the 19th century.

Earlier puberty is taken as a given by the OP's article, and I've certainly heard of it before, but that list of youngest birth mothers makes me wonder if to some degree what's going on might just be, with a significantly higher world population, scientists and medical professionals just each personally run into more outliers of earlier puberty than in past centuries.
posted by XMLicious at 2:26 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


god maybe we should just chain our teenagers to workbenches in the ipod factory, thatll grow em up

jesus christ the fucking wall street journal, it is such a reptoid rag. gee i wonder why people arent taking on economically defined adulthood roles, i fucking wonder
posted by beefetish at 2:34 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Intuitively it seems to me that prolonged adolescence is going to come hand-in-hand with prolonged middle age and prolonged old age and prolonged lifespans, period. -- XMLicious
I think that as you get older, it becomes more and more obvious that people younger then you are ridiculous. So from my perspective I almost wonder if people in their 20s should really be considered 'adults', the same way a 50 year old is.
Actually, I was thinking more about how I babysat at the age of 12 and that most of the 12 year olds I know still NEED baby sitters. -- Ruthless Bunny
Yeah, like I said people younger then you seem childish - so at 12 your cohorts seemed like rational, sensible people but now people who are 12 seem ridiculous. But you probably seemed just as ridiculous to people your current age when you were 12.
posted by delmoi at 2:34 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good point gjc. My 12 and 13 year old boys have at least 10 times more homework than I did at their ages. It's really difficult balancing household duties and causes "burn out" for all of us.

I'd love to see the end of long vacation periods that are of no use to the kids and just make the rest of the academic year very compressed.
posted by snsranch at 2:35 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ooops, cross-pasting maybe - the "Intuitively..." quote wasn't me, delmoi.
posted by XMLicious at 2:44 PM on February 1, 2012


Five hundred years ago, Shakespeare knew that the emotionally intense combination of teenage sexuality and peer-induced risk could be tragic—witness "Romeo and Juliet." But, on the other hand, if not for fate, 13-year-old Juliet would have become a wife and mother within a year or two.

Also, this is just annoyingly wrong. Shakespeare deliberately made Romeo and Juliet stupidly young- the whole point was that they were dumb kids who had no idea what the fuck they were doing, or that it was fatally idiotic. The average age of marriage in medieval Italy was 17*, and the average age to become a parent was a few years past that. If you were noble and needed to get married to get your dowry or whatever, you might marry younger, but that was the exception, not the rule. If you were, you know, Julietta de Peasant, your first marriage happened more around 22.**

*"But 17's not that different from 15, you're nitpicking!" Oh, hello, have you MET a 15 and a 17-year-old lately and put them in the same place side by side? 15-year-olds are practically embryonic compared to 17-year-olds.
**I'm not a medievalist or a Shakespeareanian so I could be completely wrong. But that's never stopped me before!

posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:44 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I almost wonder if people in their 20s should really be considered 'adults', the same way a 50 year old is

I know plenty of people in their 50s who are as ridiculous as anyone
posted by Hoopo at 2:44 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


XMLicious, that is the most depressing Wikipedia article I have ever read.
posted by modernserf at 2:45 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Snarl Furillo: "And (boarding schools figured this out a long time ago), the more time you spend at practice or games, the less time you have to crash your car or have unprotected sex or send some poor girl harassing text messages about her looks."

Thinking back to my high school experience, the overlap between those 3 things you describe and playing sports was almost 100%.

Snarl Furillo: "but they are getting outpaced by the hyper-competitive model that focuses on pushing all but the best athletes out of sports by the age of 15 or so. I think that model COMPLETELY SUCKS"

Yes. This is a problem too, and might feed back into the above. Let's call it the 'football problem.' We're glorifying sports, while reserving them for the people who are more or less natural-born athletes. We're also glorifying some brutally competitive and violent sports, which is another problem and discussion to have.

I actually did play sports in High School, which causes almost everybody I tell this to to raise an eyebrow. I'm short, skinny, and have flat feet. I'm literally never going to be good at any of the traditional high school sports.

However, I had the weird coincidence of having a Cross-Country coach who was equally compassionate and apathetic. As long as I finished practice before dark, he didn't care that my 5k time was in excess of 30 minutes when I joined the team.

After a few years of grinding, humiliating race times (mitigated by a complete lack of shame and fact that nobody cares about non-football), and a fair amount of physical pain, I actually worked my 5k time down to just over 20 minutes. Still not great, but an improvement, and arguably a pivotal moment in my development.

Given the rising epidemic of obesity, I'd hope that similar athletic programs are available elsewhere, although I know that my experience lies far outside of the norm.
posted by schmod at 2:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


This article read like a pseudo-science talking point in support of unpaid internships at best...

"Instead of simply giving adolescents more and more school experiences—those extra hours of after-school classes and homework—we could try to arrange more opportunities for apprenticeship...Summer enrichment activities like camp and travel, now so common for children whose parents have means, might be usefully alternated with summer jobs, with real responsibilities."

Yes...all of this education and travel get in the way of real adult experiences and responsibilities - like sitting in a chair for 12 hours a day as a menial part of some arbitrary industry doing data entry. Or sitting in a chair for 12 hours a day as a manager for a business that sells some arbitrary product. Or sitting in a chair for 12 hours a day as a small business owner running a business that provides a questionable benefit to the society at large. Or maybe learning about how your asthma will prevent you from being covered for health insurance once you are sitting in a chair 12 hours a day as a contractor without benefits for a global advertising agency.

God...why did I waste my childhood running around in the woods or playing with friends? Why did I squander my summers reading all those silly books or traveling to other parts of the world? Why did I do all this when I could have been getting a head start on what I'm doing now as a Responsible Adult - sitting in a chair for 12 hours a day getting paid to do something that men in expensive suits say is Very Important and Responsible.

Total Fucking Bullshit.
posted by jnnla at 2:58 PM on February 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


There was a really good article in National Geographic from October 2011 that I encourage people who are interested in this topic (not just in snarking) to read.
posted by wilful at 3:03 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


...oh...and while I'm riled up...here's an idea. There is nothing wrong with the teenage mind. There is, however, something wrong with the fact that in the United States most well-paying jobs involve sedentary technical skills or other specialized skills that are carried out in largely sterile corporate environments that lack both intrinsic meaning and joie de vivre... /end soapbox
posted by jnnla at 3:04 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Don't cry. Don't raise your eye. It's only teenage weirdness.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:12 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


god maybe we should just chain our teenagers to workbenches in the ipod factory, thatll grow em up

Or maybe 10 hours a week at McDonald's would work? I'm seriously shocked at the number of resumes/CVs I get from people who've graduated with a Master's degree but have never worked a real job a day in their lives. It's bizarre.

(Or maybe I just find it bizarre because I've been working full-time since I was 16, put myself through college and grad school, and still found plenty of time to party and travel.)
posted by coolguymichael at 3:49 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, the article (and a lot of comments in the thread here) are missing the point a bit by making it about employment in particular.

But one of the horrible things about being a teenager, for a lot of people, is that you're basically not allowed to do anything with real value — with econimic value, or with social value, with cultural value, with any sort of value at all.

If you're an American middle- or upper-class teenager, you spend the bulk of your time going to school and doing homework. That's a lot of labor. But your labor isn't making the world a better place; it's not making the people around you happier, except in the trivial and sort of arbitrary sense that if you get bad grades your mom will flip out; it's not contributing to the well-being of the people you care about. Some of it is good for you in the long run, since it promotes your mental development. (And I don't think we should underestimate that long-term benefit; we all like to imagine that we could have learned everything we know all by ourselves, but I'll stand up and admit that if it weren't for homework, I'd be a lot dumber.) But in the short run, there's a decade or more of your life when you basically aren't allowed to contribute to the happiness or well-being of the people around you, except in the (again, trivial and sort of arbitrary) sense that you make them happy by not fucking up, by not getting F's or getting pregnant or taking drugs or going off the rails in some other dramatic way.

It's like there are a million ways to fail at age 12, but no way to actually succeed until you're out of college. And that sucks.

So okay, the solution isn't to cart teenagers off to the salt/burger/iPod mines. But I think it would be better if more teenagers were in bands or doing the 4H thing or cooking dinner regularly or helping take care of relatives or, I don't know, doing something where they could make real decisions and produce a genuine tangible benefit and feel successful in a way that wasn't just polish on their resumé.

Of course, there's a huge class component here too. If your family's genuinely poor, then you do get to make real decisions and do work with genuine consequences very early in life — it's just that the profound shittiness of being poor overwhelms the pleasant sense of purpose and agency and whatever that you get out of meaningful labor.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:10 PM on February 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


coolguy ive been working since i was fifteen (shh dont tell my old dishwashing gig) but im still finding this wall street jorunel article fucking odious in how it ignores current economic pressures on the population in favor of hand-wringing about omg why teenagers they not mature yet.
posted by beefetish at 4:12 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Knowing physics and chemistry is no help with a soufflé.

Great article, but some modern chefs would beg to differ.
posted by polymodus at 4:17 PM on February 1, 2012


You wanna talk weirdness? I was a teenage spaceship!
posted by orme at 4:23 PM on February 1, 2012


I guess what I'm saying is that homework is a kind of alienated labor. You don't control the terms you're working on, you're competing instead of cooperating with your fellow workers students (and if you do cooperate with your friends — or your family, say — that's called "cheating"), and in a way you don't even control the fruits of your labor: the value you produce by getting good grades doesn't accrue to teenage you right now, it accrues to some totally hypothetical 30-year-old version of you who as a 15-year-old you probably don't even really believe in. Nobody at 15 really expects to turn 30.

And so if we create this world where the only work teenagers get to do is homework, then yeah, they're gonna feel screwy and alienated and act out in fucked up ways. So at that point obviously a job at McDonald's isn't going to be a step in the right direction either. But something like starting a band and putting on a show would be, because there you get to work cooperatively, on your own terms, with your natural class allies (a.k.a. other 15-year-olds), and the social capital that you generate accrues directly to you as you are right now. And even some kinds of wage labor look pretty good on this analysis: a paper route, say, or a babysitting gig.

I dunno. I'm not really a Marxist or anything, but it's a fun analogy, and I think it explains why I'm finding both sides of this debate sort of frustrating. The current situation sucks, but "get off my lawn and get a damn job" isn't the answer either.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:33 PM on February 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


You want people to get married younger? Provide jobs that allow 18 year olds to afford live independently and raise families, and you'll get people marrying younger and having children.
posted by fings at 4:37 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


And even some kinds of wage labor look pretty good on this analysis: a paper route, say, or a babysitting gig.

The babysitting gig is cool mainly because you can raid the parents liquor cabinet/drug stash/porn collection.
posted by jonmc at 4:38 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


AND THEREBY DETERMINE THE CONDITIONS OF YOUR LABOR! Or something.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:41 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Adolescence" is socially constructed. It's a cultural phenomenon, not a biological one.

This is really untrue and uninformed, I was going to link to the NGM article but Wilful beat me to it. God, I love NGM so hard.
posted by smoke at 4:55 PM on February 1, 2012


Prolonged adolescence is enabled by access to someone else's money.

That explains Congress.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:25 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ooops, cross-pasting maybe - the "Intuitively..." quote wasn't me, delmoi.

Oh sorry about that.
posted by delmoi at 6:40 PM on February 1, 2012


And because I have a one-track mind, of course the first thing I think of is how more kids should play organized sports. I'm totally biased, but one thing I notice about kids who are playing organized (and not even especially competitive) sports as teenagers, is that they seem to have the "practice --> try --> practice --> try --> success" thing more firmly organized in their little brains than their counterparts who just show up to watch the games and hang out with their friends.

Because I have a one-track mind, of course the first thing I think of is how more kids should play music. I'm totally biased, but one thing I notice about kids who are playing organized music as teenagers, is that they seem to have the "practice --> try --> practice --> try --> success" thing more firmly organized in their little brains than their counterparts who just show up to watch the shows and hang out with their friends.

And music is almost never about physical intimidation or crushing the other guy (with the exception of the battle in Scott Pilgrim) or getting away with total academic failure. I believe it's better at teaching teamwork than actual teamwork is.
posted by Foosnark at 6:47 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does this explain why I have friends in their thirties that still like Thundercats, Star Trek and NinjaTurtles?

No, that is explained by the awesomosity of all those shows.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:48 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


On this topic, I was disturbed to find out recently that the youngest pregnancy on record was of a 5 year old.

What the hell. I wish I did not know that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:52 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because I have a one-track mind, of course the first thing I think of is how more kids should play music.

I totally agree, and I think nebulawindfarm is on to something with her Marxist 4-H scam, er, scheme. Middle to upper class American teenagers sense, rightly, that most of the shit they do is completely stupid and meaningless, and they are really hungry, I think, for developing mastery outside of school. For some kids that's sports, for some it's music, or raising lambs, or art, or getting promoted at McDonald's or candy-striping or whatever.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:58 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there are 2 (at least) major things that arguments like this ("kids these days stay teenagers forever, amirite?") tend to gloss over:

1) Different experiences along class lines. Of course a teenager with the privilege of not having to work and knowing their parents can afford to take out loans for them, or pay for college, will probably take on less "adult responsibilities". Not that they're lazy, but being an adult sucks and is hard. Which "teenagers" or young adults are often the ones being studied in these university neuroscience experiments? Undergrads who have the privilege of affording college. A teenager who knows their family can't afford to support them might have a very different attitude towards "adult roles".

2) The lack of opportunity for teenagers to acquire adult responsibilities, even if they wanted to. A lot of American cities are incredibly difficult to get around without a car. How are you going to get to your job until you save enough money to buy one? People are retiring later in life and even in retirement are taking part-time jobs to make ends meet. Seniors are squeezing teenagers out for jobs more than ever before. The flip argument one always hears is "It's not hard, just go get a job at McDonald's"... but I suspect even McDonald's has dozens of applications for every position these days.

From the article: 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.

To which I say, citation please. This sounds like the kind of thing "everyone knows" about kids these days. These data suggest that half of all states have a higer volunteer rate among teenagers than the national average. So that's millions of teenagers who aren't "just going to school". If he's arguing that adolescence (and lack of doing adult stuff) seeps into college age, then these data show that 51% of college students also have jobs.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:06 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


And then when they do finally get jobs they just want to be allowed to go on facebook and then be more worried about losing their $500 phone than their wallet full of free bank cards so us baby-boomers can scoff at their idealism. The problem is definitely with the kids and not with the socioeconomic conditions they were born into. It's not like that's worth any moral panic because I'm the corrupt politician/banker/whatnot one who contributed to it therefore any moral panic about something that's my fault is unacceptable.
posted by bleep at 7:35 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, rough ashlar, that could be favorited so hard!
posted by BlueHorse at 7:35 PM on February 1, 2012


Snarl Furillo -- you're right in general but a little too conservative: the average age of first marriage in England in the late 16th century was 25-27. Couples had to save money before they could start a family. Only the aristocracy and gentry, whose marriages were likely to be arranged, where married in their early teens (or even in childhood). In those cases, the consummation was usually postponed until late teens or early 20's.
posted by jrochest at 9:57 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


...placid 10-year-olds...

Wat?


WAT?!
posted by erniepan at 7:51 AM on February 2, 2012


I'm convinced being a parent fucks your brain up far worse than adolescence.

I feel like Shawn of the Dead when I accidentally go outside during the school runs. Wild eyed parents veering all over the place in their desperate mission to deposit or gather their offspring before they are victems of other wild eyed parents over zeolousness. Stroller moms reenacting scenes from the lastest Nascar races. Late dad's running down the street yelling for everyone to get out of their way so they can retain some limited custody.

All the while the lollipop men stand around with bemused looks on their faces as they try to channel the insanity.

Forget the kids. Parents are the ones who need their mental biology checked out.
posted by srboisvert at 8:36 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


homework is a kind of alienated labor - something about this just rings true in the craziest way with my teenage experience (which how the hell is that now 20+ years ago?!) - and why I hated and resented most of my classes while I was at the same time working like crazy to do well in Academic Decathlon (nerd-fest ahoy!) - and working at the library after school, and babysitting after that.*

Because I have a one-track mind, of course the first thing I think of is how more kids should play music. - My mother insisted that I stick with music even though I had basically no talent whatsoever, partially because she thought it was important for to do something that was difficult, because I kinda skated through a lot of school. And the lesson stuck well enough that I made the importance of music education the topic of one of my Academic Decathlon speeches. (Double nerd points FTW!)

And thanks for the link to the NGM article. Fascinating, lots to think about.

*jonmc, first time I ever saw Playboy was totally by accident (I swear!) in the bathroom magazine rack at one of my babysitting gigs, when those kids were still really little. Mags disappeared later....
posted by epersonae at 11:10 AM on February 2, 2012


the world's more complicated than it used to be. makes sense that it takes a little longer to get a functional, mature grasp on things.

On the other hand, rock star types still seem to choose age 27 as the year to not survive.
posted by philip-random at 12:07 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


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