Dr Robert Epstein is a well-known writer and psychologist from the US. His latest book is called The Case Against Adolescence. Dr Epstein was the keynote speaker at the Foundations for Flourishing Centre event and set the tone for the day.
He provided a fascinating analysis of the development of adolescence in Western society over the past few hundred years. Less than a hundred years ago there was no concept of adolescence and teenagers, as we would now call them, were simply seen as young adults. It was common for them to hold down responsible jobs and to make a real contribution to society. Some of the world's most creative and productive people (leaders, inventors, thinkers) were teenagers. Now for a variety of reasons there are massive restrictions on young people's freedom. In our society young people are perceived generally as incompetent of rational thought and not to be trusted to make decisions for themselves.
Epstein argues that the problems we have with this age group largely result from the fact that we make it difficult for them to live productive and meaningful lives and that we infantilise them. As they often feel like responsible, mature people (and would be treated like this in previous cultures) they often rebel and act irresponsibly. Besides since everything is age related, there is no incentive for mature young people to act responsibly as it doesn't matter what they are like as individuals, they still won't get to do x,y or z until they are 18 or 21.
As adolescents are not allowed to take a proper part in the adult world they are often excluded from it and spend most of their time with one another. The consequence of this is that they do not benefit from adult guidance and maturity. What's more we encourage them to inhabit a teenage world which is dominated by marketing and its values. In short, by not paying enough attention to young people we allow them to be exploited by the media, fashion and music industries. Then we criticise them and penalise them further.
Epstein called for a much greater focus on allowing young people to acquire and demonstrate competencies and on giving adolescents more responsibilities. He argued that they had too much freedom and not enough responsibility or engagement with adults.
Dr Epstein is very dismissive of the latest fashion for claiming that neuroimaging shows that there is something undeveloped about adolescents' brains which accounts for the fact that they are not good at calculating risk or being empathetic. Dr Epstein argues that if the brain scans show this (and he is sceptical) this is more likely to be the result of how young people are forced to live their lives - ie it is the result of nature, not nurture. He persuasively points out that if teenagers couldn't calculate risk or be empathetic we wouldn't have survived as a species as for millions of years people gave birth mainly in teenage years.
Comments on The Case Against Adolesence
ALBERT ELLIS: ...one of the most revolutionary books I have ever read. (from the Foreword)
M. SCOTT PECK: ..has vast consequence for our society.
ALVIN TOFFLER: If you care about the future of our young people, The Case Against Adolescence is an essential read.
Robert Epstein has a very good website where you can download articles about the book and listen to him talking about it. Well worth a visit. Click on the link below.