Adolescence (from Latin adolescere 'to mature') generally refers to a period of life spanning from late puberty, but ending at legal adulthood or not far beyond it. The idea of adolescence as opposed to adulthood emerged in the post-industrial late 19th and early 20th centuries - along with the emergence of universal education and higher ages of consent/license. Adolescence has no prevailing basis in nature or throughout history/cultures.
Paradox or purpose?
It is widely known that humans continue to learn socially, develop emotionally and cultivate a variety of other skills throughout their lives. In light of this, one may intuitively question how and why the concept of a discreet adolescence has served to extend childhood upwards well beyond the end of puberty. The idea of adolescence is thought to have arisen due to a complex series of events beginning with industrialization and compulsory education. Uneducated youth or child-bearing girls were seen as wasteful and incompatible with modern workforce demands in this era, and a prolonged education became the norm. Nowadays, with advances in workforce/industry/automation, modern industrialized economies are far less beholden to these morals of waste. Indeed, we can now afford to promulgate "adolescence"; now itself a "wasteful" idea due to advances in educational attainment and lower ages of puberty. From the intuitive perspective, we may again feel obliged to ask why young people continue to be infantilized and disenfranchised. However, for the corporate and political hierarchy, servicing "adolescence" is advantageous for the following reasons:
During this special period, young people can be politically indoctrinated to better conform to the state’s moral and economic schemes. A prolonged period of indoctrination is required after foundational education – systematizing young people and harnessing a fear of nonconformity and its consequences.
The rise of the "educated idiot"
Mid-witted (40-60+% of) children become over-confident, “educated idiots” - who are useful acolytes of the state since they are immersed in a world of theory, with no experience of real world capital systems. The over-confident, “politically engaged” mid-wit at 24/25 is as important as the eternal child at 17/18, as one is the product of the other. In reality, if adolescence is held to be a distinctive “phase of development”, it likely goes on well into the 40s and beyond, as we develop through our ideas and experiences. The confident young adult who disregards this, and believes he has “passed” adolescence with an undergraduate degree, is none the wiser and therefore a useful tool for the establishment.
Delayed wealth transfer
A “problematic” period of life, in which adult authority is maintained beyond natural necessity, prevents young entrepreneurship. This includes the possibility of legal sex work among youth, thus stemming the explosive potential for “premature” generational wealth transfer. Young adults who are self-sufficient in their 20s/30s, and not dependent upon governments, are a threat in post-industrial democracies with high life expectancy. Good, indebted state subjects on the other hand, are less likely to be skeptical or antagonistic towards state objectives.
In post industrial democracies, keeping smarter children in formal education and junior training roles til their late 20s delays attainment while forcing them into debt. This is essentially a shackling of intellect. By the time an intellectually skilled young person has attained a level of formal training "acceptable" to the establishment, the only option to erase their debts is further enlistment as high-level state and corporate servants. This goes on well into the 40s, and beyond in most cases, meaning that income-gernarating personal capital (power) can only be accrued by the time a person's motivation and intellect is slowly fading.
Adolescence as a market
- For the "Troubled Teen Industry" and various takes on it, see for example, ageism.
Adolescence, while essentially a wasteful idea at the individual level, is a profitable industry. Young people are on the one hand constrained and stigmatized by systemic and social pressures, allowing for therapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions to be presented as the inevitable “solutions” of those supposed pathologies of youth. The monetary costs of problems and dependencies our society attaches to adolescence, are offloaded onto the parents. These parents then become indebted state welfare subjects who can be "bought" at the ballot box by political promises based on deficit spending.
From Psychology Today:
- "Paradoxically, puberty came later in eras past while departure from parental supervision came earlier than it does today. Romeo and Juliet carried the weight of the world on their shoulders—although it was a far smaller world than today's teens inhabit.
- Another way to look at it is that in centuries past, a sexually mature person was never treated as a "growing child." Today sexually mature folk spend perhaps six years—ages 12 to 18—living under the authority of their parents.
- Since the mid-1800s, puberty—the advent of sexual maturation and the starting point of adolescence—has inched back one year for every 25 years elapsed. It now occurs on average six years earlier than it did in 1850—age 11 or 12 for girls; age 12 or 13 for boys. Today adolescents make up 17 percent of the U.S. population"
The scientification of an idea
We see a few recurrent themes in mainstream literature, regarding the scientific construction of adolescence as a uniquely problematical period of life. Behavioural correlation studies are one method, whereby certain socially taboo “problem behaviors” such as early sex and alcohol use are unsurprisingly observed at the same time in a number of youth, leading to flawed conclusions.
Using the above as an example, the obvious conclusion is that since the prevailing western social context frames both loss of virginity (particularly among girls) and alcohol use as delinquent behaviors, they will often occur in the same unsupervised youth who are contravening social boundaries. It is also likely that youth who suffer from abusive or drug-dependent parents will be unsupervised for long periods of time, and engage in a wide variety of behaviors that are defined as socially delinquent. The true causes of negative outcomes in youth will correlate with numerous socially taboo behaviors (symptoms) – that much is obvious. What this does not prove, is the intrinsic harmfulness of some of these by-product phenomena (sex, drinking, drugs), which are often cathartic with respect to the negative social context. It is also true that the negative social/caregiver context may have a poisoning effect on the catharsis behaviors (excess, overdosing, lack of contraception, use of drugs during periods of mental vulnerability, and the ensuing dependency relationship).
Many cultures present, and throughout the not too distant past have encouraged an early age of “first sex” and drinking, supervising these behaviors and adopting them as institutional norms. Within a supportive culture, these behaviors come to be seen as healthy and adaptive. With no apparent reason for this to be documented, studied or pathologized in any way, we rarely hear about these alternative norms in the history books, only gaining an insight on those rare occasions western anthropologists, missionaries and ethnographers come into contact with them.
Teen Brain – wrong conclusions from brain scans
Physiology is often abused, to create the illusion of an objectively different, or deficient "teen brain". As our article on cognitive ability explains, these claims are completely unfounded.
Risk over reward
Psychologists often generalize from behavioral studies, that teens are inherently impulsive, and willing to take greater risks than their adult peers. While this is incorrect and culturally biased as eluded to in the above article - it also involves a fallacious value judgment. Outcomes of risk-taking behaviors (including learning benefits) are rarely measured or documented, and thus the researchers exhibit a negative utilitarian bias.
Scientific literature that pathologizes adolescence
Many examples of this type of literature are present in the Wikipedia entries on the topic, most probably because said special lobbying interests spend hours editing the articles, posing as disinterested experts - a method special interest editors are known to employ rigorously.
Mike Males criticized the scientification of adolescence in 2009:
Theories affirming innate adolescent risk-taking benefit adults in many ways. “By emphasizing the irrationality and disturbance of young people we affirm our own basic rationality, peacefulness, conformity, and decency” (Sercombe, in press). Biodeterminist claims about adolescents shift attention away from social inequalities that form the genuine bases for the risky behaviors now mislabeled “adolescent risk,” including the large and widening gap between the economic fortunes of young versus middle-aged Americans. They allow the dismissal of unsettling youthful complaints against adults as merely the products of faulty teenage thinking (see Bradley, 2003). They obscure the troubling eruptions in drug abuse, criminal arrest, imprisonment, HIV, family breakup, and related difficulties among middle-aged Americans over the last 25 to 35 years. Ever-more restrictive policies against young people are being proposed and rationalized by claims that “new scientific discoveries” show teenagers and even emerging adults must be custodialized like children rather than afforded adult rights. The United States has instituted an unprecedented barrage of youth-control measures that are increasing in prevalence and intensity even as long-term research finds them ineffective or even harmful. Raising drinking ages to 21 years was initially associated with reduced traffic crashes among 18- to 20-year-olds, but later study associated it with even greater increases among 21- to 24-year-olds (Asch & Levy, 1987; Dee & Evans, 2001). Graduated driver licensing laws were followed by fewer traffic deaths among 16-year-olds, but 18-year-old driver fatalities rose even more sharply (Males, 2007a). Mandatory drug testing of public school students not only has proven ineffective, it may foster greater use of harder, less detectible drugs (Yamaguchi, Johnston, & O’Malley, 2003). Research consistently finds curfews neither improve youth safety nor reduce crime (Adams, 2003; Reynolds, Seydlitz, & Jenkins, 2000). School uniforms and zero tolerance policies are associated with negative effects on school participation and academics and no demonstrable benefits (Brunsma & Rockquemore, 1998). Policies banning teenagers and emerging adults from legally acquiring lodging, transportation, and an increasing array of products, services, and medications pose distinct threats to their well-being.
- Research: Teen pregnancy
- Research: Cognitive ability
- Research: Youth sexuality
- Research: Commercial and online sexual exploitation
- Research: Methodological flaws and syndrome construction
- Robert Epstein
- G. Stanley Hall
- Wikipedia - Article laden with junk-science.
- Robert Epstein - Challenges the foundations of the concept.