(Post submitted by Ron Polinder, Executive Director of Rehoboth Christian School, Rehoboth, New Mexico. Thanks, Ron for sharing!)
It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. I was flipping channels, that miserable masculine habit that drives wives out of the room. I settled on C-SPAN, where a Washington reporter, Diana West, was reflecting on her new book, The Death of the Grown-Up.
“Curious title,” I think. “I better tune in to this.” The next half hour has substantially altered how I view modern history, our culture, even my profession. We all have that experience from time to time, when a writer or speaker communicates reality so clearly, so insightfully.
West proceeded to unfold her thesis, that in the past 50 years a monumental reversal has taken place. It was gradual to be sure, seeded in the ’50s, incubated in the ’60s, and epidemic in the ’70s, “leaving a nation of eternal adolescents . . . chucking maturity for perpetual youth.”
Adolescence, a concept not even known to the human condition until 1941, when the term “teenager” first appeared in our lexicon, has now been judged by the National Academy of Sciences “as the period extending from the onset of puberty, around 12, to age 30.” The MacArthur Foundation is even more radical, arguing that the “transition to adulthood” doesn’t end until the age of 34.
West notes that until “this most recent episode of human history, there were children, and there were adults. Children in their teen years aspired to adulthood; significantly, they did not aspire to adolescence. Certainly, adults didn’t aspire to remain teenagers.”
Again, for most of time, even folks of my generation, we looked forward to moving past the awkwardness of the teenage years, and looked up to grown-ups—certain teachers, relatives, even our parents. We wondered if we could be like them.
But now this amazing turnaround, where adults are straining to be like the kids. They try to talk like them, dress like them, act like them. We all know moms well into their 30s, even 40s dressing like “Britney.” Or the middle-aged house guest who quickly dismisses a well-trained child’s greeting—“I’m not old enough to be a ‘mister’; call me Bob.”
The rise of “Adolescence” has reached religious proportions, thus a capital A. And what is more important than being “Cool,” capital C, not unlike capitalizing the Bible or Christianity. Consider how many of our youth will bow their knee to a behavior or habit that will assure their “Coolness.”
And that in turn makes it so very difficult for parents to establish appropriate boundaries for their teenagers, inclined themselves—secretly, or not so secretly—to crave “Coolness.”
If you worship the god of Cool, how can you run the risk of having your kids consider you to be “out of touch,” prudish, boring?
Given that mindset, how can a parent stand up to the foolishness of youth? So parents stick their heads in the sand rather than come to grips with MTV, which was surveyed by the Parent’s Television Council during spring break 2004 for 171 hours, tallying up 1,548 sex scenes, 1,518 unedited foul language, and 3,127 bleeped profanities.
Speaking of spring break, some parents pay for their adolescent’s plane ticket so they can take part in the debauchery and drunkenness of Cancun.
All this has enormous implications for education. Sociologist David Riesman, of Lonely Crowd fame, noted that “the educator in earlier eras might use the child’s language to put across an adult message.” Now it is “no longer thought to be the child’s job to understand the adult world as the adult sees it.”
This contributes much to the dumbing down of the educational enterprise. Teachers must constantly “stand on their heads” to retain a few minutes of adolescent attention. And if they act cool, they think they have a better chance.
Happily, there are still some teachers who understand the boundary between teacher and student, and who earn the everlasting respect of their students because of it. And students who catch on to that reality are fortunate and often more successful in growing up.