The Trouble With The Teenage Mind

China Joy 2007 showgirlChildren today reach puberty earlier and adulthood later. The result: A lot of teenage weirdness. Alison Gopnik on how we might readjust adolescence, for the Wall Street Journal:

“What was he thinking?” It’s the familiar cry of bewildered parents trying to understand why their teenagers act the way they do.

How does the boy who can thoughtfully explain the reasons never to drink and drive end up in a drunken crash? Why does the girl who knows all about birth control find herself pregnant by a boy she doesn’t even like? What happened to the gifted, imaginative child who excelled through high school but then dropped out of college, drifted from job to job and now lives in his parents’ basement?

Adolescence has always been troubled, but for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age. A leading theory points to changes in energy balance as children eat more and move less.

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. 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.

Our Juliets (as parents longing for grandchildren will recognize with a sigh) may experience the tumult of love for 20 years before they settle down into motherhood. And our Romeos may be poetic lunatics under the influence of Queen Mab until they are well into graduate school…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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30 Comments on "The Trouble With The Teenage Mind"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Jan 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm |

    Maybe it’s the instinctual recognition that while adults rhetorically insist on dogmatic adherence to certain norms, they don’t really enforce them.  A sort of learned contempt, if you will.

    Of course that puts them at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with macroeconomic or physical realities that don’t bend to the perverse whims of cultural norms, but that’s neither here nor there.  Only suckers actually pay for their crimes.

  2.  RE: earlier puberty–recently I was waiting at a traffic light. Walking across the street were two busloads of high school kids from a nearby small town, on a field trip I guess. And because I don’t have kids and don’t make a habit of looking at high school girls, I was shocked to see how many of the girls I saw were “developed” in a way that would have been rare in my day, when the girl with 36-D tits would have been the talk of the school—in this bunch, from one small town, there were at least ten girls with these or greater statistics. What the hell?!?

    RE: delayed adulthood—the article notes: “At the same time, contemporary children have very little experience with
    the kinds of tasks that they’ll have to perform as grown-ups. Children
    have increasingly little chance to practice even basic skills like
    cooking and caregiving. 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.”

    And WTF are the parents of these kids doing (or more accurately, NOT doing)? Would it kill these parents to get their kids to help out around the house, starting around age four and continuing through high school? Tasks like cooking, washing the dishes, helping with household repairs / maintenance, lawn care, auto repair—that’s how kids learn, historically: by being around adults and learning from them from an early age.

    • Mr Willow | Jan 30, 2012 at 4:16 pm |

      And WTF are the parents of these kids doing (or more accurately, NOT doing)? Would it kill these parents to get their kids to help out around the house, starting around age four and continuing through high school? Tasks like cooking, washing the dishes, helping with household repairs / maintenance, lawn care, auto repair—that’s how kids learn, historically: by being around adults and learning from them from an early age.

      I think that has to do with our whole culture (if you could even classify it as that), where ‘school’ is the place children go to learn things that help them in the real world. Unfortunately, the ‘real world’ is nothing but a bunch of statistics. 

      Home-economics, wood-shop, metal-shop, arts and crafts; these sorts of courses are constantly having their funding cut—if the classes themselves aren’t scrapped altogether—because they are constantly being regarded as frivolous or some secondary skill, or something to do as a hobby, because noöne thinks that any of the real, practical skills you learn in any of those sorts of courses will do you any good. School, now, is becoming something that teaches more about numbers and economics, than about anything practical, because most of the high-paying jobs that exist are in finance, and most ‘educators’ are hoping that the kids will give up on all the things that interest them in high-school (art, music, cooking, etc.) and go for the money, because ‘that’s what really matters’. And the parents, if they have time to care what their children are doing amid the myriad of problems they have (credit cards, tuition [cause no ‘kid of theirs’ is goin to public school!], house payments, mortgage, etc. in addition to their own job), are banking that either the kid will play the stock market or get ‘discovered’ for their talent and be some actor or musician or pro athlete. 

      “Led to believe that one day we’d all grow up to be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars” to quote Tyler Durden. 

      People lost interest in practical skills, probably in accordance with the acceptance of exceptionalism, this notion that ‘oh, I don’t need to know that, because I’ve been told by my teacher/friends/advertising/parents that I’ll grow up to be rich and famous, and then I can pay to have all these things done for me’. Everyone seems to be hoping they’ll win the lottery, or they’ll meet a magnanimous billionaire (ha!), or they put their investments in stock, or whatever else. 

      I would, actually, like to see apprenticeships return.

      • “I would, actually, like to see apprenticeships return.”

        Yes Please.

      • Calypso_1 | Jan 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm |

        What fields would you like to see apprenticeships in?  Many do have them, it’s pretty standard for skilled labor.

        • Mr Willow | Jan 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm |

          I meant apprenticeships like were common in the Middle-Ages, or beforehand, which would begin in the early teens (there’s a phrase in the article, that people would go into internships at age 7, not 27). 

          People today have the attitude that you have school, then job training, then work. Whereäs, in ages past, schooling and training were done in conjunction. Up until recently, schools attempted to retain this, in small degrees, with things like wood-shop and home-economics, but these are slowly going away. 

          I, for instance, was only able to take Arts and Crafts until the half-way point of middle-school, when it was removed from the curriculum—the rest of the courses I mentioned were already gone in my school—which I regret. 

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 31, 2012 at 11:36 am |

            There are magnet schools for Math/science, Architecture/design, Agriculture, Vocational/technical and Fine arts.  I attended one of these that was grades 7-12 and had local, out of state and international students.  Options are available if parents pursue them.  Perhaps more schools like these or satellite programs could be started if sports weren’t such a priority in American secondary education.

      • It’s true. I’m actually using my G.I. Bill to learn welding, and maybe a spot of metallurgy.

        It’s nice to wish for the sky, but in the real world they always need more welders.

        • Eric_D_Read | Jan 31, 2012 at 10:21 am |

          Welding is way cooler than being an office drone anyway.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm |

            oh yes, that little pool of melt is quite bewitching, the whispering sizzle of proper gas admixture, the popping whip of plasma arc – closing your eyes at night and watching the phosphene dance of elemental spectral emission beckonning you into Hephaestion realms.

        • Calypso_1 | Jan 31, 2012 at 10:46 am |

          I might suggest saving up for a good PAPR – Many companies don’t provide them.  Welding gasses are hell on the lungs and CNS. Once all the class actions on asbestos wind down (die off), your’e going to start seeing the cases pile up for toxic weld gas.

      • Academia merely facilitates decontainment.
        Everyone knows (whether deep down or not) that all our institutions are corrupt –  so what makes education any different?  If you can understand the scottish accent, this guy sums it up very well:

        he also sums up other things very well in his songs. definitely a disinfonaut. scottish rap ftw!

      • eyeoftheaxis | Jan 31, 2012 at 1:53 pm |

        In the late 80’s or early 90’s the space age turned into the information age. The knowledge is power & don’t give away what you know crowd started selling pottery classes. I even had an old hippy tell me “ The internet is ours and we’re not going to let you young kids have it”. Disco came back to life as pop culture from the planet stupid, and Hunter Thompson’s high water mark became painfully obvious. About that time, I was able to get a paid apprenticeship with a sign company, saved my ass a ton in tuition. Did some very large architectural stuff that is still seen by thousands of people a day, a portfolio of my work 5 inches thick, working with props and stuff for big name feature films / TV shows. & Now with over 20 years in the business. — Take all that to just about any job listing in the creative field and see the smirks you get… what? no art school? …next! Thanks to apprenticeship I was able to go from fidgety kid that liked to draw, to working poor. I don’t know if you could do that now. I think you need to pay before becoming working poor. For what it’s worth, my bet is on the people that can actually do things, make things, grow things, and the gunsmith.

  3. Mamagriff50 | Jan 30, 2012 at 4:12 pm |

    The kids today are physically mturing faster due to all the hormones in the food supply. Their bodies are mature well before their brains. Parents today ,in most cases, both have to work, no time for the kiddies. The kids are left with T.V., game systems and alot of older peer pressure. What do you expect? You end up with lazy, they think they know it all children in adult bodies.

  4. Anarchy Pony | Jan 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm |

    The girls are all jail bait, and both the boys and the girls are dumb as rocks. I’ve only been out for about 3 years, and the kids are dumber now than when my friends and I were in high school. I often get lunch at the supermarket which is right next to the high school, and when you listen to the kids talking about just about anything all you can think is; how dumb are these little bastards? But education in the US these days is a joke, I learned more about history, civics, social and labor movements, and philosophy, in the last 3 years on my own than I did in school, and I have to actively seek it out to find it, it’s not like I just happen upon this info. It makes me weep for the future.

    • Butter Knife | Jan 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm |

      Yeah, hate to ruin your day… but 3 years ago, we were all thinking the exact same thing.

      I have no doubt that 9 years ago, when I was graduating high school, people were saying it about me too.

      Perspective is a bitch.

      • Anarchy Pony | Jan 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm |

        Never mind the fact that oh wait, it has been constantly degrading for many years. Don’t pretend that education and discourse aren’t getting shoddier and more and more dumbed down. It may be skewed a bit by perspective but it is certainly an actual phenomena.

        • “The average rate of increase seems to be about three IQ points per
          decade in the US on tests such as the WISC. The increasing raw scores
          appear on every major test, in every age range and in every modern
          industrialized country although not necessarily at the same rate as in
          the US using the WISC. The increase has been continuous and roughly
          linear from the earliest days of testing to the present.”


    • Calypso_1 | Jan 31, 2012 at 11:47 am |

      ahh the first experience of generation gap – just wait until you can’t stand their music, fashion makes no sense and you catch yourself telling one of the little bastards to get off your lawn…the well troden path to curmudgeondom awaits

  5. JoiquimCouteau | Jan 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm |

    The causes of this are chronic fluoride poisoning


    and a lack of steroid-inhibiting phytochemicals in our diets.

  6. In Search of Sanity | Jan 30, 2012 at 10:55 pm |

    What about the “adult” mind. I am 40 and have met very few ” adults “. What is so grown up about Adults? Adults run the world and the world is fucked, what does that say? Kids have no one to look up to, really. The blind leading the blind, but what else is new?

    • I concur. Most ‘adults’ act like petulant children. They react rather than think.

    •  Stop listening to what politicians say. And don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

  7. Ceausescu | Jan 31, 2012 at 3:03 am |

    This is fucking disinfo.

    Oh wait, Wall Street Journal and majestic. Should’ve expected that.

    “What happens when children reach puberty earlier and adulthood later? The answer is: a good deal of teenage weirdness.”

    Is that an answer concluded from psychological studies ?

    Besides the scientific part of the article, the author is awfully subjective, and fails at logic.

    Flawed is the society as a whole, for we have been divided by religions, governments, and now the media.

  8. Gregory Wyrdmaven | Jan 31, 2012 at 9:11 am |

    Well, the answer is to stop treating these people like children when they reach the age in which they can make children.  It makes my teeth grind when folks say that is unnatural for gays to marry…but they insist that a person not get married until several years after their bodies are ready to do so.

    When the body and the mind are not on the same page, of course you’re going to have issues trying to reconcile these elements that make up a person.  And so you get broken people.

  9. I blame the hormones in milk. Cows in factory dairies are kept pregnant most of the time. This is when the levels of estrogen in milk are the highest.

  10. This is corporate mass media playing the denial game. No, it wasn’t all the doctorates in psychology we have working in our marketing department who specifically conspire to tilt and distort the choices children make.
    Those paid professional who came up with the idea of targeting ‘raunch’ at pre-teens as a marketing tactic to drive up revenues.
    Those media corporations who promoted Paris Hilton (because she was a heiress who gave a BJ on video) as someone to look up to for pre teems, or Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears.
    So mass media attempting to blame everyone else nut their own psychopathic greed for the distortions in children’s behaviour. Sex sells and to grow profits they have to sell it to a younger audience each and every year.

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