Adolescence: A modern plague, but there is a cure

Child psychologists have “discovered” that adolescence actually ends not at 18, but at 25. Once again psychologists have waved their wands and magically created a larger customer base. But maybe I’m being cynical, maybe adolescence really does end at 25. Or is it 18? Or is it 40? 35? 50? 12? 2? 93? I think the answer is yes. And no.

Let me explain.

Back in the old days, there were two types of people in the world: children and adults. You were a child and then you became an adult, and you really had no choice in the matter. The timeline of events went something like this:

Phase 1: Birth, childhood.

Phase 2: Adulthood.

Phase 3: Death.

Of course, this is just a general outline; Phase 3 could rudely interrupt Phase 1 or 2 at any time. Still, the transition from “child” to “adult” happened early and inevitably. Just look at some of the religious initiation rites that are still practiced by Christians, Jews and other faith groups. In Catholicism, the sacrament of Confirmation is usually administered between the ages of 12 and 15. Once Confirmed, you are officially a full-fledged adult member of the Church. In Judaism, 12 and 13 year olds celebrate their Bat or Bar Mitzvah; a coming of age ritual where they pass from child to accountable adult. The newly minted Jewish young adult is then given enormous sums of money from his family members, while his gentile friend looks on with envy, remembering the plastic rosary and pocket prayer book he got for his Confirmation.

Virtually every culture has its own child-into-adult initiation, and almost all of them happen significantly before the 18th birthday. In the Amazon’s Satere Mawe tribe, 12 year old boys have to don ceremonial gloves filled with bullet ants. This is pretty unique, although I’ve seen it done at a few Sweet 16′s. Some tribes in Papua New Guinea practice “bloodletting,” which is about as fun as it sounds. Young males, in order to become men, must expel the “female blood” from their bodies by shoving sharp objects up their nostrils and down their throats, right before stabbing their tongues with arrows. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure they sterilize everything ahead of time.

We might feel fortunate that we played Pin the Tail on the Donkey during our childhood birthday parties, rather than the slightly less pleasant Stab Myself in the Mouth, but all of these customs, barbaric or not, stem from something quite rational: the need for young people to become adults at some point before the emergence of their first gray hair. In that sense, even the Mawes, with their gloves full of stinging bullet ants, have a leg up on us.

In modern Western society, we’ve delayed the onset of adulthood, instead inventing a new sort of human: the “teenager.” The teenager exists in this limbo which we’ve created; we call it “adolescence.” Adolescence is a state-of-the-art modern innovation, like crack-cocaine or chemical warfare. Take a time machine back to the early 19th century, or any century prior, and you won’t see it or hear of it. The contemporary Western adolescent would be looked at like an alien species by anyone who lived in any era prior to the late 1800′s. He is a strange and mysterious creature; he doesn’t possess the innocence or natural helplessness of the child, but he isn’t expected to assume any of the responsibilities and challenges of the adult. The adolescent can live a life that, in times past, only the children of Emperors and Pharaohs might have enjoyed. He can spend entire months — generally from June to August — aggressively engaged in doing absolutely nothing. We even had to come up with new terms to describe the primary function of the adolescent: “Hanging out,” or “chillin’.” Our ancestors — who would have considered “hangin’” to be a punitive measure for convicted murderers — took the strength and energy of youth and used it to make strong and energetic young adults. We, on the other hand, suddenly decided that a 16 year old is really nothing more than an enormous child, incapable of being helpful and useful. Rather, not expected or required to utilize their energetic nature in a valuable way, adolescents end up developing their own hobbies, such as vandalism and binge drinking.

Although physically capable of contributing to his household and his community, the adolescent is permitted, by many parents, to sit back and have all of his needs and desires met. He can be an ungrateful, resource-sucking leech, and his behavior and attitude will be shrugged off as a “natural” phase. But of course there isn’t anything natural about it. And, for many, it isn’t a phase. The damage done during this strange period of developmental regression can be permanent.

While poor and middle class mothers and fathers struggle to make ends meet, we legally prohibit their teenagers from working and helping the family financially until they reach the frivolous threshold of 16. We’re told child labor laws are meant to protect 1st graders from being enslaved by sweatshop owners, but they also “protect” high schoolers from pushing a mop at a grocery store for a few hours a week. I started working when I was 13 — mowing lawns at a competitive price — little did I know that I was the victim of oppressive “child labor.” If I had realized, I might have told my parents, and they likely would have responded by saying something like: “yeah, and why shouldn’t a child do some labor?”

We won’t even trust a grown man with a beer until he turns 21. By that age, our great-grandparents were married with kids and a few acres of property. Now, at 21, most people still depend on daddy’s financial charity, but at least they can lawfully own a 30 pack of Natural Lite.

Our new timeline looks something like this:

Phase 1: Birth, childhood.

Phase 2: Extended childhood.

Phase 3: Teenage adolescence.

Phase 4: Early twenties adolescence.

Phase 5: Late twenties adolescence.

Phase 6: Adult adolescence.

Phase 7: Adulthood.

Phase 8: Adolescence again, adulthood didn’t work out.

Phase 9: Death.

You’ll notice that death generally still comes without a warm up period, which is another solid reason to consider trimming a few of those steps, in favor of getting on with an actual life of your own while you still have that option.

I was an adolescent once, and I had a pretty bad case of it. My parents, luckily, found a cure. It took many doses of some pretty tough medicine, but my treatments were ultimately successful. So to any parents living with a child who suffers from adolescence: there is hope, there is an antidote. The antidote has four essential components:

1. Job.

Millions of twenty-something adults are heading into job interviews with “Key Club” and “soccer team captain” as their only entries under “Work Experience.” This should be impossible. It should be impossible to hit 25 without ever having held a job of any kind. Perhaps exceptions to that rule can be made for med students who have been utterly engrossed in their academics for their entire childhood and early adulthood, but a lot of these “kids” with no work experience have never been engrossed in anything. If you want to break someone of their adolescence, you have to put them to work.

2. Bills.

When I was 18, I remember being stunned and shocked when I found out that many of my peers didn’t even pay their own cell phone bill. When I was 26 not much had changed, except I wasn’t shocked anymore. I can’t fathom why any parent would pay their adult child’s Verizon tab, but it’s a pretty common practice nowadays. I chipped in for my bills and expenses as a teenager (my parents could have afforded to take care of everything, however they had this crazy idea about teaching me “responsibility,” or some such nonsense) but the real life lesson came when I moved out. I remember getting all of those bills in the mail the first month — holy crap, everything costs so much money. What’s going on? I just got paid and now I have to spend almost all of it on living expenses? This is bull crap. I don’t even have enough left over for beer. I’m in hell.

Bills. I still hate them, but they are the price of adulthood.

3. Sacrifice.

Going without. Hardship. Hunger. I don’t think you can achieve maturity unless you run through a gauntlet of suffering to find it. Maturity — the shedding of “adolescence” — has nothing to do with your age demographic. It has everything to do with how hard you work. Someone wrote me last week to tell me about his experience as a younger man. He moved out of the house at 19 and found a job bussing tables and another one as a janitor. At 20, he had lost both. He couldn’t pay his rent so he spent the next two months living in his car while he looked for employment. He got a free trial membership at a local gym so he could use the locker room to shower before interviews. He went days without eating. Eventually he found a job, worked his way up the ladder, and now he owns a house, has three kids, and makes six figures. He’s 28 years old, so don’t tell me that it “doesn’t work that way anymore.” It works that way if you make it work that way. So many people see the time before they have a spouse and children as an opportunity to relax and party, meanwhile the ambitious ones see it as a chance to sacrifice, and to suffer, and to go hungry, and to do what is necessary, and to strive for success. The people in the former category have more fun in their twenties, but then spend the rest of their lives complaining about how things didn’t “work out.”

4. Independence.

When my daughter is older and ready to contemplate marriage, I’m going to give her two pieces of advice: 1) Your husband should be a man of strong faith. 2) Be very wary of entering into marriage with a guy who’s never lived on his own and taken care of himself. Of course, the “live on his own” rule can be adjusted in certain cases, like for men who’ve been on active duty in the military. They weren’t on their own, but they certainly learned plenty about sacrifice, discipline, and hard work. That aside, ladies, be careful about marrying a dude who’s never spent one day entirely detached from his momma’s umbilical cord. How can he provide for his family if he hasn’t had a chance to hone the skills necessary to even take care of himself?

As long as a person lives a life devoid of these four ingredients — job, bills, sacrifice and independence — they will be an adolescent. They will exist in this limbo world between childhood and adulthood; too old to be a child, but too immature and incompetent to be an adult. Adolescence isn’t a product of brain chemistry — it’s a product of our expectations. If we expect 23 year olds to act like they’re 13, then we will get just that. For thousands of years, 13 year olds were expected to act like they’re 23, and those expectations were met. So, yes, adolescence can last until 25. It can last until 55. It can follow you right into your casket. We created it, and we can abolish it. And we can do that simply by expecting more out of people.

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131 Responses to Adolescence: A modern plague, but there is a cure

  1. Reblogged this on From The Hen Coop and commented:
    Spot on!

  2. huntingwag says:

    Went through 3 years of relationship hell with a man child! Wish I read this way back then.

  3. Paige Smith says:

    I was born in 1970, and we still had much more responsibility even then, than most children do now…consequently, we developed more self-confidence, enterprise, initiative, and other can-do traits that now help us through in daily life. As a homeschooling mother of six, wanting to communicate these “old-fashioned” but vital principles to my dear ones, I find great support in the literature that was old when I was a girl: I just finished reading (and talking about) The Five Little Peppers to my 4 1/2 yr old. He learned a lot, and I know we’ll probably have some of those scenes played out, as he imitates Ben, age 12, who manfully helped his widowed mother to earn their bread.

    • Rebekah Kinnard says:

      I was excited to read your comment. I really loved the book “The Five Little Peppers” when I was growing up. As a new mother of a three month old, planning to homeschool, I am reading the book to my daughter and am surprised at how young the children in the book actually are. I remember thinking of them as older, responsible children when my mother read the book to me, but it wonderful to hear the expectations that the characters lived up to and how polite they all were. It gives me hope for all of my future children. I will not let discouragement take over!

  4. bek says:

    As an almost-not-teenager (according to the law, anywho), I love this. So thankful that my parents aren’t/weren’t letting me be a baby adult. Sometimes, yes, I hate the responsibility junk, the working for my own money (yeah, I don’t have a smartphone *gasp*), but in the end, I am so grateful.

  5. Theresa says:

    My mother told me the same rule about “Be very wary of entering into marriage with a guy who’s never lived on his own and taken care of himself”

    I married my husband when he was 23. He hadn’t lived on his own in an apartment for very long. However before he got his apartment, he was home with his parents, working fulltime and taking care of the needs of his mother who was dieing from cancer.

    I figured if he was wiping his mother, it was okay he didn’t have his own apartment yet. I do think that being a good member of a family can certainly take precedence over independence when looking at a marriage prospect.

    • marytoo says:

      I was going to say what Teresa said. I have a male friend who stayed home to take care of his mother who had cancer (his father had already passed) while holding a full-time job. I figured he learned plenty about the responsibilities of living right there. Now that I think about it, “…and taken care of himself” is the key phrase there.

    • deanna says:

      have to agree here. i encourage my children to remain functioning and CONTRIBUTING members of the family until they start their own. families are for accountability. God’s original ‘small groups’.

  6. Katrina A. says:

    I would like to disagree with one point and that would be about men not having lived on their own. We are encouraging our boys to stay at home and save as much money as possible so they can enter marriage with a good sized savings account (maybe even a house) to start them off. We see it as a wasteful consumerism-driven ideal to have the expenses of multiple single person households. We are also praying that our boys will be men of virtue, and sometimes getting out on their own before marriage encourages behaviors that are anything but virtuous, especially when all their peers are doing those things in their own bachelor pads. We have made clear that this desire is to give them a good and solid foundation for their future, not as an excuse to be an adult-sized children.

    • marytoo says:

      I think you have a great point. Our older children lived at home and worked their way through Hometown U. They were responsible for their own cars, to include gas, insurance, maintenance, etc. They were responsible for their school expenses not paid by scholarships. At home they were responsible for one bill plus their regular chores and whatever extra chores came alone. Our youngest son was the only one who went away for the “college experience,” and he went to West Point, so I figure he learned plenty of responsibility there.

      My mother often chastised us, saying “Their father should pay for that,” but not one of them ever got into any kind of trouble (no time or energy) and they are now all responsible contributing members of society, and guess what, my mother is now my biggest fan.

      • julia says:

        I can understand where both of you are coming from. But do they do their own dishes, pick up after themselves, clean a bathroom, change the bed sheets, sweep a floor, mow a lawn, pay a bill? Do their own laundry? Go grocery shopping? Do they KNOW what a grocery store looks like? If not – you are creating a “baby adult”. (that is what i refer to them as). I will be 30 next month – own two houses (one my husband and I rent out for additional income) have three kids, and I have a great career. n college I had many friends who had NO IDEA how to turn on a washing machine. Or how to grocery shops. Simple life skills that their parents failed to teach them. It is a good concept to let the adults to save some money – live at home. I get it. But are they really adults? Do they contribute to the household? Cook a meal? Clean something? Buy a few groceries? Pay for their cell phones / car insurance? Anything? Any financial responsibility or are they free loafing?

    • Katrina A. says:

      I can only speak for my household but yes I do make the kids contribute. They can cook and do their own laundry, clean a bathroom, etc. The oldest one just got his drivers license so he now makes grocery runs for me (I think I was more excited about his license than anyone!). We just got the two oldest ones their own student checking account so they can start being responsible for learning how to manage money. Since I homeschool we also have a “will work for education” policy: anytime we someone we know says they are building a fence, moving, painting a house, whatever I offer up the boys to help out. They have learned the basics of how to lay a hardwood floor, do basic plumbing, load a moving truck, paint a house, lots of things I don’t even know how to do. I am not saying they have mastered any of these or could even manage a project by themselves (though they have now built a fence and hung two gates all by themselves, telling me what they needed to do to finish the project since I didn’t know!) , but they have a starting point and they have learned service to others in the process (usually their only “payment” is to be fed while working.)

      Upon rereading my original comment I realize I may have misled you into thinking my children were older, adults already, but that is not the case. My kids range from 6-16 so we are still in the growing and training phase of life. When I talk about encouraging them to stay home, this is what we have taught them since they have been young and hoping to see it come to fruition over the next few years. When other parents talk about not being able to wait to kick out their 18 years old we always remind the kids that that is not how we feel about them.

      On the flip side as a young single woman many (many) years ago I knew several men, a couple even professionally successful, that knew how to pay their bills on time and keep their bachelor pad reasonably clean and get to work in proper attire. But they spent their evenings and weekends partying it up (spending every discretionary penny and probably a few future ones too via credit) and had little to no concern for anyone but themselves. Even though they had the basic life skills down I would say their interpersonal and life planning skills were stuck at the two year olds “me, me, me, now, now, now” stage.

    • Erika Woods says:

      This is a very good point. I should consider this when the time comes for my children.

  7. grahamta says:

    This is awesome. Where did I start to turn my wayward adolescence around? A Kentucky Fried Chicken joint. Then working in a deli (with a creepy guy, yeah had to quit that job due to the creepiness, but learned something). Then working in a warehouse and nights in a convenient store. I made a lot of financial mistakes when I was younger, even had to charge groceries and get dental work from the state. I don’t regret these experiences for one minute.

  8. sonofjames says:

    Reblogged this on Matters of Worldview and commented:
    I wish I had the intelligence and writing skills of this young man.

    This post caught my eye, because I have, for years, decried the invention of “adolescence” and the confusion and damage the concept has created. Matt’s post here explains well the problems with the concept, and the ridiculous but logical progression the idea has taken.

    Oh for a return to adulthood.

  9. Yvonne Mangum says:

    I intend to share this with my soon-to-be 13 year old, today during our after school meeting… that was already announced. Why? Because I’m “the meanest Mom” of all the Mom’s he knows of… which is ridiculous. I am so much more lenient with him than I was treated as a child (I’m 50, so the poor thing has a Mom old enough to know different times) that it causes me to feel resentful on occasion, and then I remember I’M THE PARENT, I can change it any way I choose. Ha. I wish more parents would figure that out… if we resent our lazy kids, it’s us who are not doing our job!! Last week one day he did his “two chores of the day” and I suddenly found out we were having 3 people over for dinner on less than an hours’ notice… and he flipped out that I actually expected him to get the vacuum out and do a couple more chores to polish up the house and make room to move the dining room table to seat these folks! Another indication of a problem, not his, but mine – I have not taught him adequately how to be adaptable and jump up and solve the problem.
    Enjoy your writing, ideas and view of the world and life immensely. Keep on keeping on young man!

  10. Lauren says:

    I had a very interesting discussion with a young lady several years ago. She was graduated, living with her father, and flatly stated that she was “overqualified” for most of the available jobs. This is a child who has never held a job, had no job experience, but because she didn’t want to work fast food, waitress, delivering newspapers, whatever, she was overqualified.

    Newsflash. Qualification is based on experience, not desire. If you have never worked behind a cash register, your are not qualified to be a checker at a grocery store. If you have never pushed a broom, you are not qualified to be a janitor. Advanced degree notwithstanding, if you do not have experience, “overqualified” should not be in your vocabulary.

    Get a minimum wage job, get a part time job, just GET A JOB and start being responsible.

    • Dave Ketter says:

      Say that all you want, but sometime folks don’t hire you because you’re “over-qualified.” I was looking for part-time work in seminary and literally would not be hired because I was in a graduate program with too much experience “above” whatever minimum wage task they had. I can’t help the work and education I’ve already had but it’s a rock and hard place situation when one doesn’t have enough “experience” (whatever that means–since every employer defines it differently!) to work the job one is qualified for and has too much education to work the job that doesn’t require experience.

  11. Jeff says:

    As a liberal-minded independent, I get frustrated reading most of your articles (but read them anyways, so there is that…) But this is fantastic. No sarcasm. Love it. Treat young people like adults, and they start acting like adults. Even at 12 or 13 years of age. Go figure. More like this one, please.

  12. dachs_dude says:

    Too many friend’s children and people I know from high school had that parenting situation where everything was given to them. Sure, I was broke, miserable, and had little free time as I worked 3 jobs just to stay even. But I learned how to survive and how to thrive. I hope, through example, to teach these lessons to my daughter. My wife’s family all HAD to pitch in with expenses and the like, so it was hard for her too. My daughter sees what hard work does and that it’s needed to be successful. Too many feel they are owed fame, fortune and the like because they’re good looking or, or, well, something. Kardashians and the like be damned. Raise your kids right.

  13. Sarah says:

    Well said. I think it’s fine that we understand that the brain is doing a lot of major changes during those teen and early adult years. I also think it’s sad that we have taken that knowledge to mean those teens can’t do anything on their own. How do we expect the brain to develop without experience in the real world. Real world living builds neural pathways in the brain and helps a young adult learn how to cope with the stresses and responsibility that comes with being an adult.

  14. Jenny says:

    Rock on! This is great advise. I think those of you who defend kids staying at home are missing the point. There are always extenuating circumstances. Of course if a child’s help is needed at home, it’s a good thing for them to remain as long as needed. Matt is talking about overgrown children who fail to launch and will never leave the comfort of Mommy and Daddy’s home.

  15. Mike says:

    Wow this is spot on! I am amazed and saddened by parents that let their kids do Nothing while they are able bodied teen/adults

  16. Carolyn says:

    Research shows that brain development continues to age 25. To say child psychologists are expanding their client base is a cynical and somewhat ignorant point of view. I agree that continuing brain development is no excuse to just “hang out”. Children need to be raised with responsibility, discipline, and direction regardless of how long brain development continues.

  17. Okay, now I feel under accomplished. I’m 17 and I’ve never paid a single bill (other than the gut-wrenching college tuition and book payments). Well, at least I’ve been working for the last two summers.

  18. Melissa Berreth says:

    Our son is 17.5 and will graduate in June. He has worked since he was a sophomore, first at a store similar to Kohl’s, then a temp job at a movie theater, now at a pizza place…jobs he got on his own, without help from us. He pays us $100 per month which covers his car insurance and a small part of it goes to the purchase price of his car. He may blow his paycheck on occasion, but he understands there will be no cash in the meantime from Mom and Dad. He cleans the house, does laundry, and keeps his room picked up. He also babysits his younger sister when we need him, all without pay. His pay is that he gets to live in our house, eat our food, and be covered under our health insurance. He understands that when he moves out, he will not receive subsidies from our family government. We have tried to instill in him a sense of responsibility, and a knowledge that while we may think he’s the coolest guy in the world, no one else out there does until he proves himself. I am always asking him, “Son, what kind of man do you want to be? Your decisions now will determine that.” This kid has never been late for work (outside of a snowstorm which snarled up traffic), offers to work extra hours, and goes above and beyond. He’s been nominated as employee of the month twice. He is still a knuckle-head (what teen boy isn’t?) but he is a pretty responsible kid. I am sure my future daughter in law will have plenty of reasons not to like me, but one of them won’t be because I gave her a baby-man who didn’t know how to help out around the house and thought that dinner magically appeared on tables.

    His best friends? Neither have ever had a job and they get continual withdrawals from Bank of Mama. They don’t do their laundry or clean up the house. When my son took one of them with him to look for jobs, the friend actually asked my son, “Hey, am I eligible to work in the United States?” To which my son replied….”Dude, you’re an idiot.”

  19. Melissa berreth says:

    Matt, please delete my last name from my previous comment, if possible. Then delete this comment. :) Thanks

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  21. Anne says:

    Love the stage ‘adolesence again, because adulthood didn’t work’.
    Making teenagers work and take responsibility would solve so many problems. I did and it never hurt me, it taught me about life and what I need to do to survive. My mother always said ‘pay your bills first even if you have to live on baked beans at least you have a roof over your head.’ She also taught us a lot of other things about taking responsibility and never being too proud to do any job, you can’t start at the top. Great post.

  22. Erika Woods says:

    I got my first job at 15 at a small restaurant and ever since then I have a little job here and there. My husband also started early babysitting and teaching swimming lessons. We married right before I finish high school at 18 and my husband was getting ready to graduate form college. My husband had lived for a short period of time on his own but we moved back to his parents house after married. We live better with less than other people do. We understand the meaning of responsibilities and the value of money. When my son grows up I shall encourage him to also find a job at a young age because there is nothing greater that been able to fend for oneself.

  23. Erika Woods says:

    Oh, we didn’t live with my hubbies parents forever just for a couple of years to save for a down payment for our house :D

  24. Faith says:

    While I agree with this mostly, I do think the living at home thing is a cultural bias. I think as long as the adult offspring is contributing at home, it is ok to stay there while trying to get on their feet. For one thing where we live rent is very high. If the person is trying to save to buy a car (needed to get to work) or pay off student debts or both, rent can suck up every cent of those entry level jobs. My husband lived at home until we got married! But he had worked and paid his own way through college and law school. He was able to buy his own (used compact) car so he could get himself back and forth to college. His parents helped out by letting him live with them and providing him with food. When I graduated from college myself, I did not have the money to live on my own so I wound up living at home for a couple years, paying very minimal rent, but it allowed me to save up some so I could launch myself. So there’s a difference between parents letting their kids mooch off them and helping them launch themselves (without the extreme of being homeless and half-starved). Also, have you noticed the economy lately? It is damn hard to get a job anymore! I have one son who has spent two summers now trying to get employment and it just never quite works out for him. Sometimes it is just bad timing, luck, whathaveyou. There’s nothing wrong with the kid. He’s hard working, extremely conscientious, etc. Maybe he just doesn’t interview well or something. I don’t get it, but it can be very, very difficult to get a job right now, as a teen or student. It is discouraging. So while I think what you say here is worthwhile, it is also easy to get judgmental, curmudgeonly and paint with a broad, criticizing brush, but not every young adult who lives at home is a loser and not every one who doesn’t have a job is a lazy, good-for-nothing either.

  25. andrew@dalesconsulting.ca says:

    In your post, you state that you are going to advise your daughter to marry a man of strong faith? Faith in what?

    • Sarah says:

      Would it matter what his faith was in so long as it matched up somewhat with the girls? A man who has no idea what he thinks or believes is not going to be very stable. A person doesn’t need to have it all figured out (none of us do), but we need to have some belief in something. That might be a Christian faith, or Jewish faith, or perhaps he might believe in science, or maybe he is an atheist. A man needs to have some direction in which he looks consistently though.

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  27. Carolina says:

    When the R.M.S. Titanic was sinking, the cutting age for boys to be allowed or not in the boats was 14. 13 yrs. olds could board the boats. 14 yrs old boys were considered men, and went down as men.
    And nowdays, you hardly see kids that age who will hold the door open for a woman.

  28. It amazes me how people get so entrenched in their own cultural thinking that they think they’re objective values. In many cultures “independence” is viewed as a sign of immaturity. Just last week I was talking with a Muslim girl who said that she would not marry a man who did not live with his parents. Her reasoning was that leaving your parents’ home indicated selfishness and willingness to abandon your family. A mature, unmarried man, she reasoned, should live under his parent’s roof until he finds a wife or his parents arrange a marriage for him. And if she had been from a rural area rather than an urbanized Muslim, she likely would have believed that men should never leave their parents’ homes.

    That said, you’re overlooking some key facts:

    1) The economy. Go into Home Depot or your local supermarket, and odds are you’ve noticed that the employees are much grayer. That’s not because teenagers aren’t applying to those jobs anymore. It’s because older people are getting laid off from their jobs, and a minimum wage job is all they could manage. But the number of jobs available is finite, so our society can’t employ teens and these would-be retirees. That leaves young people out in the cold job-wise.

    2) History. Adolescence might be problematic in many ways, but it’s the reason why we went from a struggling post-war economy to the most powerful economy in the world. We invented a whole phase of life where people could be consumers and create markets in products that would not exist in a world where people jumped straight from childhood to adulthood. Cultures that don’t have adolescence don’t have a chance to innovate. You’re reading my words on a machine that exists because a long time ago a bunch of teens had a lot of dead time on their hands to tinker around with electronics and IBM computers.

    3) Debt. The staggering size of the college debt people face necessitates that they sacrifice their independence in order to pay it off. The interest rates and mandatory rules to pay that debt off require the kind of sacrifice you admire. But reality is that sacrifice manifests itself in people living with their parents while they pay off those bills. They can’t afford rent and their debt.

    If you want things to go back to the way they used to be, then support liberal democrats who want to create a lot of new manufacturing jobs and relax rules on student debt and interest rates. The middle class is vanishing, and that’s the area where all of those low-paying jobs existed to keep teens and twenty-somethings employed. The world you grew up in doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s not because of laziness.

    • AP says:

      Perhaps…..but I have found there are lots of jobs that don’t get filled because teens and some adults have this idea that they are “too good” for a particular job that’s available. There’s a lot of entitlement going on when your 8 year olds are begging for iPhones because “all their friends have one”. And we don’t live in a particularly affluent area of the country. As far as college debt, well, I agree students are tied down by it to a staggering degree (pun not intended), but I think that should make us pause and wonder if the marketing of college degrees is little more than a money making endeavor by Universities. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the “value” in a college degree. I have several friends who went back to school, incurred $70K in debt for a career and ended up with entry level jobs that pretty much anyone could get without a degree. There is a huge job need for people with SKILLS but sadly, the majority of universities are preoccupied with handing out degrees instead.
      What was the phrase? “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” I’m doing my best to keep my young children on pace to transition from childhood to adulthood with a very short phase in adolescence. I think the cure above is a good start.

  29. Deb Paul says:

    And we further inhibit young adults from advancing by handcuffing them to desks for the majority of the day/week. In a world without desks there is time for a young adult to get creative in making money in a myriad of ways, using and saving that money, etc. Dog sitting, making and selling just about anything at local markets, letting them use their talents and tutor other kids their passions for pay, whether that be drawing, sewing, singing, dancing, whatever. I feel for kids…they are frustrated by the inability to have time to create, to get bored, frustrated and catapulted into something more by their own design, just being able to make and do in the real world…I don’t blame them for wanting to come home from school and zoning out.

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  31. Tom Inkansas says:

    Greatly enjoyed reading this until… your daughter should marry a man of “strong faith”? Doesn’t it even matter what his faith is IN? He could be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, “Pastafarian”, and it’s All Good? What if — gasp — he places his “faith” in trifles like Reason and Secular Humanism? Jeez, who would ever want to marry into a family with crazy notions like THOSE floating about? [Answer: Me, and everyone else I've wound up respecting.]

  32. Dominic says:

    Matt, I absolutely LOVE reading your blogs. The amount of intelligence I sense coming from you astounds me. I’m 14, and even though some things in this specific blog might have been directed against modern teens I just can’t help but agree with you. I believe that we need more people like you in our government instead of some of the imbeciles that run it now. And even though you probably might not read this comment i just wanted to say that you are a HUGE role model of mine and I can only pray to one day be as smart, intellectual and wise as you are.

    Thanks for writing these, Dominic

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  34. Most truthful blog I have read in a long time! Thankyou!

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  36. Koth Kothi says:

    As mothers above noted, there are many ways to acquire job skills/sense of responsibility – the small jobs you had, chores at home, etc. I would prefer them to have flexible jobs through the earlier years so absorb the astounding amount of information it takes to be successful in school these days- it’s much more complicated than the ‘reading ‘ritin’ n ‘rithmatic of those days of yore you glorify, when you had a couple acres by 21. We live in a much more complex world, and jobs in technology as well as agriculture require more knowledge than they once did. I would agree that independence, financial responsibility and I would use the phrase “delay of gratification” over “sacrifice” – are important elements of adulthood – they look different in different circumstances – and there need not be such harsh consequences to learn them.
    I want my children to learn to manage impulsive needs – by earning an allowance, contributing to their cell phone or other luxuries you mentioned, etc, but also to see that we are very very fortunate in that they DON’T have to starve to get what they need. I hope this builds compassion for those who do and, they assist those who really are not as LUCKY – and they see there are plenty of people who work hard and just don’t start on the same level on the field they did – whether because of neurology, class or ethnic background.
    I also am glad that there are these psychologists you mock (and other people in science) people that respect that “hard work” doesn’t JUST come in the form of manual labor, but sustained inquiry into the nature of humanity and its manifold evolution- both in the classic Darwinian sense and also in the sense of the synergy of humans experimenting in being, learning, and developing together. I’m glad they’ve found that, at around the age of 25-26 (at least with the subjects from this era) is when the frontal lobe seems to develop in full maturation – that functions such as emotional regulation, impulse control, etc are more “done” then (for a significant percentage of the population – of course there are people who develop early and later). I would agree that some of those traits constitute adulthood too. People of years past may have been protected from rasher behaviors in through early adulthood- or developed earlier- who knows? – the type of imagery and research of brain development was not available then- by communities, by extended families raising children, or perhaps the rituals, demands for hard labor and less opportunity to emote, less stimulation – we can only conjecture, not having the data.
    I do hope, as my children mature, that they do not have the smugness you do regarding your beliefs and contempt for any collectivist notion, or buy into the myth of “rugged individualism.” The “good ole days” you moon on about were never the utopia you paint – there was more oppression,a shorter lifespan for most, and too much harshness for lessons possible without it. I’m sure there are families who do not offer their children enough exposure, as you speak of above, but certainly still too many families that have no option but to expose them too soon, with too much consequence for the lesson at hand.
    Unless you are complete science denying religious nut (it doesn’t seem you are) there are conclusions Believers and non- Believers alike can appreciate from our natural history that you ignore. Isn’t the extended childhood – nurture and investment in skill development for a longer period- what allowed for mammals, especially humans, develop beyond other class/species? It was the combination of the bold forging ahead to try new things, persevering at them, as well as connection we groups and families had together that made us what we are.

    • Lisa Watkins says:

      You are what’s wrong with todays youth. It does not hurt to feel the pains of life so please quit enabling this mindset.

      • Koth Kothi says:

        If by “pains of life” you mean waiting to get what you want by saving, having patience, planning and enduring not-pleasant things to get to the pleasant ones, I’m right there with you. There’s no need for a 12 yr old to have a cell phone of their own, or without at least babysitting or shoveling snow to pay toward it, IMO, or a car later without at least a part time job (which you can have when you’re 16 – usu the youngest you have to be to to drive anyway) to contribute toward it, and so on.
        But if you mean near-starvation and living in a car to learn maturity -as given in the example in the post, I can’t agree with you- that’s just too risky, and not really necessary.

    • Sally says:

      Even with the “extra technology” to master in addition to the “three r’s”, the average human being has learned 60-90% of what they’ll need in the real world by the end of 5th grade. For the vast majority of our population, the vast majority of grades 6-college is a complete waste of their time and money. How much more could our society do if we let adolescents use that time productively instead of continuing to stifle them?

      • Koth Kothi says:

        From what I’ve seen in homeschooling families (I haven’t chosen this route for my children, but certainly admire those with the innovation and energy to do so) – they do provide plenty of opportunities to contribute effectively, teach practical skills, etc, in those years (or at least until college, which is still an option in terms of going or not) – and it seems a lot more productive than having those kids go get jobs flipping burgers or mopping floors. As one of pp’s stated- they can mop floors at home, AND learn much more than minimum wage or entry level jobs will get them.
        As for the rest, I agree, a lot more change has to take place in the later years of high school and some middle school for it to be worth the time. I can’t offer any great ideas, but I don’t think lowering the working age will make things better. It will most likely exploit families that need more money to not allow their children to explore and learn the right skill sets for them (as it has in the past, before those labor laws were in place) and create more class division. While I think charter schools are one way to do this, that’s not a perfect solution either. But if we are to be competitive with the rest of the industrialized world, we do need to spend more years learning well beyond 5th grade – and have the time to do it, rather than be consumed by manual labor for the entire time (nor abandon it either, because there’s a lot to be said for cleaning your own toilet, folding your own clothes, etc – but you don’t need to enter the paid work force to do that). I agree that the present school system isn’t set up to serve everyone- whether folks who will be raising healthy sheep nor the future architects – well enough.

  37. southernhon says:

    Reblogged this on SouthernHon and commented:
    Amen!

  38. childofgod says:

    This is absolutely wonderful! I love this in particular, “I don’t think you can achieve maturity unless you run through a gauntlet of suffering to find it. Maturity — the shedding of “adolescence” — has nothing to do with your age demographic. It has everything to do with how hard you work.” This is so true, but maturity is so often tied to age that it is very to find anyone who will consider thinking about maturity, not in terms of age, but in terms of accomplishment and suffering. Not just that they have suffered, but how they dealt with suffering.

  39. childofgod says:

    Reblogged this on Pax Puero and commented:
    Excellent post on the subject of extended childhood. ” I don’t think you can achieve maturity unless you run through a gauntlet of suffering to find it. Maturity — the shedding of “adolescence” — has nothing to do with your age demographic. It has everything to do with how hard you work.”

  40. Truther says:

    I never thought I would find someone so supportive of child molestors. They are just treating them like adults.

  41. th3editor says:

    I understand where you are going at. Sometimes, there are exceptions. A 12-year-old girl I look after when her parents are out of town (drive to school since there is no bus, take to bball practice, help cook dinner, going running w/ her, etc.), has her mother’s old smartphone because her parents wanted her to have one, and since her mom was getting a new one, they thought it would be better than buying a new phone. She’s a great girl and I’m glad to ‘hang out’ with her. See, just because someone has a smart phone doesn’t mean they are spoiled brats.

  42. Perplexio says:

    Excellent advice for your daughter, I’d add as a reason to avoid men who have never lived on their own… These men are already in committed relationships with “another woman.” That woman is their mother. Even if you are able to break-up that relationship, the expectations of a man who has been in a relationship with his mother is a woman who will treat him not as an equal, but as her child.

  43. B says:

    This is so true! Whenever my kids make any mention of some other kid not having to do chores or that kid getting paid for chores I say. “I’m not raising kids, I’m raising you to be a responsible honest adults.” Then I hit then with “Do adults have to do chores?” Answer was “well ya”, “I don’t get paid for laundry”. This conversation continued a but but ended with their silence. But, I think they are beginning get the point. We are a family, a TEAM, we have to all respect, love and support each other. And everyone is expected to contribute. I think this gives them more self worth, more purpose. I want them to be happy adults not delusional depressed and “entitled”. My mom always joked about a saying my Grandmother had when my mom was growing up. “The Lord will provide as long as your working hard.” I get it now, she was telling her children not to expect things to be handed to them. But to work for them.

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  46. Steve says:

    I came to the realization that our whole “adolescence” concept is really just fighting against our human nature and our physical design. Think of it this way. By the time most “kids” hit about 14 years old, the hormones are raging full force. Nature and the human body’s basic design is doing its damndest to get us to start having kids. This is not a flaw in our biology, its the way we are. We tell our kids to not have kids of their own so early in life, and that’s generally excellent advice. However we should still consider the biology of the situation. Whether you believe in evolution or intelligent design, or some combination of the two, you have to admit that very rarely does nature screw up biology on a grand scale. Sure, there are the occasional defect or mutation, but never is a flaw writ large across an entire species.

    If nature is doing its level best to get humans to start reproducing around age 14 (give or take), it stands to reason that these human have the CAPACITY to be mature enough to handle the responsibility incumbent with raising a child. And as any parent will surely attest, that responsibility is HUGE and the maturity required to properly raise a child is fairly high. If our children don’t have that level of maturity by early pubescence, it’s the fault of the parents, not the fault of nature.

  47. suzanneolden says:

    My son has held a job since 13 too. Between that, his excellent GPA and running track, he got a helpful sized scholarship to college because he could “balance” life and had shown himself to be “responsible” – college’s words, not mine. Great article, Matt!

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