My husband sent me an interesting excerpt from an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning. It says:
By placing more and more restrictions on teens, society is harmfully infantilizing a large number of people perfectly capable of behaving like adults, says psychologist Robert Epstein.
In an interview with Psychology Today, Dr. Epstein says the questionnaires he gave to teens and adults — meant to measure 14 areas of competence, such as interpersonal skills, handling responsibility and leadership — showed teens were as competent or nearly as competent as adults. Adults consistently underestimated teens’ scores. He says longstanding data show raw intelligence peaks around the age of 15.
So where does the stereotype of the moody, sullen, sexually irresponsible and financially incompetent adolescent come from? Dr. Epstein says most adults would behave that way, too, if they had no responsibilities, no rights, and money to spend. Today’s schooling and child-labor laws worked well in the late 19th century, when factories brutally exploited young workers, and a lifetime of education had to be packed into the start of life. A century later, the laws serve only to divorce teens from the adult world.
“They are free to spend, to be disrespectful, to stay out all night, to have sex and take drugs, ” says Dr. Epstein. “But they’re not free to join the adult world, and that’s what needs to change.”
Parents who want to give their children “responsibility tied to significant rights” have few ways to do it. States have been increasing restrictions on teens since the 1960s.
Dr. Epstein recommends giving teens more options, privileges and responsibilities. He believes we should see schooling as a lifetime project, rather than something only for the young. He would allow some teens to work and set up businesses while still in school. He recommends establishing tests that teens could take to prove they’re competent to assume responsibilities like owning property or running a business, the way they can now if they want a driver’s license.
I think there’s something to this. I’m not sure if I agree with all of Dr. Epstein’s specific suggestions in the last paragraph, but I think his overall point is a good one. (Although my only experience with teenagers is that I was one about a decade ago, so take that opinion with a huge grain of salt). I particularly liked this quote: “So where does the stereotype of the moody, sullen, sexually irresponsible and financially incompetent adolescent come from?…Most adults would behave that way, too, if they had no responsibilities, no rights, and money to spend.”
My well-intentioned parents thought that I should be free to be a kid as long as possible, so I had very few responsibilities when I was a teenager. In retrospect, I don’t think that was good for me. There was a definite feeling of aimless boredom that was pervasive in my life and left me frustrated. I think I would have been more content, hard-working and well-adjusted if I didn’t have so much free time and so little responsibility. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I think I was yearning for a challenge.
Anyway, again, my opinion isn’t worth that much since I have yet to actually try to parent a teenager. What do you guys think?
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