I’ve been kicking around the idea recently that many of Western Society’s problems with adolescence stem from, in no particular order: a lack of a distinct point of adulthood (except the legal, and that varies by locality), a lack of ritual for passing into adulthood, a tendency for children not to have serious, meaningful responsibilities except those of school and associated study and homework (which may have no meaning to the children at all)…and - and here is where I expect to run into disagreements with people - the segregation of children by age including separation from their families and from the mix of ages found in society at large…for the majority of the day, for most of the year, for years on end.
If you’ve read Coming of Age in Samoa, by Margaret Mead, and Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman by Marjorie Shostak, you may remember that neither of them noted adolescent-specific angst or rebellion among those traditional peoples living in small communities. Yet in the US, teenagers are expected to rebel. Rebellion is considered normal and healthy, part of the child becoming his or her own person, separate from the parents. There are other norms which may be connected: the expectation that all children should have single rooms by the time they’re teens, that socialization can only properly be accomplished by beginning as early as possible, in structured, age-appropriate social groups.
Yet these modern Western (or American) expectations are hardly universal. In many societies, the whole family, including extended family, may live in a single room, all sleeping together because that’s all the space they have. Children as young as 5 may have full-day jobs - and they are expected to perform them, too, and they do perform them, bearing the responsibility in a way we would never expect of even much older children in the US, and would excuse away without a moment’s thought. Before the child labor laws, children in the US were similarly expected to take on heavy responsibility very young…and did. Think of Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder: by the age of 8, Almanzo was expected to - and did - take on a man’s job of plowing in the field, and worked dawn to dusk like everybody else. Even in the US, fifty years ago, nobody expected every child to have his or her own bedroom. So there’s been a shift in expectations.
So to come back to my question: are teenaged rebellion, teenaged angst, and other “normal” phases that American teens go through…are they real and normal, or are they mere artifacts of American affluence and societal expectations? Are they medically based, as we occasionally hear, because of developmental changes in the adolescent brain? Are they exacerbated by “socialization” in age-segregated, self-perpetuating social settings such as schools? Or are these things not factors at all?
My own opinion leans toward ‘this is an artifact of our society, rather than a normal phase in human development’ without knowing how to fix that problem. But I’d like to hear other opinions. Extra points for references to documents I can peruse for myself.