I discovered recently that the word 'teen-ager' didn't become a part of our vernacular until about 1941. Adolescence is actually a rather new development. Back in those days children grew into adults, not adolescents. Twelve year olds were expected to help support the family.World War II produced a lot of disconnected fathers trying to deal with the after effects of a great war. Our economy expanded into conspicuous consumption to replace a demand left void by the war. The prime age group targeted were 'adolescents'. Adolescence was considered a natural stage of development between the ages of 13 and 18. I talked to a nine year old the other day and he told me, "I can't wait until I'm 13. Thirteen year olds get to do everything." He was yearning for adolescence.
Since then we have stretched adolescence in both directions. The whole span of modern adolescence can stretch 15 to 20 years. In fact, John Stonestreet of Summit reported that the National Academy of Sciences now defines adolescence as "the stage of puberty (around 11 or 12) to age 30!! Do you know of any 30 or 40 year olds still living at home with mom and dad?
I teach in a private Christian school. The number one complaint I hear from many of the girls who are NOT dating is that they can't bring themselves to date a 17 year old who acts like a 12 year old. I hear similar complaints from a lot of college-age women. Young women are looking for stability and security. They want to meet a young man who has a plan. Instead, they are finding alot of 25 and 30 year olds who still live with mom and dad and haven't determined any direction in their lives.
This perpetual adolescence in our society has produced a lot of youth who are intellectually anemic. Most of the high school seniors I teach are weak in critical thinking skills even though I teach in an exceptional school. Our youth are ignorant in economic and political theory and they have little interest in studying the rules of logic. Learning how to think well is far less important than knowing who just got ousted from American Idol.
Perhaps some of our economic and political problems in this country are due to the fact that a generation stuck in perpetual adolesence has finally achieved power. Loyalty to those who would desire freedom (protesters in Iran) takes second place to the narcissistic desire to be admired by our European friends. The desire for immediate gratification overwhelms the reality that it sometimes takes decades to bring about political change in countries who have never experience democracy. The determination to avoid the consequences for bad decisions at any cost (bailouts) is very adolescent, sort of like taking the pill the morning after or aborting an unwanted pregnancy. I'm praying very hard for my country because I think we are regressing at a very, very fast pace.