Teens in America
Being a teenager in America today is difficult because society's expectations are self-contradictory and the extended period of living under their parents' roofs keeps adolescents from effectively learning responsibility in the way they did in the 16th century.
Adolescence Basics: Identity
Aside from the obvious physical changes associated with people between the ages of 12 and 20, the teenage years are for finding one’s identity. In doing this, adolescents try out different identities (actions, behaviors, personalities, etc.) to find the one they like best and want to become. Also in the teenage years, differentiation occurs as adolescents develop the ability to name specific traits when asked to describe themselves, which shows a more thorough understanding of themselves. They're also better at understanding the feelings and thoughts of others. They can notice how the context of what’s going on around them affects their perceptions and the perceptions of others. Adolescents can think about abstract, future possibilities and consider multiple possibilities at once. Through academics, they have greater exposure to various identities, which can affect their choice of identity. Other factors such as the quality of their relationship with their parents can also influence the adolescent’s chosen identity by limiting how widely they can explore. Adolescents become more autonomous and define their relationship with authority during these years.
Historically: Now vs. Then
Sociocultural influence was once a strong factor in choosing an identity, but it is less so now because of the growing acceptance for many identities that were once less popular. Now, teens must choose their identity based solely off of who they wish to become. Additionally, there didn't used to be quite so many "teenage years." Since the mid-1800s, puberty has inched back one year for every 25 years elapsed (Psychology Today).
In William Shakespeare's time (the 16th century), today's adolescents would be considered full adults, and would have been shipped off to apprenticeships or other relatives, which allowed them to take on the full autonomy they're expected to. They would not have been living at home for nearly as long as our kids are. Now we have this awkward 6-year long period where sexually mature adults are having to live under the authority of their parents, which can lead to family struggles as the adolescent determines what they want to do with their life. Adolescents must take charge of their life while still bowing to authority, which is a middle ground few can achieve peacefully.
Adolescents can't win. Society expects them to act like adults, but treats them like children. Though they are supposed to take responsibility for their lives and learn how to live, they are also expected to obey their parents since they're the ones taking care of them. On the flip side, an adolescent's responsibilities (mainly school, but also certain family matters, sports, clubs, and extracurricular activities) can end up being too much. In Al Desetta's book Pressure, teens share their stories about stress and the many ways it piles up on them. Instead of learning to expect more from themselves, adolescents sometimes get expectations piled onto them. In their struggle to develop their identity, this can be a major challenge.
Want More? Talk to Hank
For any of you who care, the Breakfast Club is not only a pretty cool movie, but it's also a classic. Summer assignment: watch it if you haven't seen it already. Let me know what you think.
So what about you? Do you think having such a long period of adolescence is good because it allows you to experiment with your identity without having to worry about bigger responsibilities, or do you think having to depend on your parents makes it harder to take responsibility for yourself and become independent/autonomous? Answer below in the comments. Thanks for reading.