[Insight] The 21st century has killed adolescence

November 15, 2016

[Insight] The 21st century has killed adolescence

Adolescence is as much an idea as an experience that offers you a bridge from the innocence of childhood to the responsibilities of adult life.

During the 20th century, western world nations defined the quality of their cultures by the treatment of their children: “children’s welfare tests the public spirit and democracy of a community” said Julia Lathrop (1859–1932), first director of the United States Children’s Bureau. The reason the U.S. created the concept of adolescence was to extend protections to cover the teen years.
Adolescence became a vision of normal development, connecting childhood and adulthood, structuring youngsters’ vision of themselves, and a tool to keep protecting them.

Over the course of the 20th century, the age of sexual maturity for girls declined (mid-teens early in the century, average of 12.5 by the 1970s). Children are exposed to a more sexualized culture.

By the 1990s, the Internet made all previous attempts to prevent children to be exposed to more adult content.
Extending the protections of childhood to a later age, as adolescence had for much of the 20th century, now made no sense since childhood itself was no longer innocent and easily protected. And trying to shield youngsters from responsibility for certain kinds of crimes (that were related to their age), as the juvenile court tried to do, also seemed beside the point. By the end of that century, Americans and the world witnessed teenagers killing other teenagers, as they did at Columbine High School in Colorado.

The adolescence cultural signals are mostly irrelevant today: it does not longer describe the period of training to become an adult.Adolescence was a term that fit the times. As a prescribed norm, it influenced the vast majority of youth between the ages of 13 and 1. Today, more and more young people’s lives do not fit the contours of adolescence, and the institutions of the 20th century have become worn and dated. Without clear boundaries and a solid content, adolescence as a meaningful experience is on the road to disappearing in the US.

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Originally published at knowledge.fredfarid.com.

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