Adolescence was a nonexistent stage of development 100 years ago. Compulsory education laws and working restrictions for juveniles put adolescence on the map. Until recently, adolescence was a brief developmental period of life, and was seen as a transitional moratorium that separated childhood from the demands and responsibilities of adulthood. Today's adolescence has become one of the longest developmental periods, but has it become too long and too complicated?
Older and younger at the same time
Today’s adolescent doesn’t just jump into adulthood as in the past; it’s now a slow weaning process. The implications of this shift are significant. Young children are displaying behaviors well before they are ready to act on or understand their meaning, and older adolescents are staying perpetual children. Watch any of the Seth Rogen movies to see these child/men in action. As one writer put it, “the conveyer belt that transported adolescents into adulthood has broken down.”
Another major change is the advancement in technology. This generation has cell phones, iPhones, iPods, MP3’s, computers, laptops, net books, tablet PC’s, e-readers, touch screen monitors, and of course the old standbys, TV’s, radios and CD players.
The variable that has produced the most significant change however, has been the internet. Adolescents can now shop for anything in any part of the world in a matter of seconds. In the past the repository of knowledge and wisdom was found in books or with the elderly or well educated. Now the repository of wisdom lies in Google!
The internet has not only affected shopping and information for today’s adolescent; it has dramatically altered the way they communicate socially. On-line friendships are the hallmark of this generation. Face-to-face communication for many adolescents has been eclipsed by Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
The famous American psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan talked about how important the peer group and social acceptance is for an adolescent. He believed that these variables are a precursor of healthy self esteem and identity formation for adolescents.
Sullivan didn’t foresee that an adolescent can have literally hundreds of cyber “friends” and never experience the intimacy many theorists believe is necessary for the development of mature adult relationships. There are some psychologists like Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, who believe that this generation of adolescents is losing the ability to interact with people in a “meaningful” way.
It’s all about me
Another trend among today’s youth is a sense of entitlement. Many come fully equipped with a well-entrenched sense of entitlement that permeates all aspects of their lives. Constant praise for everything a child does, and a belief that their self-esteem needs to be elevated at all cost, coupled with a pop culture that has “look at me” as the highest goal attainable, seems to have germinated a group of adolescents who feel that everyone needs to be there for them without hesitation.
Are kids becoming too self entitled? Is 'money buys happiness' ruining them?
Not all bad
There is good news as well. Cigarette smoking is down among today’s youth, as well as the use of most drugs and alcohol. The incidence of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are down. They might be a consummately self absorbed generation, but they are also the most well informed generation in history.
So roll your eyes after talking with your adolescent, as our parents and every other parent did since recorded time, and probably earlier. Their path is different from ours, as it should be. But as we did, they too will find their way, however long and circuitous, to a healthy adulthood.
Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. He is available for speaking engagements to parent groups.