the history of adolescents
We don’t tend to think in terms of these days of anything other than a stage of life called ‘the teenage years’, although it seems that at least part of the population chooses to deny teenagers their unique role in today’s society: that they are actually different.
I was flipping through Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages of Teenagers recently when it jumped right into a brief history of the term ‘teenager’ and how this phase of life actually came about. Before the Great Depression in the 1930s, people of adolescent age did not have the opportunity to act like teenagers; they would typically end up in the workforce very quickly with the industrial revolution in full swing. With massive unemployment, teenagers suddenly found themselves superfluous in society.
US President Roosevelt designed the National Youth Administration (NYA) and finishing high school suddenly became a reality for most kids who would otherwise have gone straight to work. The public high school “created the social environment to develop a separate ‘teenage culture’.” This culture has been a part of Western society ever since and probably always will be.
The ‘public identity’ of adolescents became, for the first time, something completely different from ‘family life and adult responsibilities’, which was the traditional form. Music, dance and fun were soon on the radar and a language and fashion of its own emerged. Most of our grandfathers and grandmothers were exposed to the same type of culture that our teenagers are today!
There have been many authority figures who have advised parents to ‘vaccinate’ their teens of teen culture; seems like a little immunization is a good idea, but warned exposure should be a good thing. I’m not sure if swaddling kids in cotton is a good idea. It is good to encourage and train them to think for themselves about the natural consequences of their actions.
Teenagers are different. Isn’t it good that they challenge conventional ideals? The truth should be able to stand on its own, and adults should be able to respond to criticism and rebellion in a mature way. Parenting teenagers is hard work and anyone venturing into this territory must be aware of the fact that teenagers will test more mature parents and guardians. The best advice is to ‘equip yourself’ to do the job to the best of our ability. Knowledge is power. Chapman’s book is an excellent start.
Copyright © 2008, SJ Wickham. All rights reserved throughout the world.
 Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages of Adolescents, (Chicago, Illinois: Northfield Publishing, 2000), p. 254.