Thursday, September 03, 2009
Casting Adolescence in Stone
The psychologist G. Stanley Hall put the modern concept of adolescence on the map a hundred years ago-we can blame him for inventing adolescence. But what came first? There is no smoke without fire so perhaps there really is a period of "storm and stress" leading up to adulthood?
Robert Epstein writes in his book The Case Against Adolescence, that "to Hall,the turmoil of the teen years was the inevitable consequence of recapitulation. In reliving our evolutionary past, said Hall, we must inevitably pass through a stage of great chaos-." But recapitulation theory "is bunk" according to Epstein and Hall's theory was built on faulty science-witness an idea that has severely influenced western perspective on adolescence over the next 100 years now put into question.
"To push the metaphor to the brink, Hall created the life-size, three dimensional, rock-solid image of Teen in Turmoil that Americans have believed in for a hundred years, but the impressive statue that he sculpted has been resting on a platform composed of the remains of some old German biology texts that long ago decayed to dust," Epstein writes.
Kids do go through a period of turmoil as Hall suggested but not for the reasons he gave.
Adolescence as we've created it is the cause of this period of turmoil. It could be avoided since as studies show again and again,adolescence is relatively new in human history,is rare in other cultures and can be reversed with serious doses of real responsibility.
Youth after youth, bewildered by the incapacity to assume a role forced on him by inexorable standardization of American adolescence runs away in one form or another, dropping out of school, leaving jobs, staying out all night and withdrawing in to bazarre and inaccessible moods.
Erik Erikson, Identity; Youth and Crisis (1968)