We live in an odd, odd world. I’ve said it a million times, I’ll likely say it a million more. Despite all of our studies, all of our psychologists and psychiatrists, all of our open minded liberal attitudes, all of our political discourse and newfound naturalist tendencies, I have discovered that our society is by its nature creating monsters of repressed—and/or dangerously unrepressed—balls of human mental deformity.
Let me simplify: We’re screwing people up significantly and often.
It is common knowledge that people who grow up in a repressed household end up somewhat disordered in adulthood, and likewise we know that people growing up in entirely unrestrained households end up somewhat disordered as well. While there are notable differences between the results of both, there is no denying that the best way to raise a child is in a state of moderation. They must not be controlled to the point of lacking individuality, while likewise they must not be permitted to run rampant upon the remainder of the universe.
Note, however, that I have intentionally used the word “child.” I did not reference adolescents as they—though legally children—are surely deserving of separate mention. It is adolescents that I intend to address primarily today, though my net is cast wide and does extend in some respects to the study of true children.
First, lets traverse backwards a handful of centuries into the past. Once upon a time there was no differentiation between the legal definition and the social definition of a child. A child was a prepubescent human being, and at the age of puberty they were expected to be entering a marriage and a profession. While not expected to fully shoulder the responsibilities of older people, and they were not expected to live entirely on their own, they existed in a phase which was drastically nearer to that of adulthood than to that of childhood. With the guidance of their parents, a young man aged about 15 and a young woman aged about 13 would embark upon the world of being a full-fledged, fully legal, and mostly responsible human being.
These ages were not arbitrarily chosen by some law, they were a firmly rooted tradition based upon nothing other than simple human nature. The minds of young people entering puberty pressed them into shunting authority, increasing responsibility, increasing power, and—not to be forgotten—increasing desire to engage in sexual relations. Humans of ages past were not blind to these callings, but rather respectful of them in the natural order of a life.
The shunting of authority and demanding responsibility were answered with increased—and condoned—levels of self-reliance. Increasing desire for sex was answered with a relatively safe—also condoned—marriage in which to engage in those behaviors.
Today, however, the story is obviously a little bit different. Rather than moving directly from child to adult, we have added an artificially awkward middle phase that is called adolescence. These post-children and pre-adult entities are filled with the rebelliousness against authority—merely an ignored demand for responsibility—and with the physiological desire for sexual activity. They are, however, expected to exist in an innocent, childlike celibacy. This obvious disconnect is overlooked today as if it were normal, but I assure you that it is not. We are expecting young adults to live and act as if they are children, and the undesired consequences of this institutionalized blunder are numerous.
In the past, these young people were expected to make their own way through life. Failing to do the duties of their job—tending the farm or working in a factory, for example—resulted in a loss of livelihood. This level of responsibility—which today doesn’t appear until the twenties for most—kept people in line. Today, with virtually no responsibilities at all, there is no incentive whatsoever for adolescents to obey anybody. Criminal activity, habitual laziness, and other behaviors are not perceived to cause any immediate harm to livelihood and therefore there is no incentive to stay within the imposed bounds. The food is on their table whether they work for it or not.
It is for this reason that crime rates among this age group are the highest across an age distribution in developed countries like the United States. There seems to be no threat in the commission of crime, and how can somebody in an adolescent’s shoes possibly respect an authority that is seemingly so intent on holding them back from there they naturally feel they should be?
By providing such a lengthy time span—nearly ten years—where persons could easily get off course, we allow the more rebellious among ‘teens’ to condemn themselves to a life of squalor. Perhaps if they had been granted responsibility early on, and thereby been taught in a most-effective way the ‘action-and-consequence’ nature of the world, they would be more inclined to become a productive member of society.
Likewise, the simple fact is that adolescents are driven to have sex. It’s embedded in their programming psychologically and physiologically, and there is no way to argue that teens are not likely to engage in sexual behavior during these formative years. In fact, only an abnormal level of willpower can stop a hormone-raging adolescent from engaging in potentially risky sexual activity. By holding marriage out as a distant possibility when you find “the one” in later years, we essentially force these teens to accept and engage in premarital sex during this period.
Likewise by allowing these adolescents to form their opinions and subconscious desires in this period with relation to sex, we virtually ensure that their patterns of activity will be formed around multiple non-permanent partners. As a result, we allow and encourage them to condemn themselves to a life of non-monogamous relationships, infidelity, and divorce.
It is no wonder then that today teen crime and teen pregnancies are disturbingly common. Likewise, it is no surprise to find an entire society riddled with persons who cheat on their spouses and divorce regularly. Where historical sexual patterns were based around a permanent marriage at an early age—resulting in monogamous and devoted marriages that truly did last until death—today’s are too-often based around an instilled subconscious sense of the temporary.
Detractors of my thoughts will tell me two things, primarily. First, they will tell me that no 13 or 15 year old will know enough about love to choose a marriage partner at this age. This mindset is based on modern social trends, not on fact. Concepts of love are based first on observation of loving parents, and second on adolescent experience. If an adolescent has a pair of loving parents to model after, and a marriage in those defining teen years with which to experience love, a permanent relationship is all-but-ensured. It is an error to base marriages on a preexisting view of love when rather a marriage should be the state which initially defines love. Furthermore, it is an error to assume that ‘love’, as we define it, is the only factor of a successful marriage. Loving marriages can fail, and successful ones can develop love later into the relationship (often in arranged marriages) or be based on other emotions such as respect or necessity.
Secondly, detractors will point out that the sheer amount of education demanded by today’s professions require that people be schooled through the years I discuss and, in-fact, often into their twenties. While I have nothing against education, I take issue with the idea that deeper education can be provided simply by adding years to it. It is no coincidence that most students are bored in school, the pace moves far too slow for the vast majority of participants. As the net intelligence of our society increases, there is a lesser need for the snail-paced introduction to the basics in the early elementary years.
Elementary school, which is repetitious to the point of utter stupidity, could be easily compressed into a four-year program on a year-round schedule. Keep in mind that when I say year-round schedule, I mean a real-world styled 12 months of education. The addition of three months to every year would automatically eliminate nearly those extra two years, and compression could account easily for the rest. Likewise a total elimination of middle school would likely go unnoticed as it merely exists to shuttle students from elementary to high school. With preparatory classes at the end of elementary, a full two years of slow transition would be unnecessary. We’ve just moved the age of hypothetical graduation from 18 to 14 by eliminating four years of useless crap, and with a little more tweaking it could probably be even earlier. It may sound crazy, but I believe firmly that children are capable of advancing significantly faster than we give them credit for.
Of course, nobody has dared to give it a try. I do know from experience, however, that we coddle people with slow-paced repetitious drivel for 12 painfully unnecessary years without ever providing a true challenge for students to rise to. If we gave them that chance, most would indeed surprise us and succeed. With a level of intelligence and maturity that today we think impossible for a person of age 14, people would be entering the adult world of work, relationships, and success at an age significantly closer to when their bodies enter natural adulthood.
As for college, a two-year associates degree should seriously be sufficient in most professions and I fear that nowadays we hang too much false importance on the idea of a 4-year college education. A system of industry-specific trade schools and/or a part time four-year program coexisting with a full-time apprenticeship or entry-level position in your field would be a much more efficient and effective system focusing more on actual knowledge rather than theoretical knowledge. People would be turning 18 with a full college education, four years of work experience, and the foundations of a family already in place.
I, for one, am willing to bet that making these changes in our perceptions of youth and skirting the limbo adolescent period would, with time, minimize problems of crime, poverty, unwanted pregnancy, divorce, and infidelity that run rampant today in the United States. It’s a simple fact that teens are yearning for something more than an additional 10 years of school and living at home with no responsibility while they engage in lots of risky sex with different partners, and our society fails to give it to them.
We have caught thousands upon thousands of people in that rut, and the result is much of the dysfunction that exists around us every day. It is time to seriously consider the consequences of this hidden and accepted repression of adolescents, the people who we admit are no longer children but refuse to accept as adults. Their maturity cannot develop without their childish immaturity being challenged by the trials and tribulations of the adult world, and attempting to protect them from those trials simply protracts the inevitable. Were we—as a society—to expose people to those difficulties at the early times in adolescence when they often feel prepared, I am sure you will find that they will generally rise to the challenges they invite.