Copied & pasted from a discussion board where it was being argued that young adults from 18-25 ought to be cut a little slack by the justice system when they do stupid things like engage in credit card fraud — because science has shown that their frontal cortexes are still developing. “There is good reason why we now consider adolescence to last a dozen or more years,” it was argued. “It’s because the brain is still maturing all that time.”

The prolongation of adolescence has nothing to do with knowledge of brain maturity and everything to do with keeping inexpensive pools of labour out of the workforce by maximizing educational and economic dependency. As we expect less and less of our young people, they live down to our expectations. Yes, most 18-year-olds are immature and irresponsible — because we haven’t given them to fodder of life experiences, freedom, autonomy, meaningful involvement in family and community life and other forms of responsibility that they need as catalysts for the development of maturity. We treat them like children far too long. I’m not putting the blame on parents here so much as on society. We don’t let teens make decisions for themselves, live self-sufficiently, drive, sign legal documents, travel, get married, leave school, drink alcohol, have sex, work during certain hours of the day, vote …

Robert Epstein and John Taylor Gatto have a lot of interesting historical perspectives on adolescence. It is indeed a relatively recent invention — and they make a very good case that it is an ill-conceived social construct that contributes to the problem it purports to solve, that of immaturity.

The real agenda is economic, as it is for most things. The business world has traditionally wanted compliant willing workers who have been trained through years of schooling to conform. Trade unions have traditionally sought to prevent young people from entering the work force because they put a downward pressure on wages. On this one issue they have been united — keep young people out of the work force and apart from the real workings of society.

I agree that the brain continues to develop into adulthood. But it continues to develop and change throughout adulthood as well. At some point we have to afford our citizens freedom and responsibility as full members of society. Shifting that age of majority later in the teens and well up into the 20’s will save a few immature individuals from the consequences of their irresponsible choices for a few more years. Is it worth the cost to the rest of our young people — infantilizing them far beyond the age when it is healthy for them.

Neurophysiological development is not the explanation for immaturity. No doubt my 10-year-old has the neurophysiology of a 10-year-old — but she’s not stealing, engaging in reckless behaviour or making other stupid choices. Neither are my 12 or 15-year-olds. Maturity is something rather different from neurophysiology, and in my opinion we’re setting kids up for arrested moral development if we assume they’re the same thing. At some point we have to start giving young people responsibility — including the responsibility of living with the repercussions of their mistakes. They need responsibility as a catalyst for the development of maturity — and a few more years of pre-frontal-cortex synapse development alone won’t give it to them.

Adolescence rant

6 thoughts on “Adolescence rant

  • February 11, 2009 at 3:26 am

    Awesome post Miranda. I love your clarity and punchiness, Jacinda

  • February 12, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Great post…very logical and reasonable points.

  • February 12, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    I am glad you mention it! I am not certain where I read that, but it is said that a 2008 20 year old is far less self-reliant than a 19th century 10 year old.

  • February 12, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Is it wrong to lead a rousing chorus of “Amen”?! I completely agree that we are infantilizing our young adults and that it leads to nothing good.

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