Sunday, May 31 2009
When the term "teenager" became the basic description of human beings between the ages of thirteen and nineteen, it was just another example of our propensity to divide rather than unite. The term ushered in a limbo group --- not children, not adults. Denied certain rights on one hand; permitted certain privileges on the other.
Considered sub adults by society, limited punishment for major crimes is one privilege still in existence, but for how long? More and more pressure is being exerted to try minors who commit worst crimes as adults. And when their hoped-for sense of responsibility has not been encouraged or developed, the crime rate among this group speaks for itself.
After our two-hundred-plus years of history, parents today face problems not even considered back then. Here and there a bad apple might show up, but the majority of young people were too busy with chores to dream up mischief. Country living demanded hard work by every family member. City dwellers may have had it a bit easier, but the rules were strict. Young men, especially, were expected to pull their own financial weight early. So why have we somehow assumed that this part of humanity does not need to contribute if we are all to survive on this revolving ball in space?
I do not mean labor. For a teenager I am speaking of the desire to educate yourself to the highest degree you can obtain and learning to assume responsibility for your own actions. As for parents, I am speaking of wise authority, which can be abdicated through ignorance, indifference, or financial pressure that requires the combined income of both parents tp survive and limits parental time.
As caring parents of course we desire to make it a bit easier for our children if we can. But what is "easier" if they are passed ahead in school when they have not learned the required lesson? And passed ahead in life the same way?
In its truest form discipline is not punishment. It should be a guideline toward effective self-government. People who learn early in life to accept responsibility for their actions are ahead of the game. They make better decisions, carry out plans, and are more discerning about human errors, including their own. Using good judgment requires emotional control and foresight.
I remember my friend's grandmother who lived in the big house on the corner. There was a big yard to care for and the young men who performed this task did an excellent job because she paid by the job they did. A dollar job was paid accordingly; so was a five-dollar job. For some of these kids it may have been their initiation; their discovery of the feeling of pride and satisfaction that comes with doing something well.
Or take the special day when young girls graduated from bobbie socks to their first pair of sheer stockings. Or the pride young boys felt wearing their first long pair of pants; that first manly tie was a thrill! Or the first time you rode in the front seat with your Mom or your Dad on a family outing. Such rites of passage served a good purpose. They gave young people something to be attained, a sense of arrival. They marked important milestones; incentives we don't supply anymore.
Anticipation has been stolen from today's young people.
Out of date? Not as many teens as you might think laugh at this simplicity. They sometimes express a sincere desire to go back to some older ways because of the built-in security they provided. The limits allowed or demanded were a safety net they could rely on when their own judgment was still nebulous.
Adults created the term teenager. We have also created some of the problems. We need to give back to these young people a sense of dignity and purpose. Why not take the first step and eliminate the term teenager? Thus reducing separation. Why not address them as they are --- young people who have no excuse for irresponsible behavior just because they are experiencing a stage of growth everybody goes through?
Fortunately, we did correct one injustice. Eighteen- to twenty-year olds once had no voice in electing the Commander in Chief or the Congress that could ask them to possibly make the supreme sacrifice. But many people still commercially exploit the self-absorption traits teens often exhibit.
The tremendous energy of this age group is a potent factor for good as well as for harm. This is the generation that will sit in Congress, sit in the Halls of Justice and in the seats of Power and Commerce.
Rites of Passage have long been recognized in many lands and among many cultures as a means of implanting responsibility and self-control in young people through a period of denial that is openly rewarded by an important advancement of some kind when this period ends.
And when we ignore such ancient wisdom, we pay a price.
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Addendum: July 23, 2009: The teens highlighted on a recent Dr. Phil show who were considering "21 shots" of liquor" as a Rite of Passage on their 21st birthday to celebrate reaching legal age only proved they are still emotional babies who do not yet comprehend consequences.