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The challenge of adolescence

One stage of parenthood that is the source of so much stress is adolescence. Some theorists argue that the bad decisions, risk taking behaviours, and rebellion among adolescents result from an immature prefrontal cortex (“teen brain”). A researcher and author of ‘The Case Against Adolescence’, Epstein strongly disagrees with this assumption. He alternatively argues that the way we treat young people is affecting their brains rather than their brains being the cause of the problem. He writes: ‘Considerable research shows that a person’s emotions and behaviours continuously change brain anatomy and brain physiology.’ (1) The change is believed to be the creation of modern society. Epstein argues that the problem in Western society is two things: we ‘infantalize’ teenagers by treating them as irresponsible and control and limit their behaviour. Secondly we trap them in ‘the frivolous world of peer culture’ which means ‘they learn virtually everything they know from one another rather than from the people they are about to become’ (2).

Traditionally adolescents and teenagers, as we would now call them, were simply seen as young adults. It was common for them to hold down responsible jobs and to make a real contribution to society. Now for a variety of reasons there are massive restrictions on young people's freedom. In our society young people are perceived generally as incompetent of rational thought and not to be trusted to make decisions for themselves. They are not allowed to take a proper part in the adult world they are often excluded from and spend most of their time with one another. The consequence of this is that they do not benefit from adult guidance and maturity. What's more we encourage them to inhabit a teenage world, which is dominated by marketing and its values. In short, by not paying enough attention to young people we allow them to be exploited by the media, fashion and music industries. Then we criticise them and penalise them further.

Epstein calls for a much greater focus on allowing young people to acquire and demonstrate competencies and on giving adolescents more responsibilities. He argued that they had too much freedom and not enough responsibility or engagement with adults (3).


(1) Epstein, R. (2007). The Case Against Adolescence: rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen. Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press Inc
(2) Epstein, R. (2007).
(3) Epstein, R. (2007).

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