Adolescence: People say it like its a bad thing. I have yet to figure out what exactly is the problem. Young people, are young. They are inexperienced. They live a “je ne sais qua,” life. They are exploring the world around them.
Extended adolescence is now a watchword of this younger generation. It is said with horror and disdain. It is used as an insult. The latest screed on the issue is Senator Ben Sasse’s book. Now I will admit I have not read the book, but I have read his op-eds and have seen him on television (He was a guest on Morning Joe). Granted he has some interesting points about responsibility. But that is where we part company.
As a former college dean, Senator Sasse does understand students. And the issues surrounding this generation of poor decision-making and lack of goals is a true issue. My oldest son’s college sophomore dean said as much to me a decade ago. “This generation is different,” he said. My son, who is autistic, he added is on such a better level than most of his students because he has goals, a work ethic, and is conscientious. Ok that is a point. If you are going to go to college, you need to have direction and an idea of how to proceed. College is not for everyone and some people do need that very English cultural gap year.
On the other hand, when Sasse says that an indication of where we are in trouble is that guys in their 20s want to sit around playing video games, so what? He discussed how teenagers in Israel know the difference between video games and reality since they are faced with stark choices in their late teens before they go into the army. I would like to point out to Sasse that our children do know the difference between video games and reality, too. But they are lucky enough to live in a country that is not threatened with genocide on a daily basis. Our children can indulge in being children longer than in Israel.
I thought the idea of the US, is that we have created a world in which our children do not have to deal with the realities of war. We consider the fact that we are born here as if we won the cosmic lottery. Why do we need the threat of a sword of Damocles hanging over our children’s heads? We have worked hard so that is not the reality. Why is this a horrible thing?
Now here is another issue: not all youngsters in the US have this privilege of a prolonged adolescence. There are children growing up in inner cities, poor rural areas, and in any number of situations where they become adults way too early. A child in foster care knows the difference between reality and a video game. A child in a home, no matter how rich or poor, where there is domestic violence, knows the difference between reality and a video game. A child living in a homeless shelter knows it too. A neurotypical child in a home with a disabled sibling knows the difference, as well.
Sasse talked about males inparticular, that are living this extended adolescence. He decries it because he hears young women complain about the lack of marriageable youngmen. Being the father of three daughters he worries about their partner prospects. Well I have several suggestions for these young women:
Don’t accept crap. You go away to college and buy into this hook-up culture or slut feminism as if that is going to bring you some kind of liberation. If you want a male, or partner, to respect you, and see you as something more than a one-night stand, or a whore, have some self-respect and stop throwing yourself away. If you don’t respect yourself, no one is going to respect you. Oh and one more thing, men don’t mind fucking sluts, but they don’t want them to be the mother of their children. That is not misogyny. What woman really wants the male equivalent of a slut to be the father of her children? How Feminism Went Awry
Demand excellence in yourself. If you want a successful partner be a successful partner. Believe me when I tell you, the men will get there, and when they do, they are not going to want someone who simply wants to be taken care of. Today’s educated youngmen enjoy the company of independent women with a mind of their own. Also, stop looking your nose down at people. Fix your priorities and your requirements. Not every good man wears a suit to work, or has a college degree.
Realize that young men today do not want to be tied down in their 20s anymore than most young women do. Or maybe the young women do they just don’t admit it. Young men are looking and growing and exploring their world, which they have every right to do. They don’t need to decide at 25 on a girlfriend and get married. They need to figure out who they are and where they are going in their own lives before they decide to join that life with someone else.
It is the rare person who will find their mate in their 20s. A generation ago it was rarer than in my parent’s generation. Today it is even rarer than in my own time. It is also not because young men are perpetual adolescents. It’s because the world is changing so fast and there are so many opportunities out there that need to be explored, in order to understand who they happen to be, and where they want to go. Everything in this world is not about getting married and having children, either. It is also not a life goal for everyone.
Of course for women the idea of marriage and children at a younger age than men is a reality only because of biology. Let’s admit it, even with advances in medical science, and Janet Jackson notwithstanding, women loose their ability to have children in their early 40s. So yes, the biological clock is a real issue. And yes, there is a biological clock of sorts for men too, but not really in the same way. Which also adds to the less pressing need for men to marry young and start a family.
But I think the reason we do have a growing number of young men experiencing extended adolescence is several fold:
The most important one is education. If you, as a male, are told from the first day you enter school that you are garbage; that your gender is revolting; that you are the scourge to all humanity because you are male, white and/or cis, then what is the need for you to do anything at all with your life? A child told that they are worthless, will eventually believe that and act accordingly. The War on Boys is a real issue, and society refuses to deal with the disaster it has caused in the US.
While we in the US, worry about gendercide in the rest of the world and the missing hundreds of millions of young women who should be alive today, we forget that our education system, and our society, is responsible for creating an entire generation of emasculated males. If you take away the natural inclination of males to be male (and no this is not the same as saying “boys will be boys) then they will act accordingly. Which means they will never grow up, because who would want to be a part of that despised group-adult males. And yes, this is nothing more than a remodeled version of the Peter Pan Syndrome.
Give boys the tools to become men. Then they will become men. When my oldest was 14 and a freshman in high school, the husband turned to me and told me to stop babying him. “He is going to need to be a man one day,” he said. My friend’s husband actually said the same thing to her as well, at the same time. Yes, our sons had, and have, role models that teach what it is to be a “real man.” And no, every boy doesn’t have this. Sadly these children do get their education in adulting from music, tv, and movies. Their role models are not descent, necessarily honorable role models, by any stretch of the imagination. Yet there is nothing that says, schools and society cannot teach appropriateness. Culture has a lot to do with perspective as well. When our culture starts showing that men take responsibility. That men work. That men don’t run out on their obligations, and that this is a virtue to be proud of, then we will begin to heal our sons.
Sasse also talked about the fact that young people do not have a work ethic. That they don’t do the basic jobs that we used to do as teens. That the youngsters are too focused on finding that volunteer opportunity, or getting that varsity letter, in order to get accepted into the special college, that they miss out on some practical aspects of adolescence. Well, as a former college administrator, Sasse really shouldn’t be complaining about the education system he perpetuated. When college can cost upwards of $65,000 a year, you are going to want your child to attend the best possible school they can. That takes work, because the competition is so fierce. Moreover, these students take upwards of 4 AP courses in their junior and senior years, play varsity sports, and volunteer. They work hard to get a high GPA. I don’t know why Sasse thinks they don’t have a work ethic. That it falls apart at college is another issue to explore. But, these children, these adolescents, do work, and they work relentlessly.
Now what about those that don’t go to college. Where are those jobs? Fast food restaurants are not meant to be lifelong jobs. As a new McDonald’s commercial points out, it is your first job. But even those are few and far between. In fact, most who have those jobs are adults with families and this is their second job. They are simply trying to make ends meet. No matter what the government would like you to think, we really have not recovered from the great recession. And we may never rebuild the economy that was. As a society we need to deal with the economy that is, and what that future means.
Moreover, where are the vocational training schools that used to be so prevalent in our nation? Where are the future plumbers and electricians and mechanics supposed to come from? Why are there no courses on computer mechanics in high school? There used to be apprenticeship programs through the vocational training that taught youngsters the value of work, and a work ethic. Again its education. Our system is broken. Because the do-gooders decided that it was racist to deny children to right to go to college, so they destroyed the only avenue that the majority of young people ever had of creating a productive future for themselves-vocational programs in high school.
But our children didn’t create the system, we did. Stop blaming them. Start trying to fix what is wrong. This is on us.
But in the end, allowing our sons an extended adolescence is not a bad thing. So what if they use their 20s to find out who they are, and where they really want to go with their lives? Are we so happy that we were pushed into professions that make our lives overwhelming and boring? Are we so happy with all the choices that we made that we can’t allow our children some leeway to search a little longer than we did for a future path? Do we need to force our children to make the same mistakes we made simply to prove that our lives were not filled with unhappy choices? Forcing our mistakes upon our children, now that would be the height of selfishness, and the height of being a lousy parent, not the fact that we allow our children a protracted period of a carefree existence.