Arnold Kling  

Against Adolescence

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Robert Epstein says,


I believe that young people should have more options—the option to work, marry, own property, sign contracts, start businesses, make decisions about health care and abortions, live on their own—every right, privilege, or responsibility an adult has. I advocate a competency-based system that focuses on the abilities of the individual. For some it will mean more time in school combined with work, for others it will mean that at age 13 or 15 they can set up an Internet business. Others will enter the workforce and become some sort of apprentice. The exploitative factories are long gone; competent young people deserve the chance to compete where it counts, and many will surprise us.

It's a simple matter to develop competency tests to determine what rights a young person should be given, just as we now have competency tests for driving. When you offer significant rights for passing such a test, it's highly motivating; people who can't pass a high-school history test will never give up trying to pass the written test at the DMV, and they'll virtually always succeed.

...they already have too much freedom—they are free to spend, to be disrespectful, to stay out all night, to have sex and take drugs. But they're not free to join the adult world, and that's what needs to change.


He argues that our current education system was designed to facilitate the movement of young people into factory jobs (think of the transition from agriculture to manufacturing). Today's economy changes too quickly to justify "front-loading" one's formal education into the ages prior to 22.

Epstein may be somewhat wrong, or even mostly wrong. But I am glad to see his ideas out there.

From a libertarian perspective, I think there is more to be worried about than the problem of teenagers not being allowed to be adults. I worry about adults not being allowed to be adults. Teenagers are the canaries in the coal mine, so to speak.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Erich writes:

I read the article seeing more implications toward parenting rather than a call for libertarian action.

On the libertarian angle, I'd agree that its a backburner-type issue. There's only long term gain, as you are fighting for the rights of a non-voting block.

For the record, that quote comes from a recent interview in Psychology Today magazine, where I used to be editor-in-chief. I develop these issues in great detail in a new book called The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen. It includes a foreword by renowned psychotherapist Albert Ellis, who calls it "one of the most revolutionary books I have ever read." Dr. Joyce Brothers calls it "profoundly important." Futurist Alvin Toffler calls it "an essential read." If you're interested in teens, I hope you'll check it out. For further information, see: http://thecaseagainstadolescence.com. As for libertarianism, I need to brush up, but I would hope that any card-carrying libertarian would be outraged when people are judged strictly according to their age.

Bruce G Charlton writes:

Yes - I agree it is good to see ideas like this out in the media.

One scenario might be a more ability-based educational system, rather than an age-based system.

If schools were more focused on specifically academic (I would say specifically scientific) education, and less to do with social activities, I don't see any real problems with uniform ability/ mixed age classes - and lots of advantages.

Floccina writes:

I wonder if the long delay before adulthood in modern society contributes to crime. I went to a pretty bad high school, and it seems to me that many of the students there were not interested in school nor was the school serving them by teaching them things that would be useful to them in life. They did not like being there they did not do much learning at all (many did nothing all day long). Many did not graduate despite attending for the full 4 years.

The school did provide a place for them to meet with others and so I wonder if it perhaps contributed to formation of the gangs that where present there. IMO gangs are a governmental or pack structure where rules are formed and acted on. If these people where off working 40 to 70 hours a week would they be too tired to form gangs? Would they then have more in common with the adult society rather than their age group? If they where encouraged to marry would this make then tamer? I do not know but my thoughts are that the current delay does not work well for some people.

If one drops out of school and starts to work at 14 but finds that he needs to learn something he can take night classes and IMO if he finds that he needs to learn something he will far more motivated than most of the people that I went to school with.

I think that we first should move to get schools to focus less on being a test or signaling institution and instead start focusing on teaching what will be useful to people in life. IMO the 2 are too often in conflict.

BTW I know a family, that home schools, that had a son who did poorly with school work, so they taught him home repair (they had other college bound children) and bought an apartment for him to do the maintenance on while he was still young. He now owns 4 apartments and they like to say that he will be the richest of their children.

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