Is Adolescence a Myth?

Youth Specialties
April 7th, 2010

Youth ministry is built upon the assumption that there is such a thing as adolescence.

But one Psychologist, former Psychology Today editor Robert Epstein, is questioning this basic assumption that the teenage years are a time of turmoil where a person figures out who they are as an individual. His theory is that adolescents aren't that different from adults after all, we just don't expect them to exhibit adult competencies.

In a recent U.S. News and World Report interview, Epstein says:

I started looking at the research done on teenagers in this country, which is very, very misleading. The researchers are just trying to confirm the cultural stereotypes [originated] by G. Stanley Hall 100 years ago, who said that the teen years are necessarily a time of storm and stress. That stuck, and that's been the model used by psychologists and social workers ever since. [Back in Hall's time], there was massive immigration, and lots of young people on the streets making trouble. By the 1930s, biologists had discredited the notion that the teenage years were a time of turmoil, but the people in the mental health field never got the message. I started doing research on this with a doctoral student named Diane Dumas, and we started collecting data on the capabilities of teens vs. adults. Read the rest of the article

I like people willing to stand up against a mountain of evidence and question, “Hey, do we have it wrong?” That takes a certain amount of bravery. Of course, my cynical mind also recognizes it as a brilliant way to sell a lot of books. Either way, it's an interesting hypothesis.

So what do you think? Have we built and supported the theory of adolescent brain development on false assumption originally presented by Stanley Hall? Is this merely a classic deconstructionist attack? Or do we mostly have it right about adolescence and Mr. Epstein's theory just meant to move the needle a little towards adolescent responsibility?

Youth Specialties

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