How Government Created the Myth of Adolescence and the Terrible Consequences
By The Daily Bell Staff - December 03, 2017

Why are teens so angsty and rebellious? Because they are biologically adults, being treated like children.

Jane Addams likely had good intentions when in the early 20th century she helped create the juvenile justice system and laws against child labor. But fast forward to present day and her influence on how society treats young adults has disastrous effects on young individuals and society at large.

Tom Woods hosted Dr. Robert Epstein on his podcast to discuss this problem. Epstein wrote a book called Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of AdolescenceIn it, he makes the case that the government, the pharmaceutical industry, and purveyors of “teen culture” have created a myth about post-pubescent young adults.

Many people believe the psychological and social problems associated with American youths is a natural part of the teenage years. Epstein explains that the root of the issue is treating people who are physiologically young adults as children.

It started with Jane Addams creating a culture that prolonged childhood. The government went on to require public education which grouped youths with peers their age. At a time when teenagers should be learning from more mature and intelligent adults, they are instead exposed to an echo chamber of immature peers.

Epstein cites studies which prove the competency of teenagers is often higher than the competency of adults. He argues that nothing magically changes at age 18 or 21. In their teen years, some people are capable and some people are not. But these will likely be the same people who are and are not able to be productive members of society in later years.

Industries now seize on  “teen culture.” Hollywood and the music and fashion industries sell their products by appealing to this unnatural subculture. The pharmaceutical industry exploits the psychological problems caused in teens to sell their drugs. There’s nothing wrong with teen brains. There is something very wrong with how society treats teens. But instead of tackling the issue, the drug industry has a pill for that.

And it makes perfect sense. Coercion, not just in teens, is a leading cause of mental anguish. Many adults feel helpless up against forces like the government, media, and corporations. Young adults feel equally trapped by authoritarian parents, public schools, and legal age restrictions.

Child labor laws sound like a good idea when you think of 8-year-olds in factories. But what about 15-year-olds in mechanics’ garages? Why can’t a 13-year-old work for a restaurant without government permission? And even when these young folks get permission, they have to schedule their work around compulsory education. The government forces them to waste their time, eliminating actual opportunities to learn from work experience while making money.

And the myth that teenagers are still children permeates American culture. How often do you hear people refer to young people from age 13 and well into their 20’s as “kids”?

The solution always comes back to individual freedom. Of course, if we immediately started treating all 13-year-olds as adults there would be issues.

But luckily this is one of those problems where the solution really does come down to individual action. Parents have ultimate control over the environment they provide for their children. As their children become young adults, parents can give those teens a degree of autonomy on a case by case basis.

Homeschooling is growing, which is a good sign. Many people don’t isolate their kids (and teens) from social interaction. Instead, they join co-ops and social groups that don’t segregate by age. Kids have an opportunity to learn from teens, who have an opportunity to learn from adults.

There are far-reaching implications of this myth of adolescence. This is just an introduction to the idea. Tell us in the comments what impact you think this myth has had on society or would have if reversed.

Listen to the podcast or read the book to get the full picture.

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  • FreeOregon

    And the armies that ravaged Europe in WW2 consisted of 18 year olds. The concept of adolescence, like all concepts, is a classification invented to aid our understanding. All classifications have limits.

    People with childlike minds also can inhabit adult size bodies and carry machine guns. How different are child soldiers in Africa from US Special Forces killing with impunity in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world?

  • ron R

    No matter what you say, young teenagers are not mature. Too many conflicts in their developing brain. I know 70 year olds who never grew up!

    • mary

      you just proved DB’s point.

    • Leopardpm

      they may not be ‘mature’, but they are capable. Maturity is something that is learned through interactions with others and maturity is reached faster if those interactions are with other ‘mature’ humans rather than being surrounded by other immature kids.

  • Lisa

    YES! My homeschooled teens were shift managers with great responsibility in their mid-teens even though they had to work around labor laws to be able to do it. Most graduated high school early, went to college and excelled early, and are thriving young adults. This article reflects my opinions exactly, and I am looking forward to listening to the podcast, and will be putting the book in my queue!

    • That is great! It certainly seems to be a trend among homeschoolers, how quickly they excel!

  • Leopardpm

    I think that the human brain continues to develop and form most of its pathways during the teen years and on into the 20s.. so it seems to me that during these times the person in question isn’t quite yet a fully functional adult. But, I also agree that by segregating this population from the rest of society in ‘educational institutions’ has horrible and disastrous effects. Work and employment should be decriminalized for all humans, adults, teens, and even younger kids. This will improve their ability to socialize and understand the world around them and even participate and gain self-worth and satisfaction from being valued by others. Nothing wrong with a Lemonade Stand company from hiring young kids or selling franchises to kids, or the myriad of other possible ‘jobs’ that kids and teens can easily perform if they desired to. As an 8 yr old, how would I have loved the opportunity to earn $3, $4, even $5 per hour doing something that another valued. I remember that the ONLY job available to me was as a newspaper boy and that gave me a degree of freedom and responsibility that I craved – I actively sought to please my customers because I loved when they complimented me or gave me a tip for Christmas.

    I say get rid of Child Labor Laws AND Minimum Wage Laws so that those kids who desire to grow both their own economic futures as well as grow the general economy can do so.

  • gomurr

    “At a time when teenagers should be learning from more mature and intelligent adults, they are instead exposed to an echo chamber of immature peers.”

    Isn’t that what teachers, parents, and other familial adults are for? And you’re never going to stop teenagers from wanting to be with, emulate, or listen to other teenagers. Besides, their “echo chamber” was introduced into their thinking by an adult

  • mike

    I think you are correct. I wrote more but deleted it. Too personal. I will just say we homeschooled, and the experience over the years was marvelous, and the results excellent.

  • SnakePlissken

    I lived in Europe for a year, and I was surprised by how mature the teenagers are there. 16 year old Europeans have the same maturity level as 25 year old Americans. They don’t coddle their kids there and they become fully independent adults while we are still moping around coffee shops. I think they also graduate high school at 16 and are required to do 2 years of an apprenticeship or go to college. So by the time we are college freshmen, they are college juniors or have 2yrs work training.

    • Brabantian

      School etc policies vary amongst European countries but overall quite true. Where I live on the Continent, wine & beer are bought in stores & enjoyed in cafés by people at age 16, who often grew up as children sipping a small amount of wine with parents at dinner … yet there is less teen drunkenness, which is just viewed as dumb behaviour (UK is different, a heavy-drinking-youth place, yet ironically many more legalistic ‘pub rules’ historically)

      In a number of European countries age 14 boys & girls can legally pilot small engine motorbikes … people can sometimes leave school young, but Europe also has a lot of young who are over-educated with too much university (often low cost or nearly free here).

      It seems quite clear that our adolescence is quite a cultural creation … but maybe the big story of our time here, is how boys in their teens and early 20s have often had their minds addled by all the free porn on the internet … this seems behind why we are now in the first era where females get more university master degrees than males

      • Interesting insight… and sort of a scary thought. thanks!

  • dauden

    I found it a natural progression when my 4 home-birthed children were able to hold a pencil and scribble lines on paper to eventually curve into letters and numbers. Four yrs was the average age when I taught reading and writing to my heavily read to children. I loved having them around me to mold and nurture into evolving adults as I was insatiably hungry for knowledge myself. I kept them out of indoctrination camps as long as I could. When my lovely, healthy 14 yr old finally went to one of these control centers he immediately got into trouble. When they punished him by forcing him to sit in a cubicle alone to do his school work it got worse. Over the next 2 years the trouble deepened so that we eventually had to send him to a wilderness camp for rehabilitating. Learning outdoors and working hard was the best thing for him at the time. Today at 24 yrs, he is milling the wood fallen from a flood along the river nearby and building himself a tiny house on an 18 wheel flatbed while spending his leisure hours hiking across North American trails, rock climbing ever steeper cliffs, roughing river rapids and holding down a job as a popular barista who is known for interesting, intelligent conversations. The following 2 children had short stints in public school but finished at a small, one room campus doing online studies, never receiving a “diploma”. The youngest just entered public ed as a freshman in order to play soccer. He knows how to assert himself quite well and avoid the coercion exacted from his mind. All of ours have avoided college and found pleasure in working in the field of their individual interests, reading and studying, and enjoying lively discussions with all ages. It is a great pleasure to have any or all of them around….with their friends.

    • Thank you for sharing! Sounds like some great kids, good job!

  • Douteux55

    It’s nice to say that kids would be more mature if we treated them like adults, but I’ve experienced plenty of foreign kids with problems as a language teacher. Drinking and smoking are prevalent at early ages there and never forget, those kids don’t work at age 14, 15, because they can’t. There aren’t any jobs and many of those that do exist require the high school diploma + more time. Germany tracks and channels kids depending on shortages in the economy and you can apprentice at 15 but you are locked in for life. France is the same but there are no options at 15 really.

    We only hear the happy stories about home schooled children. I agree that it can be done efficiently with good results, but that isn’t always the case. It takes discipline to stay on task and keep to a curriculum and many homeschooled kids enter the public school system at the middle or high school level because the parents can’t handle the more advanced sciences and maths at home. I’m not against the trend, I just think we need to be more realistic. I’ve also noticed that the homeschooled kids don’t integrate well with their peers. They tend to attach themselves to their siblings if that’s possible and, if not, are loners for quite a while because they aren’t part of a shared culture which I think is critical for feeling part of society. You don’t have to embrace everything that is happening within your generation, but you should be aware of it and able to critique it. They’re frequently awkward and quiet in class.

    Everyone can complain about public education and much of the criticism is valid, but don’t forget, that the home schoolers are learning the same material that’s taught in the public schools and they’re apparently marvelously successful so the content isn’t the problem. I’m very leery about allowing kids to work legitimately at 12 or 13 as it will feed into the movement to decriminalize pedophilia. The more we insist that children in that age bracket can fend for themselves, the easier it will be to lower the age of consent. And, trust me, that’s the endgame.

  • My daughter is 10, for at least two years she has been talking about getting a job. She wants to make some money. I keep telling her she can’t because the government says no. She is not happy at them.