When Will Adults Grow Up?

Today, The New York Times employed the opinions of Laurence Steinberg to answer the question, “When do kids become adults?” My question is about this article is, “When will adults grow up?”

The “reality” of age-based segregation is eroding every day as since continuously shows that both childhood and adulthood are simply made-up constructs that have no practical place in developmental, psychological, or educational practices. Instead, they are political and economic devices used to manipulate the marketplace and governance of our society. Adults need to grow up and see the truth.

I have been conducting a study with The Freechild Project since 2001. My research has centered on my hypothesis that the roles of young people are rapidly transforming throughout society and in turn, the impact of young people is greater than ever before. This is happening because of many things, despite the popular adult conception of youth as incapable. The majority of adults in American society cannot see this because we are too immature, as witnessed in comments in The New York Times article and the vast majority traditional youth studies.

The majority of Steinberg’s argument relies on the tiredly predictable tenets of subjective neurological theorizing. However, he gets to the point when he proclaims, “Alas, age boundaries are drawn for mainly political reasons, not scientific ones.” This is the premise behind much of my teaching about youth engagement. Our political positioning- not in terms of parties or theories, but practices and purposes- determines how we relate to young people.


This is why I teach about convenient and inconvenient youth voice. This is why I teach about traditional and nontraditional youth engagement. Relying on predictability, we chomp at the bit to make sense of the young people we face in our community programs and classrooms every day. Our politics allow us to do this.

However, these same personal politics and shared cultural politics also disallow us from seeing the reality of young people today, let alone the potential of children and youth throughout society. Wanting to make a more subjective case, I have hurled tons of evidence at my students, both young people and adults, over the years. I have waved flags and shared case studies, called out quantitative research and elaborated on findings. None of this has worked.

Steinberg is on the side of expanding our understanding of youth at least. Today, the Times has brought along a group of madhouse advocates and opponents to joust about this question. Joining Steinberg are Kevin Noble Maillard from the Syracuse University College Of Law; Jenny Diamond Cheng, a lecturer at Vanderbilt Law School; John M. Mccardell, who is the president at the University Of The South; Jamie Kitman from Automobile Magazine; Barbara Hofer, who is a professor of psychology at Middlebury College; and Michael Thompson, who is the author of a book called “Homesick And Happy”. (Apparently, absolutely no youth of any kind were available to write on this topic.)

This crew proceeds to push around the question of whether the roles of young people should change in American society. They talk about drinking, driving, and other typical topics that should make the National Youth Rights Association happy. However, never once in a half dozen articles do they consider that the premise of their argument is flawed: The role of young people shouldn’t change because adults want it to, it should be recognized as changing because it already is. We, as adults, are behind the eight ball on this one, just as we’ve been since the political construct of youth was invented in the 1930s and reinforced by marketers starting in the 50s.

We need to join the rest of the world, which increasingly sees youth as the cultural phenomenon it is: A made-up social construct designed to restrain and subjugate people according to their age in order to secure the social, political, cultural, and political roles of people older than them. When we begin to understand this as reality, we can begin to see the roles of youth for exactly what they can be today and in the future. Until then, we’re lost in a construct that actually fails to benefit us as adults, as well as young people themselves.



CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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