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    Discrimination Against Teenagers
    By Enrico Uva | May 8th 2012 02:00 AM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Enrico

    I majored in chemistry, worked briefly in the food industry and at Fisheries and Oceans. I then obtained a degree in education. Since then I have...

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    When it comes to comparing groups of people, there are always more differences within a group than there are between groups. This truism guards us against racism, sexism and ageism.  But the idea is not often applied to adolescents, and it surprises me that I have never heard someone publicly complain, "I've experienced more discrimination as a teenager than as a woman or green-skinned person."

    Yet there is an unfair stereotype of teenagers: if left unsupervised for an extended period of time, they will all supposedly drink, smoke up, get pregnant/impregnate . They are believed to be more emotional and lazy than adults. And what is the most troubling is the false claim that "neuroscience reveals that their brains are more childlike than adult-like".


    I view them as a highly diverse group of people maturing intellectually and emotionally at various rates. Many taken on challenging responsibilities and are demonstrably capable of doing far more than we sometimes imagine. Obviously, because of inexperience, they are more vulnerable than most adults, but we do them a disservice by labeling them as children.

    There are people who are paid by government or school districts to lecture educators on the latest "neuroscience", and yet they present, at the very least, a very one-sided view of things. In one case, someone showed teachers a suspicious graph pretending that brain development from birth to age 26 was a linear process. When I looked up the source of the lecturer's graph, the researcher turned out to contradict the presenter's main (media-inspired?) message:

    It is not, as has often been reported in the popular press, that adolescents are unequivocally more prone than adults to activate subcortical brain systems when presented with emotional stimuli (or that they are more “emotional”). Rather, adolescents are less likely to activate multiple cortical and subcortical areas simultaneously, which suggests deficits, relative to adults, in the synchronization of cognition and affect. Functional studies point to improvements in the coordination of
    emotion and cognition over the course of adolescence (Steinberg, 2008).
    Not wanting to embarrass the lecturer, I approached her at the end of the lecture and brought up the above concern. Unless she was just humoring me, she seemed aware of it but claimed not to have gotten into it due to time restrictions. A few years ago, in a popular essay, Daniel Epstein reminded readers in the "Myth of the Teenage Brain" that snapshots of brain activity do not necessarily identify the cause of teen behavior and problems. Similarly, educational psychologist David Moshman pointed out that brain development is not totally hardwired; "it's as much the result of cognitive activity as its cause."

    What do readers think? Are our attitudes overextending adolescence? What is motivating this movement in the wrong direction, assuming it is misguided?


    SOURCES

    Laurence Steinberg. Should the Science of Adolescent Brain Development Inform Public Policy?

    Daniel Epstein The Myth of the Teenage Brain.

    David Moshman The Teenage Brain: Debunking the 5 Biggest Myths

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    I'm not quite sure what you're getting at.  I can't actually recall anything that could be considered discriminatory to teenagers.
    Obviously, because of inexperience, they are more vulnerable than most adults, but we do them a disservice by labeling them as children.
    That's putting it rather mildly.  They definitely are a higher risk group.  While you can certainly argue about a variety of influences that may produce such a result, I don't think the conclusion is avoidable.  Their lives can be chaotic enough without the confluence of other issues that they will be exposed to, inexperienced or not, that will prove even more disruptive.

    I guess I just don't see what you're claiming is discrimination.
    Yet there is an unfair stereotype of teenagers: if left unsupervised for an extended period of time, they will all supposedly drink, smoke up, get pregnant/impregnate . They are believed to be more emotional and lazy than adults.
    Unfair?  It's as unfair as any stereotype I suppose, but it also isn't entirely undeserved.  In general, I don't see it as much of an issue, because it's still a parenting issue.  If you want to talk about unfair, let's consider that we have teenagers that are clearly capable of independent actions/decisions and in any legal system, would likely be tried as adults if accused of a crime.  Yet, the parents are still presumed to be liable for their actions until they are eighteen.  Now that is unfair.  It is precisely this split that creates many of the problems I think you're claiming.

    I suspect that if you took a survey of many parents today, you'd discover that the prejudices you're describing extend to people well into their twenties if (1) they're still living at home and (2) are unemployed. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
     I don't see it as much of an issue, because it's still a parenting issue.

    It's an issue that not only affects parenting but schools and police. Teenagers are not going to become more responsible if we keep seeing them as defenceless children.
    Gerhard Adam
    I don't see how you can resolve the fundamental conflict.  Either they are viewed as adults by society and thereby inherit the responsibilities that go with it, or it's something that each parent must accommodate as appropriate.

    I favor the latter, which is what we have today [to a greater or lesser extent].  I would certainly agree that they aren't defenceless, nor that they are children, but I don't see many people actually treating them that way.

    For better or worse, our society is based on the idea that as an adult you are fully responsible and culpable for your choices.  Prior to that time it is the adult "in charge" of your life.  If that dynamic is to change, I don't see how it benefits anyone, least of all the teenager. 

    At the end of the day, one can never be truly responsible until one has full accountability for actions/choices.  That cannot happen for teenagers unless we're prepared to make them adults at a younger age.  However, then our society would also have to be prepared for the large influx of new adults for which it literally has little or no room.

    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    At the end of the day, one can never be truly responsible until one has full accountability for actions/choices. That cannot happen for teenagers unless we're prepared to make them adults at a younger age.
    Changing a few laws around won't fix the problem if that's what you mean by "making them adults".  And although some of the pressures to extend adolescence are economic, there are cultural ones as well, and those are the ones that can be addressed by parents and schools.

    So much of it centers around power. If they feel powerless their motivation decreases, lassitude increases, and they will not feel as if consequences are the result of their choices.

    I remember a friend of mine saying , "If only I had realized that rock'n roll was not a social movement but just another excuse to make money!" Ditto for all the time we let them waste on "Apple-coolness".
    Gerhard Adam
    If they feel powerless their motivation decreases, lassitude increases, and they will not feel as if consequences are the result of their choices.
    They are powerless.  They have no legal standing to have consequences [except for criminal cases].  What would you have different?

    By what mechanism should they be allowed to experience consequences for their choices?  Bear in mind that most positive experiences or activities a teenager wants to engage in are not a problem.  They have the freedom to drive, they can engage in all manner of activities without curfew or consequences [beyond what their parents set], so what is it that is supposedly so onerous on them?
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    less likely to activate multiple cortical and subcortical areas simultaneously
    ~ not able to simultaneously switch on the inhibitory influence of the (by age ~24) not sufficiently wired up pre-frontal cortex (just for example)

    Sorry Enrico - I usually love your pieces, but this time the lefty progressive part of your brain has taken you for a ride, all the way from the first sentence onwards. Let's try keep close to the science, shall we?
    UvaE
    Sorry Enrico - I usually love your pieces, but this time the lefty progressive part of your brain has taken you for a ride, all the way from the first sentence onwards.

    You mean the hard-repressed hippie in me has surfaced again!! ;)