Psychotherapy Blog

 

A Short Piece on Disrespecting Teenagers

Posted by John Sommers-Flanagan, PhD on 6/27/14 - 12:00 PM
We have an American cultural norm to disrespect teenagers. For example, it’s probably common knowledge that teens are:
  • Naturally difficult
  • Not willing to listen to good common sense from adults
  • Emotionally unstable
  • Impulsively acting without thinking through consequences

Wait, most of these are good descriptors of Bill O’Reilly. Isn’t he an adult?

Seriously, most television shows, movies, and adult rhetoric tends toward dismissing and disrespecting teens. It’s not unusual for people to express sympathy to parents of teens. “It’s a hard time . . . I know . . . I hope you’re coping okay.” Even Mark Twain had his funny and famous disrespectful quotable quote on teens:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

This is a clever way of suggesting that teens don’t recognize their parents’ wisdom. Although this is partly true, I’m guessing most teens don’t find it especially hilarious. Especially if their parents are treating them in ways that most of us would consider unwise—at least if we were treated similar ways in the workplace.

And now the neuroscientists have piled on with their fancy brain images. We have scientific evidence to prove, beyond any doubt, that the brains of teens aren’t fully developed. Those poor pathetic teens; their brains aren’t even fully wired up. How can we expect them to engage in mature and rational behavior? Maybe we should just keep them in cages to keep them from getting themselves in trouble until their brain wiring matures.

This might be a good idea, but then how do we explain the occasionally immature and irrational behavior and thinking of adults? I mean, I know we’re supposed to be superior and all that, but I have to say that I’ve sometimes seen teens acting mature and adults acting otherwise. How could this be possible when we know—based on fancy brain images—that the adult brain is neurologically all-wired-up and the teen brain is under construction? Personally (and professionally), I think the neuroscience focus on underdeveloped “teen brains” is mostly (but not completely) a form of highly scientifically refined excrement from a male bovine designed to help adults and parents feel better about themselves.

And therein lies my point: I propose that we start treating teens with the respect that we traditionally reserve for ourselves and each other . . . because if we continue to disrespect teenagers and lower our expectations for their mature behavior . . . the more our expectations are likely to come true.
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