David Elkind (Rev. 1998) All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis, Reading, MA: Perseus Book, 290pp.
Our social construction of adolescence produced a youthful subculture in the 1930s and 1940s. Universal high school education put most teenagers in three- or four-year high schools. Results of this were high school athletic teams, cheerleaders, dances with records of new pop and swing music. Soda fountains with juke boxes became popular places to hang out. Particular fashions, slang, and humor created this new youthful sub-culture.
The 1940s saw war times with a country largely unified in loyal sacrifices in many forms. After WWII came the 1950s, the so-called “Happy Days” with highway expansion, the creation of suburbs, new homes and television for family entertainment. After, and perhaps in reaction to this “happy conformity” new social trends emerged. The 1960s brought a great increase in divorces, reaction against previous moral limitations, freer sexual expression, negative reaction to the Vietnam War, and a youthful culture divided between white suburbia and minority urban (with distinct music differences) and a subculture of rock and roll, drugs and sex.
There were consequences from a new consumptive materialism and hedonism. More families had two working parents. Therefore, the phenomenon of latch-key kids became common. Television and friends began to take the place of family. Families and schools, almost without realizing it, were turning socializing responsibilities over to the media and peers—which became the functional family for many youth. Media and peer pressure, and perhaps parental expectations and absence, were pushing kids to grow up fast and earlier. All this was producing a new kind of stress on teenagers and they understandably they sought their own and exciting ways to relieve this stress.
In 1981, brilliant child psychologist and professor at Tufts University, David Elkind, published The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast and Too Soon (Rev. edition, 1988). It noted how society tended, often with the best intentions, to rob children of their childhood and innocence (witness what they were seeing on TV of adult adventures and excesses). Pushing children to excel and beat out their peers for the best schools was increasing stress in their lives. In this book, Elkind pointed out the crippling effects of hurrying childhood from his own psychological practice and research.
In 1984, Professor Elkind wrote a second book about a slightly older teenage generation, All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis. He found, that left largely on their own teens were turning to their friends and media for family ties and real education. In this new reality, without down time with mature mentors, teenagers were learning by imitation, rather than deliberate and slower integration, and that the result of this was an internal compartmentalization. They were becoming in Elkind’s words, “patchwork selves.” Youth workers at that time were also recognizing this compartmentalization. High school students had a different world-view, different values and mores, at home, in church or religious setting, in the classroom, on the athletic field, and at parties with their friends. This lack of integration and need to shift truths and values according to the situation, produced stress. And, to relieve this pressure, teens were turning to smoking, drinking, drugs and sex—which, of course, could produce more stress.
Besides considering the perils of modern puberty and “peer shock,” Elkind considers the serious peril of “vanishing markers.” Humankind has always had some socially accepted rites of passage, by which young people and society around them would celebrate the passing of childhood and readiness for adulthood. Without such social markers, our “new” adolescents began to create their own markers: getting a driver’s license, late or all-night parties, getting drunk for the first time or experimenting with drugs, losing one’s virginity.
He discusses “the postmodern permeable family” and its effects on young people and describes educational failures in “schools for scandal.”
The book concludes with three chapters on stress—a theme of this book. Ch. 8, “Stress, Identity, and the Patchwork Self” is most important; the origin and consequences of the patchwork self has already been noted. Here suggestion as to the relief of stress is finally provided—some readers would like more. But a key antidote to undue stress is suggested as a relationship and time with a caring mentor.
The wisdom of this noted authority suggests notice of quotations from his final chapter.
The new morbidity and the epidemic of teenage problem behavior in America today is deeply troubling and threatening…. The problem will not go away and will only get worse if we don’t take some concerted action. (239)
We cannot turn the clock back to the modern world of nuclear families and protected children and youth. Nor are we going to reverse the second sexual revolution that made premarital sex socially acceptable first for adults and now for teenagers. Nor is there any way we can alter the pace of technological change, the computer revolution, or the Internet and World Wide Web communication explosion…. It should be emphasized that not all of these changes are bad or harmful. (340)
… parents make a difference in children’s lives (Elkind’s emphasis). Parenting is… a very important responsibility. But it need not be an onerous one…. It is important [for parents] to gain some general knowledge about child growth and development, such as I have tried to provide in this book…. The second step in helping young people develop a healthy sense of self and identity is to be adults to our children. (341-342) [That is, the willingness of parents to set boundaries and limits in a loving way.]
Elkind goes on to give clear, practical suggestions and examples as to how this can be done, before going on to explain how the schools can augment parental engagement. A section on stress management (remember this is a theme of the book) describes four types of stress and ways to deal with each.
The book concludes explaining the youthful need for spiritual nourishment.
In these postmodern times we have become more secular than ever before. Yet as humans we have a deep need for spiritual as well as physical [and emotional] nourishment. Many young people are turning back to religion for this nourishment…. the fact that religion has been abused does not mean that religion itself is exploitive and hateful. The examples of religious figures such as Christ, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed and the late Mother Theresa give young people a sense that a moral and unselfish life is possible despite the most extreme adversity. (264)
A sense of spirituality, of something greater than ourselves, is all important for contemporary adolescents. Vanishing markers, family permutations, and inhospitable schools have taken away many of the supports young people need to attain an integrated sense of self and identity and have contributed to the increase in patchwork selves and the new morbidity. When we behave as adults, set limits and standards, and operate on the basis of principle and not emotion, we are acting spiritually. In so doing we let young people know that there is a place for human values in postmodern society; and most importantly, that there is a place for them as well. (265)
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- How would you describe your relationships with one or a few particular teenaged young people?
- Does this article encourage or motivate you in your relationship(s) with youth?
- What have you learned or what has broadened your understanding of youth and youth culture in this book review?
- How can you supply the spiritual nourishment Elkind says that young people so need today? How does your faith tradition and life style meet the spiritual needs of your own and other children?
- What questions, suggestions or criticisms of this article do you have?
- Where do you want to go from here? What avenues of teenage life do you want to pursue from here?
- We, as adult society, have organized the way children and youth are, and will be, socialized. We are also, in one way or another, their models. Most adolescent problems, then, stem from adult problems.
- Research, such as Hardwired To Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities, shows that young people need our listening attention, need connection and care for them and their concerns.
- David Elkind describes a public health crisis among our young people and calls on parents, schools and all of us to respond.
© 2017 CYS