Before we get into the complexity, adventure, and stress of the teen-age, we must deal with its confusion of terms. Academics and practitioners argue over both the most appropriate term and the age-range of such terms (teenagers, adolescents, youth, students, and rising generation). Americans use the term adolescence or adolescents, whereas in other parts of the world, the term youth is preferred.
Globally, designation of this “in-between age” ranges widely from 13-19, to 12 or 11-18, to 15-30 or even 35. For statistical purposes, the United Nations defines youth as those between the ages of 15 and 24.
Our Infopedia’s topic Adolescence will use the broader age-range and consider youth in a more theoretical way. For this topic, Teenagers, in the U.S. and globally, we will use the literal 13-19, with emphasis on those of high or secondary school age, 13-18. We will keep in mind the general transition from childhood to adulthood, from dependence to autonomy, as we deal with high school students and drop-outs. While the terms adolescence and youth may imply the whole passage from puberty to maturity, our consideration focuses on what has sometimes been referred to as early and middle adolescence—with later adolescence extending well into the twenties and sometimes beyond.
Books and movies, and sometimes studies, about teenagers have interested adults because of their sensationalism, sometimes their eroticism, and perhaps for some nostalgia. But unfortunately, the primary attention is given to teenagers in regard to their problems—or even, as problems themselves.
Teenage life involves a complex combination of both internal and external factors. They are, often dramatically, at once physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual/academic, social, and spiritual beings. Along with their inner systems, they are intimately affected by the micro-systems of family, community, school/sports, friends and media systems. These micro-systems are dynamically interacting with larger systems: their parents’ workplaces, the national economy, politics and social moods. As they are influenced by, and in turn, influence all of these systems, the stress of it all should not be difficult to imagine.
The complexity of teenage contexts demands consideration from psychology, anthropology (cultures), sociology (group interaction) and religious studies. Historical and educational disciplines also contribute to our understanding of the changing world and lives of teenagers.
The study of teenagers must involve wide collaboration. We must first hear from teenagers themselves—in many different cultures and groups and most of all, as unique individuals with unique opinions.
But to this evidence submitted by teenagers we must add insights from their parents, their teachers, and youth workers of all kinds. All this is not enough; we need empirical, quantitative and qualitative data. This will come from academic studies, government and UN research, and perhaps critically from marketers, for advertisers have their fingers on the most current pulse of today’s teens.
The hazard of such an article and study can reduce a dynamic teenager to an object of study. We must struggle to keep the person before the study, and our open relationship before any, even tentative, conclusions. Relationships are costly and time-consuming but are the most valuable part of life and learning.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Are you a teenager, or can you remember when you were one? How will a teenager usually react to an article about them such as this?
From your own experience with teens or as a teenager yourself, what additions or criticisms would you have for this introduction to the study of teenagers?
Are you keenly interested in all teenagers? Do you love them as individuals?
How might you use the material here beyond your own information and encouragement?
Do you see teenagers as more than their problems–as complex individuals with something to contribute to society? How would this perspective change your interactions with them?
Being a teenager is both an exciting and challenging season of life. Imagine some of the things going on in and around the teenagers you know and interact with.
Teenagers are not only our future, but they are a vital index on the quality and morality of contemporary society. They have been seen as “canaries in a mine,” detecting the toxicity of dangerous cultural trends before adults may notice them.
Teenagers, if listened to and if brought into dynamic collaboration, can help all social institutions, schools, places of worship, and families achieve a higher quality of life.
Our position is that children and teenagers need educational and spiritual life experiences both with their families and at special times in age-special groups.