8 May 1989
Los Angeles Times
Samuelson on Adolescence
re: "Our Style of Adolescence is Now a Type of Curse",
by Robert J. Samuelson,
L.A. Times, April 21, 1989
In analyzing the problems of young people in our society, it is tempting and probably typical to focus on early involvement with drugs and sex and rebellion against family, and try to identify the problem as too much freedom. Several recent articles in The Times have explored these themes (e.g., Samuelson's column; and reviews and commentary about the film "Field of Dreams," Calendar, April 21). It is not merely too much freedom, but freedom without responsibility that is the problem.
Our culture's ambivalence about adolescents (indeed about adolescence) is coming home to roost. Blind materialism says that we are successful if we give our kids everything they could want, including the satisfaction of their desire for freedom. But at the same time, our protective, self-indulgent and ultimately harmful attitude that childhood should be exclusively a time of carefree innocence keeps us from passing on to them such values as self-discipline, work and its personal rewards, and the ability to handle adversity.
As it is now, we try to delay adult realities until the moment girls and boys actually become adults - after schooling is over. We must rediscover the idea that gradual socialization into adulthood has to begin much earlier, and we can start to do this simply by admitting that the childhood of innocence and idyllic bliss ends well before puberty. Those kids with incipient breasts and beards are people, not just empty fixtures marking time.