The Personalist Project

Comments (6)

Scott Johnston

#1, Jan 31, 2012 2:22am

These are important questions. And very hard to to try to answer in anything approaching a thorough way.

I'm not sure I agree with your number 3 above. It's taken for granted now. But, I have a hunch that the suppossedly inevitable rebellion against authority during one's teens is much exacerbated by contomporary Western culture. Since the 60's, teens have been highly encouraged in many different ways by the surrounding culture to act rebellious. I think it's far worse than it should be in a more natural (less artificial) culture.

I would agree that adolescence necessarily involves an important step of coming to take more substantial possession of oneself--greater owership and responsibility for one's own being as a uniqe person. And that involves some degree of separation and tension with parents. But I strongly suspect that the degree of this tension is vastly and artificially heightened in Western culture, especially by the influence of "youth culture," such as it is.

Scott Johnston

#2, Jan 31, 2012 2:38am

I would put the very artificial (and mostly negative, in my view) phenomenon of "youth culture" in the West as a big part of the explanation for your first main question above as to why the breakup of traditions.

So many things happened in the mid-20th century to radically alter the experience of life for teenagers that I don't think we quite appreciate how strange the life of a typical adolescent is today compared to what had been before the 1950's or so.

Here are just a few things (of many that could be mentioned) each of which effected teenage life starting around the mid 20th century (or earlier). In no particular order . . .

1. Television

2. Automobiles

3. Rock music

4. Mass advertising (targeted to youth)

5. Radio

6. Movies

7. artificial contraception

8. pornography (huge increase starting in the 50's with Playboy magazine)

9. Increasing use of "sex education" in public schools for social manipulation as much as for legitimate education

10. Decrease of presence of mothers at home as more entered the workforce; fewer stay-at-home moms

11. The displacement of people from extended family as more people moved away from their towns of origin

Scott Johnston

#3, Jan 31, 2012 2:53am

So, it's amazing how many things were happening roughly around the same era. Just imagine. A teenager in the 30's very likely had to TV, no car, and lived in the vicinity of both sets of grandparents as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins. There was no advertising (or very little) aimed at them specifically. There was no widely popular musical form almost entirely geared to take advantage of adolescent urges.

In the 50's, a teenager probably had television (with shows geared toward teens), a whole slew of movies geared toward a younger audience; the huge phenomenon of a musical form and entertainment celebrities (supported by ubiquitous radio) catering specifically to take advantage of teen passions, access at least periocially to a car, friends with cars, spent less time around their parents and more time with peer groups of similar age, had more money to spend because of income from jobs, exposure to pornography of some sort, exposure to advertising catering to teens, etc. etc.

Imagine the combined effect of radio, television, movies, music (in all the above), advertising (in all the above), together with vastly more mobility and independence due to cars, and parents who were home less often.

Scott Johnston

#4, Jan 31, 2012 3:08am

And I understand that after WWII, the tight-knight (largely ethnically stratified) residential neighborhoods in cities were dismantled for a variety of reasons, one of which was cheap housing loans for returning veterans which required them to move to a different place to get a home that qualified for a loan. The old neighborhoods (where extended relatives often lived close together) were broken up as suburbia expanded and breadwinners also moved because of changing job situations.

So, where it used to be fairly common (going by what people now in their 80's have told me about their childhood) for children to spend lots of time around extended family of multiple generations, this became less common. Families became more isolated from extended relatives, and children had only parents near them--no longer were their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins just down the street.

The fabric of frequent exposure to one's relatives, especially older generations, must have been (I would conjecture) a primary way that traditions had been organically passed from older to younger generations. Now, teens spend much of their time in herds of same-age peers (historically an oddity), and the adults they are around are mostly not their family.

Jules van Schaijik

#5, Jan 31, 2012 6:57am

I agree that the problems between teenagers and their parents have been greatly exarcerbated (often deliberately) by all the changes you mention. Still, as you allow, the situation is fraught with tension by its very nature. Newman's insights into that most dangerous and least docile time of life (penned during the middle of the 19th century), attest to this. The quote by von Hildebrand added by Samantha in the comments does the same.

Jules van Schaijik

#6, Jan 31, 2012 7:55am

I should add that the increased difficulties of adolescence are not entirely artificial. Many of them really are the natural consequence of an increased awareness of the demands of personhood. A modern teenager feels the need to make his own way in the world, to think his own thoughts and find his own vocation, in a much stronger sense than his counterpart would have felt it a few centuries ago. He is much less willing to just carry on the family business and traditions, to confess the same faith, or to step into the role society intends for him.

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