I'm Smarter than You
It's true, your teenager is smarter than you. I know this is a hard one to swallow, but the facts and research don't lie. Taken from Dr. Epstein's massive volume The Case against Adolescence, modern research and medicine "shows unequivocally that the cognitive abilities of teens are, on average, superior to the cognitive abilities of adults. Reasoning ability peaks in the early or mid teens, for example, and so does intelligence."
The argument that teens are cognitively more capable than we give them credit is just one of the handful of arguments Dr. Epstein presents in the second half of his book to encourage adults to stop infantilizing them. After presenting the idea that adolescence is an invention of modernization brought on by the industrial revolution, compulsory schooling, and a few other factors, Dr. Epstien then shifts his focus in the latter half of the book. How do we as adults encourage our teenagers to stop acting like teenagers and assist them in the very thing that they are longing to become: free, fully independent, functioning adults? We have far too many 20-somethings wrestling with adulthood because they spent an entire decade playing video games and acting like children with no real responsibilities. And all the while, the adults in their lives just sat back and never challenged them to rise to their potential.
So Why Don't They Act Like It
But, if brain functioning and intelligence levels supposedly reach their peak during the teenage years, they why do teens seem so obtuse (to put it nicely)? Well, there are a few factors that Dr. Epstein attributes to this conundrum.
- First, modern teens are very isolated from adults and are given very few meaningful responsibilities. Think about it. Compulsory schooling corrals thousands of teenagers together for hours and hours, day after day. Sure there are adults present to teach and train, but students spend most of their time socializing with other students. Is this the best way to give them the intellectual nourishment and responsibility they require?
- Second, research shows that teens often use and abuse drugs and alcohol. It's been proven that drug and alcohol abuse can impair cognitive functioning and abilities. It's very possible that the intellectual potential teens posses is diminished by drugs and alcohol.
- Lastly, Dr. Epstein argues that teens are highly influenced by their peers and tend to imitate each other, not adults. In other words, they act like teenagers because they are teenagers. It sounds redundant, but here is what I mean. Teens imitate those whom they spend the most time with. It's like a virus that spreads throughout their culture. The more time they spend with each other, the more they act like each other. I'm sure you've noticed it. Watch a group of teens at the mall, and they act like teenagers. Pull one of them out of that same group and sit down for lunch and he or she can easily switch gears and carry on a very intelligent, meaningful, adult conversation. Don't hear me wrong; I'm not saying to isolate your teen from all other teens. What I am saying is surround your teen with responsible, God-fearing adults that you hope to see them become one day. If your teen is interested in architecture, ask around within your church family and find an architect who is passionate about his profession and the Lord. Inquire him or her to take your teen out to lunch or show him around the office. The impact will be incalculable.
An Easy Place To Start
The left lane of adolescent development and maturity is responsibility. So, if the defining characteristic of an adult is the ability to handle more and more responsibilities well, then how important is it that we give our maturing teenagers plenty of chances to test their wings? Instead of allowing them to play eight straight hours of Call of Duty, give them assignments, chores, a job if you can find one. If the task is meaningful and the outcome is tangible, teenagers will more often than not, rise to the occasion and surprise us. The only way to find out is to give them a chance.
Praying for your intelligent teenager