Chap Clark has dedicated his life to working with young people and had three teenagers of his own when he embarked on the task of understanding this age group. He thought he was well prepared, but one of his sons told him that no adult “gets” teenagers. Centerpiece to a team compiling research on the topic, Clark substituted for several months in a California high school that had a different demographic and performed well academically.
As a part of Part I – The Changing Adolescent World, he reports that while at the turn of the 20th Century people were classified as either children or adults, within 50 years adolescence became an in between stage. Now social scientists talk about early, mid and late adolescents. Throughout Clark’s time with these mid-adolescents, many adults made comments not recognizing the changes that have taken place. Clark’s assumption is that teenagers are indeed different from those of the mid-20th century. Further, he presents that the change from child to adult took about three years in the 1950s and now it takes up to 15 years. Freedoms once saved for late adolescence are now given to mid-adolescents. Dr. Clark’s scope lies chiefly in understanding who these people are, with only some suggestions for resolution.
Chap believes that the defining issue for current adolescents is abandonment. This study has convinced him that there is a far greater chasm between youth and adults than he and most adults have ever realized. David Elkind’s The Hurried Child describes how often parents over book their children, often in age-inappropriate activities. In A Tribe Apart, Patricia Hersch reflects on how the teens of the 90’s were the most secluded and unsupervised to date. As a consequence of this abandonment, they form their own “family” with their peers. Around the age of fifteen recondite thought begins to develop and teens begin to realize that they need to find their identify in the adult world. If they don’t have a strong connection with a parent or other meaningful adult they gravitate toward their peers. Often these bonds are stronger than with their family. Finding a balance in their loyalty is a challenge. instead of trying on different selves, Clark believes that teens function chiefly in this world “beneath.” Chap maintains that teens do not trust adults with their inner most life. Teens, according to Clark, do not believe that adults genuinely care about them.
In part 2 – the scenery of the world beneath Clark explores the following areas of the teen’s life: peers, school, family, sports, sex, busyness and stress, ethics and morality, partying, gaming and social networking, and kids at the margins (any margin – the unprotected and the privileged). In this last section, the author talks about the three aspects of individuation: identity, autonomy and belonging. Identity reflects how we see ourselves; autonomy includes taking responsibility and making wise decisions; belonging reminds us that we are designed to be a part of a group – not secluded. Part 2 takes up half of the book and deserves more space in this review than I can give it. In the section on school, Chap reports that cheating is considered the norm. Also, I do want to say that Clark recognizes the importance of the family in the lives of teens.
Finally in part 3 – Where do we go from here? Clark offers some suggestions. When there was a shift from a “nurturing” focus to an institutional focus, much was lost. So returning to more nurturing is one step. As one teacher concluded – she needed to listen more. Also teens need a stable and obtain presence in addition as authentic, intimate relationships with adults. In the end, Clark offers five strategies to turn the tide of systemic abandonment:
1. aim those who work with youth to understand today’s teens.
2. Those working with youth must work together.
3. Those who work with youth must understand them and provide boundaries.
4. Parents must learn about their teens and need to be promoted in their parenting.
5. Communities must be sure teens have a few meaningful adults recommending for the teens.
Currently, Clark is involved with an organization- http://www.Parenteen.org that is active in working out Clark’s suggestions presented in this and his other books.
As I continue to analyze this topic, I have the following concerns:
1. While Clark’s stated scope of the book is observing the teen today and to begin the conversation of what to do about it, I surprise if more consideration should be placed on the causes to ease the solution.
2. While Clark includes the family and church, in this book, they seem to be relative minor participants in the solutions presented.