MGT301A Ethics and Sustainability

MGT301A Ethics and Sustainability
Adolescence is obsolete TRALEE PEARCE Adapted from Saturday’s Globe and Mail Published Friday, Aug. 24, 2007 11:56PM EDT American psychologist Robert Epstein argues that not only should young people have the same rights as adults – from voting and signing contracts to smoking and drinking – but that the designation of teenager should be abolished entirely. Dr. Epstein’s book – The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen – challenges the trend to postpone the rights and obligations of adulthood. He suggests that we have lost track of what it means to be an adult – and underestimate just what it takes to become one. He concedes that teens appear to need reining in – more money is spent on psychoactive drugs for young people in the U.S. than all other prescription medicines combined. But these troubled teens are Frankensteins of our own making, he insists. There is a correlation between the many regulations and restrictions that adolescents face (surveys show they are subjected to twice as many limitations as incarcerated prisoners in the United States) and problem behaviour. And the more we keep teens from adult activities, the more we keep them from interaction with other adults – inadvertently sealing them in a peer-dominated MySpace bubble, a constant feedback loop with other teenagers. “We’ve trapped all of our young people in this idiotic world of teen culture,” he says. “All their models are imbeciles – you don’t have to look far to find exemplars that support the belief that teens are incompetent and irresponsible. But none of this tells you what teen competence is. It goes beyond what you see. It’s about what’s possible.” Dr. Epstein and his colleague developed a test to measure 14 skill sets that distinguish adults from non-adults – the differences between teen and adult scores were negligible. “There’s nothing magical that happens at 16 or 81,” he says. “If you’re not skilful in at least most of these areas, people either behind your back or to your face are going to say you’re immature. Which, it turns out, many adults are.” “In the early or mid-teens, we are either at our peak or very close to our peak.” THE BIRTH OF THE TEEN A distinct stage between childhood and adulthood was born in the late 1800s when industrialization was replacing the frontier. “Labour laws and education laws were put into place by all kinds of different people,” he says. “None of them had the best interests of teenagers in mind.” In 1904 ,G. Stanley Hall suggested that the teen years were a time of natural turmoil – adolescence was the midpoint between a “savage” and “tribal” past and a civilized future. Dr. Epstein points to studies of the “teen brain” that try to prove there is a biological basis to adolescent turmoil and laziness – research he calls a “scientific fraud.” The assertions that teens are irresponsible and incompetent because they have a defective brain or an undeveloped brain – is wrong, he says. Some of these studies may find correlations between age and laziness, but do not necessarily show cause and effect. “The teen brain is, at best, a reflection of teen problems, not their cause.” Recent studies suggest that the teen brain is very different specifically in the pre-frontal cortex, which is in charge of such things as planning and impulse control. “It would be a mistake to give teenagers more rights and responsibilities. “The brain continues to mature into the 20s.” THE AGELESS SOCIETY How do we assess a young person’s maturity before they take up risky adult activities? All we have to do, Dr. Epstein says, is set up a system of competency tests. Just as driving tests are administered today, tests to vote, marry and give sexual consent could be developed by experts and administered by governments. Some tests would be fairly basic. “We’d like lots of people to vote,” he says. Others would set the bar much higher. “We don’t want people to be able to take drugs or make medical decisions unless they really know what they’re doing.” Dr. Epstein says society already requires licences and permits not only as safety measures but as incentives for those who desire certain rights and responsibilities. And when should testing start? Dr. Epstein says puberty may be a realistic minimum age to take any competency test, but he is reluctant to set a firm limit of any kind. “If you’re 8 and you happen to be the Dalai Lama and you pass the test, then we should admit you to adult society. He was negotiating on behalf of Tibet at 15.” Dr. Epstein insists that such tests would be works in progress. And that unlike IQ, these tests would not measure fixed qualities but fluid skills and knowledge. Someone can learn that love and sex are not the same thing; someone can learn that drinking alcohol and taking drugs at the same time is extremely risky. “Traits are unchangeable,” he says, “but competencies are trainable.” So, let’s imagine for a moment what happens when scores of competent young people actually pass tests allowing them to vote, drink, own property and work at meaningful jobs instead of attending high school (which Dr. Epstein characterizes as more like a prison than a place of true learning). It would be what Dr. Epstein calls an ageless society. “In some ways, it will look like society used to look,” he says. “There was a time when it was very common for a 12-year-old to go into a bar. If the 12-year-old behaved irresponsibly, the 12-year-old would be treated harshly – just like a 30-year-old.” We might end up with a return to an apprenticeship system, albeit more high-tech than earlier versions. Other young people might start their own businesses. And for those who want to keep studying, home-schooling and personalized training could become mainstream options. In some ways, the impact of a more integrated society would be less jarring than we might fear. The computer age, for example, means that 16-year-olds would not necessarily have to share water-cooler time with 40-year-olds in an ageless workplace. “The computer creates a certain anonymity. You can work with someone and not know they’re 13. Age is less visible, with complex interactions often occurring at a distance.” And benefits, Dr. Epstein says, outweigh such costs. Not only are teens winners, but so are families, since an ageless society would end “the adversarial relationship that exists with parents and young offspring” – they might even contribute financially to the household. The economy would also get a boost from an influx of new talent, not dissimilar to a wave of eager new immigrants. “We’re bringing extremely energetic people into the economy. Tens of millions of extremely bright, energetic young people who learn quickly who have been excluded from the economy for a century. Would some people lose their jobs? Yes. But the economy would thrive.” In the same way that forcing a 60-year-old to retire before he or she is ready robs society of a valuable resource, Dr. Epstein says, preventing a teen from starting an adult life when he or she is ready is ultimately a loss to people of all ages. “We benefit by throwing away age or any other arbitrary characteristic such as gender or race and instead at least move in the direction of looking at competency. I don’t see how we could possibly lose out by that.” Tralee Pearce is a reporter with Globe Life. Reflection Question: We have learnt that becoming an adult involves the interaction of the following areas: chronological, physical, social and psychological clocks. Today many of our institutions use chronology as the determining factor in declaring someone an adult. Tralee Pearce argues we should judge one’s readiness for adult responsibilities and privileges based on one’s psychological state. Do you agree or disagree with this argument? Explain your opinion using evidence from the article and from your class notes. Assessment: C3.3 assess government policy and legislation that is intended to support and protect families D1.2 assess the impact of current social trends, issues, and challenges on individual development
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