Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rethinking Age Terminology

From Thomas Hine's The Rise & Fall of the American Teenager: "What was new about the idea of the teenager at the time the word first appeared during World War II was the assumption that all young people ... should have essentially the same experience, spent with people exactly their age, in an environment defined by high school and pop culture."

I'll admit I would have thought that the term "teenager" went farther back in our language history than just 60 or 70 years. This revelation got me thinking about good old hidden assumptions, this time in regards to age categories. Hine says elsewhere in the book that "it was primarily labor unions, in order to preserve jobs at the height of the Depression, who pushed for mandatory attendance of high school, thus creating "teenagers" as we know them--along with a presumption of immaturity and an imposed uniformity of experience on those teenagers." (quoted from Delancey Place, 11-09-06)

The last few generations have grown up with this idea of the immaturity of teenagers firmly embedded in their world view. What does it imply that we differ now so dramatically on this subject from several centuries of forebears? Does this new view represent enlightenment or myopia? Does it protect our children, or hamstring them?

Food for thought.

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