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U.S. School System Collaborates in Artificially Extending Childhood for Teens

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Many years have passed since I first compared the socialization that occurs in public schools to the socialization that occurs beyond the school walls. The conclusion was to dub them “artificial socialization” and “natural socialization,” respectively. (Brilliant, eh?)

When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world…they have no idea what’s going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out.

When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world…they have no idea what’s going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out.

And so it was probably a foregone conclusion that my eyes didn’t miss the term “artificial extension of childhood” as it related to a Psychology Today interview of Robert Epstein, author of the 2007 book titled The Case against Adolescence. Indeed, given the artificial socialization of public school, it’s a likely consequence that “30 is the new 20 – and most Americans now believe a person isn’t an adult until age 26.”

Sigh. Where do I begin? Given that the article is around 2500 words in its entirety and written in an interview format, I’ll just share a few of the points of most value to Parents at the Helm.

Take, for instance, this quote: “The whole culture collaborates in artificially extending childhood, primarily through the school system and restrictions on labor. The two systems evolved together in the late 19th-century; the advocates of compulsory-education laws also pushed for child-labor laws, restricting the ways young people could work, in part to protect them from the abuses of the new factories…”

Here’s a tidbit on public schooling’s origin: “Our current education system was created in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and was modeled after the new factories of the industrial revolution. Public schools, set up to supply the factories with a skilled labor force, crammed education into a relatively small number of years. We have tried to pack more and more in while extending schooling up to age 24 or 25, for some segments of the population. In general, such an approach still reflects factory thinking – get your education now and get it efficiently, in classrooms in lockstep fashion. Unfortunately, most people learn in those classrooms to hate education for the rest of their lives.

“The factory system doesn’t work in the modern world, because two years after graduation, whatever you learned is out of date. We need education spread over a lifetime, not jammed into the early years – except for such basics as reading, writing, and perhaps citizenship. Past puberty, education needs to be combined in interesting and creative ways with work. The factory school system no longer makes sense.” (Emphasis added.)

“You may have had a paper route when you were 12, but your children can’t.”

“Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours/week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become. When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world…they have no idea what’s going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out.”

In answer to “the worst part of the way we treat teens,” Epstein replied, “The adversarial relationship between parents and offspring is terrible…they don’t understand why it is happening…they don’t realize they are caught in a machine that’s driving them apart…and it’s unnecessary.”

As part of a list of laws that increasingly limit teens’ rights and ability to take responsibility comes this entry as to how today’s compulsory public schooling all began: 1852 – Massachusetts passes first universal compulsory education law in U.S., requires three months of schooling for all young people ages 8 – 14.

We’ve all heard stories of incredible teens accomplishing remarkable things. As Parents at the Helm, let’s start realizing that these young adults aren’t really the exception to the rule but rather the ones who are encouraged to join the adult world as they mature.

Untold numbers of homeschooled kiddos are spared huge doses of artificial socialization and artificially extended childhoods. As a result, they quite often enter adulthood healthier and happier for having grown according a much more natural flow of coming of age.

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3 Responses to “U.S. School System Collaborates in Artificially Extending Childhood for Teens”

  1. Beverley says:

    This is something I've watched develop throughout my life, and even something I can feel a little guilty about, because who doesn't want to keep their kids young and cute for as long as possible? On the other hand, children need to be willing workers as part of the family economy from an early age – it is an essential aspect of development and builds resilience as well as character.

    Home educators are accused of being over-protective and molly-coddling their children… most of my unschooling friends have productive, active children who offer service to either family or community or both throughout their teens. They are not kept separate from the 'real' world as kids or teens.


    PS hope it was okay to share your link on my Facebook page, Linda 🙂

  2. It's the point of being sequestered in an institution vs. that "real" world experience, and that experience enables them to grow up – no matter how young and cute they may be. Thank you for sharing the link, girlfriend…any time. All my best, Linda

  3. Unfortunately too true: “You may have had a paper route when you were 12, but your children can’t.”

    But teenagers can still start their own business. I launched to encourage teenagers that they can start very small busineses-micro businesses-and learn a lot on a small scale while still young.

    I have some great posts at under True Stories about kids who started micro businesses and learned a lot, especially about responsibility, time management and handling money.

    I'm working on launching the first of three books on the topic of micro business to help teenagers. More to come!

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