Thursday, March 05, 2009

Adolescents or Adults?

A recent story from Chicago:
Chicago police said Tuesday that the 14-year-old who posed as an officer drove a patrol car and aided in an arrest, and that seven officers face disciplinary reviews for the "lax" behavior that allowed the teen's escapade to happen.

"They weren't paying attention," Superintendent Jody Weis said at a news conference announcing the completion of the investigation. "They were lax. I'm very upset. This whole incident is very disturbing."

The teenager, an aspiring police officer, allegedly wore a uniform and entered a South Side police station through an unlocked back door around 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 24. He was issued a radio and rode with a patrol officer for more than five hours, at times using the terminal in the squad car and responding to five assignments, Weis said.

Authorities previously said the teen did not drive a squad car, but Weis said Tuesday that the boy — who is too young to drive in Illinois — spent two hours behind the wheel. The boy also helped in the arrest of a suspect who allegedly violated a protection order.

"He brought the arm into the middle of his back so handcuffs could be placed on him," Weis said.

The boy returned to the station at 7:37 p.m., when a supervisor discovered the teen was not wearing a complete uniform and had no weapon, Weis said. The teen was arrested at 7:40 p.m.

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Related video from MSNBC:

I wonder what the typical reaction would be to this story. Most people, I suspect, would think the story humorous, while at the same time a bit troubling that a police department took several hours to realize that it had put an unauthorized teenager on duty.

It puts me, however, in mind of Robert Epstein's book The Case Against Adolescence, discussed earlier here. As Epstein explains in great detail, it is only natural that teenagers should be mature and adult-like, and it is only in modern Western society that we've somehow been taken by the odd belief that people who are biologically adults are nonetheless supposed to be immature for another decade or more. As Epstein says:
Anthropologists have identified more than 100 contemporary societies in which teenage turmoil is completely absent; most of these societies don’t even have terms for adolescence. Even more compelling, long-term anthropological studies initiated at Harvard in the 1980s show that teenage turmoil begins to appear in societies within a few years after those societies adopt Western schooling practices and are exposed to Western media. Finally, a wealth of data shows that when young people are given meaningful responsibility and meaningful contact with adults, they quickly rise to the challenge, and their “inner adult” emerges.

A careful look at these issues yields startling conclusions: The social-emotional turmoil experienced by many young people in the United States is entirely a creation of modern culture. We produce such turmoil by infantilizing our young and isolating them from adults. Modern schooling and restrictions on youth labor are remnants of the Industrial Revolution that are no longer appropriate for today’s world; the exploitative factories are long gone, and we have the ability now to provide mass education on an individual basis.

Teenagers are inherently highly capable young adults; to undo the damage we have done, we need to establish competency-based systems that give these young people opportunities and incentives to join the adult world as rapidly as possible.


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