Adolescence must be seen as growth phase

The lives of young people have drastically changed. The typical 18-year-old person in the 18th century was responsible for milking cows and feeding chickens. Currently, the aver­age 18-year-old individual spends time taking selfies or drinking coffee to cram for tests.

In fact, former professor at University of Wa­terloo Frank A. Fasick, in his “On the ‘Invention’ of Adolescence,” argues that adolescence ac­tually didn’t exist in the past. He proposes that urbanization and industrialization have changed society such that youngsters now focus on edu­cation and indulge in a new lifestyle with its own behavioral norms and forms of entertainment, thereby giving birth to the invention, or social construction, of adolescence.

I understand why Fasick and other invention­ists believe that adolescence is essentially a social concept characterized by extensive schooling and a new way of living. However, they’re mis­taken. Adolescence is actually better regarded as a real and natural phenomenon involving phys­ical and mental growth that takes place during one’s teenage years. As a science student, I’m ad­amant that the physiological and psychological developments should be considered as the main elements of adolescence, as these changes pre­pare the youth for survival as adults. Adolescents across cultures, religions, socioeconomic status­es, genders, ethnicities and other identity-deter­mining backgrounds have a particular aspect in common: biological changes. We’re all familiar with the pubertal changes during adolescence. Males develop larger testicles and start to create sperm, while females begin menstruation. Both sexes gain pubic, facial and armpit hair, turn tall­er and more muscular, alter their vocal ranges, continue bone growth rapidly and so on.

What some of us may not know are the chang­es we can’t see with the naked eye: the internal developments in the brain. In “Adolescence,” Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University, writes that the brain func­tions via a network made up of cells that commu­nicate through electrical and chemical signals. The part of the network that is responsible for reasoning, abstract thinking and planning is the frontal lobe. Whenever people plan for tomor­row’s agenda or contemplate which presidential candidate is better, they’re using their frontal lobes. Frontal lobes are still developing during adolescence, meaning that teenagers physiologi­cally cannot think in the same way as adults.

Essentially, adolescents are learners. They are learning how to think for themselves and what they should do in practical and social situations, such as how to react when they witness a rob­bery or what to do when they are peer-pressured to engage in underage drinking. They need guid­ance to arrive at a mature decision because their reasoning skills are still expanding. In The New York Times, Lisa Damour’s “Gossip: The Best Gift Your Teenager Can Give You” stresses how important it is for parents to serve as advisors to their children during times of unease and treat them as individuals who are capable of reason­ing to some extent during discussions about seri­ous matters, such as drug consumption. Parents may be possible advisors, but teachers and other more developed adults can be of assistance to adolescents as well. This is why some schools, including my high school, have guidance coun­selors. They are there to help students make ma­ture decisions when they may not be able to do so by themselves.

What is the point of all these adolescent de­velopments? From a biological standpoint, the changes during adolescence render oneself more capable physically and mentally so that they can more effectively compete with others for resources, including shelter and sustenance, in order to survive and possibly reproduce. In ev­eryday terms, it translates to adolescence being a period in which people start gaining fundamen­tal abilities to survive independently as grown adults in the world.

Let’s think about it. Without bodily growth, the next generation would be four-foot 20-year-olds who don’t have enough stamina or strength to ef­fectively build bridges, construct skyscrapers or even be strong enough to carry heavy groceries. Without cognitive developments, the next gen­eration would be five- or six-foot 20-year-olds who can’t efficiently run companies, handle rela­tionship issues, enforce political policies or even do math, the topic that many students hate even though it’s the basis for the current technological era. Without both bodily growth and cognitive developments, the next generation might as well be a sign of the impending doom of humanity.

The physiological and psychological enhance­ments are programmed within DNA, the mate­rial that greatly influences who and how we are physically. Since DNA is passed down from gen­eration to generation, adolescence has existed throughout history. Remember the 18th-century adolescent who was busy milking cows? He, she or they also experienced physical and mental im­provements; they became stronger and smarter. This means that people from all backgrounds can have similar physiological and psychological developments. To an extent, these developments are a universal marker of adolescence.

Indeed, adolescence should be treated as a nat­ural phenomenon, a phase of biological and men­tal growth rather than a social invention. Growth during this phase is pivotal to adolescents’ fu­tures. Because youngsters undergo such crucial changes, people should perceive adolescence as a phase of growth and try to ensure proper de­velopment into mature and rational adults.

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