How Are Teens Supposed to Transition to Adulthood?

Hi there! I haven’t been posting here at the Hippodilly Circus lately, I know, but I have been thinking, which is always dangerous. Recently, I’ve experienced something of a eureka moment, and has given me a focus for writing here, which I plan to do much more often.

In my work as a teacher and now librarian as well as my life as a parent of 20, 16, and 14 year old kids, I have been thinking more and more about the “culture of teenagers” and how Americans think about and treat teens. Most American adults think little of or about teenagers. One search on google of “Teens” returns results about drugs, pregnancy, crime, and prison. Teens in groups are nearly always seen as threatening and to be avoided. Teen’s interests: music, books, films, and activities are dismissed as frivolous and childish.

I believe that this systemic judgment of people just because they are too old to be considered children and too young to be considered adults is patently unfair and has real and damaging consequences for everyone.

This is the “big idea” that I want to address here on this blog. Having a kind of essential question I believe will focus my writing and research and help me process the frustration I feel about how teenagers are treated.


Here are some of my thoughts.


-There is no transition for teenagers in this country – formal or otherwise. Teens go from having no choices – in their classes, the way they spend their time, etc. no real autonomy, to having full responsibility for everything when they leave high school for work or college. If they do have any freedom as teens, in their time and where they go, there’s nothing for them to do. There are no “places” for teenagers. The “adult world” wants nothing to do with them and doesn’t even want to see them anywhere. With nowhere to be and not much to do, many teenagers get into trouble or break rules/laws to entertain themselves. Barring that, they isolate themselves from the adult world and relate and spend time only with other teenagers. Some turn even more inward and mental health, relationships, and their self esteem plummet.


Then, many teens are punished and judged for not having the skills and temperament to navigate and be successful in the adult world.


As far as I can tell, nobody really thinks about teenagers, except as consumers and test takers to be managed. Yes, that may be a severe way to put it, but I really think it’s true.. There is a great deal of research, time and money spent on education – i.e. content knowledge shoved into them and “managing their behavior” i.e. alternative schools, discipline, and forcible conformity. There really seems to be no effort or interest in the structures that teens have to operate within and how those structures are set up for their failure.


I mean, high school has nothing to do with life. There are no programs to guide students into managing their lives and themselves, just a list of rules and batteries of tests. Then, after graduation, there’s nothing – no outside support, no assistance with managing and navigating the world. In a society where most parents and guardians work and no adult is home full time, eighteen year olds are just expected to move out and have their worlds organized without much support and without transition time.


I also wonder if other countries or cultures have processes for transitioning their young people through adolescence. I’d love to find out.


I don’t know where this idea or interest would take me. It could be a book, a thesis, or a presentation. I don’t have any solutions, but I think that it’s important. There are likely a million different factors that have contributed to our view and treatment of teens, and I am interested in finding out about them. There are also people who fight for and with teens, and I want to find them and learn what’s working.


It’s a lot, but it gives me a focus. I can start researching and finding out what’s going on “out there” and advocating. I think it’s the rabbit hole I belong in for a while.


I would really like your input. Let me know what you think. Let me know of programs, ideas, or people who are working in this


3 thoughts on “How Are Teens Supposed to Transition to Adulthood?

  1. This is a very interesting topic. I agree that this society is almost designed to stifle a child’s forward momentum until they magically become adults. I think that parents don’t really realize everything that teens need to master in order to go from child to adult. A quick list:
    *time management *money skills *prioritizing needs against wants *work ethic & what makes a “good” employee *cleaning house (literally) *meal planning/grocery shopping
    The trick, in my opinion, is that these things are mostly “life skills” and can’t be taught simply between the ages of 13-18. I think some of the “issue” with teens starts at home because we as parents don’t see our kids as people until it is too late. We manage them, teach them what to do in whatever situation they are in at the moment, or whatever will make us look good as parents. I believe that if we change the focus of parenting to from getting through today to succeeding as adults, some of the troubles will take care of themselves. Parents need to have the adults they are raising in mind from day one, which is quite difficult to do.
    That said, society really doesn’t have anything to offer teens as far as affordable recreation goes. I have nothing on that one.


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