Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Did the industrial revolution cause children to take on adult roles later and later?

See What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind? by ALISON GOPNIK, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. From last Saturday's WSJ.

In one of my classes this week, we read a chapter about poverty and capitalism from the book The Economics of Macro Issues. One thing it mentioned was:
"In the 25 most capitalist countries around the world, fewer than 1 percent of children under the age of 15 are working rather than in school. In the 25 least capitalist countries, one child of every six under the age of 15 is working rather than in school."

It is certainly good that we don't have children working long hours in factories, never getting an education. But it seems that people are becoming fully responsible adults at older ages now.

It isn't just a social phenomena. It party has to do with biology. Here is part of the article:
"Becoming an adult means leaving the world of your parents and starting to make your way toward the future that you will share with your peers.

The second crucial system in our brains has to do with control; it channels and harnesses all that seething energy. In particular, the prefrontal cortex reaches out to guide other parts of the brain, including the parts that govern motivation and emotion. This is the system that inhibits impulses and guides decision-making, that encourages long-term planning and delays gratification.

This control system depends much more on learning. It becomes increasingly effective throughout childhood and continues to develop during adolescence and adulthood, as we gain more experience. You come to make better decisions by making not-so-good decisions and then correcting them. You get to be a good planner by making plans, implementing them and seeing the results again and again. Expertise comes with experience. As the old joke has it, the answer to the tourist's question "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" is "Practice, practice, practice."

In the distant (and even the not-so-distant) historical past, these systems of motivation and control were largely in sync. In gatherer-hunter and farming societies, childhood education involves formal and informal apprenticeship. Children have lots of chances to practice the skills that they need to accomplish their goals as adults, and so to become expert planners and actors. The cultural psychologist Barbara Rogoff studied this kind of informal education in a Guatemalan Indian society, where she found that apprenticeship allowed even young children to become adept at difficult and dangerous tasks like using a machete.

In the past, to become a good gatherer or hunter, cook or caregiver, you would actually practice gathering, hunting, cooking and taking care of children all through middle childhood and early adolescence—tuning up just the prefrontal wiring you'd need as an adult. But you'd do all that under expert adult supervision and in the protected world of childhood, where the impact of your inevitable failures would be blunted. When the motivational juice of puberty arrived, you'd be ready to go after the real rewards, in the world outside, with new intensity and exuberance, but you'd also have the skill and control to do it effectively and reasonably safely.

At the same time, contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they'll have to perform as grown-ups. Children have increasingly little chance to practice even basic skills like cooking and caregiving. Contemporary adolescents and pre-adolescents often don't do much of anything except go to school. Even the paper route and the baby-sitting job have largely disappeared.

The experience of trying to achieve a real goal in real time in the real world is increasingly delayed, and the growth of the control system depends on just those experiences.

Knowing physics and chemistry is no help with a soufflé. Wide-ranging, flexible and broad learning, the kind we encourage in high-school and college, may actually be in tension with the ability to develop finely-honed, controlled, focused expertise in a particular skill, the kind of learning that once routinely took place in human societies. For most of our history, children have started their internships when they were seven, not 27.

Instead of simply giving adolescents more and more school experiences—those extra hours of after-school classes and homework—we could try to arrange more opportunities for apprenticeship. AmeriCorps, the federal community-service program for youth, is an excellent example, since it provides both challenging real-life experiences and a degree of protection and supervision."


Anonymous said...

It appears so according to this study. It really does seem like children are becoming adults (self sufficient) closer to 30 years old these days.

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I hope you find or did find that article interesting.