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Childhood Enemies

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Childhood Enemies


Undoubtedly, adolescence is one of life'fs most challenging and complex transitions in life. A combination of rapid physical, cognitive, and psychosocial growth represents a period of significant change. These changes bridge the transition from childhood to adulthood. Teenagers today live in a media-saturated society and they deal with a bouquet of formidable issues like sex, drugs, divorce, and gun violence. These conditions can become significant factors in an emerging personality (Doherty, 1997). How do these circumstances influence young people who are searching for the roles and values that will guide them all their lives?

The primary goal of this paper is to reveal the influences of technology and social environments experienced during early to middle adolescence that contribute to shaping adult personality.

Research Section

By the end of the high school years, young people have developed a unique mixture of characteristics that appear to have a profound influence on their adult personality (Doherty, 1997). How these life shaping individual characteristics come about, however, remains a central focus of developmental interest. Certainly, an individual'fs genetic endowment plays a significant role in personality development, but these genetic influences are not 100% determinant of adult personality traits (Doherty, 1997). A combination of rapid physical changes and early exposure to sexual and violent images is shrinking the time between childhood and adolescence.

It is widely accepted that a complex and subtle interplay between the growing adolescent'fs family, community, and social environments and the dispositional characteristics an adolescent brings to these environments, can be consequential to the emerging adult personality (Doherty, 1997). However, it should be noted that developing technologies, such as the Internet and video games are growing in their influence on emerging adult personalities too.

'g Over a very short period of time, there has been a dramatic truncation of childhood,'h says Mary Pipher, 'gThroughout history, this was always a time when children were free of the burdens and responsibilities of sexuality. Parents and society felt responsible to shelter children and provided close supervision and protective love.'h The truncation of childhood can be due in part to the overwhelming influence that mass media has on distorting reality.

While acknowledging the step marking the passage of toddler into adolescence is triggered partially by physical changes, Pipher says two sociological changes, 'gthe rapid entry of mothers of young children into the work place and the large number of broken families have catapulted elementary-schoolaged children out of childhood and into adolescence.'h 'gChild care was once home-based; now children are placed in institutionalized care while still infants,'h she says. When children are deemed old enough, they are often left alone and told to play their video game or watch the television. 'gAlso, many children of single parents are exposed to dating or cohabiting parents. This close view of inappropriate supervision and intimacy erodes childhood'fs innocence.'h (Pipher, 1999).

Even time itself -- or the lack of it -- has proved to be an enemy of childhood, as children return to empty homes and family dinners fall victim to overscheduling. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild points out how, for many people, home and office have changed places. Home has become a frantic exercise in 'gbeat the clock,'h with family members having fifteen minutes to eat before rushing off to a soccer game, and trying to bond in the half hour before bed so they don'ft waste time. To get away from the hustle of family life Hochschild suggests that parents welcome the refuge in the workplace, where they can socialize and relax. She writes, 'gIn this new model of family-and-work life, a tired parent flees a world of unresolved quarrels and unwashed laundry for the reliable orderliness, harmony, and managed cheer of work.'h

But even the most attentive parents cannot slow his or her child'fs physical maturity. Parents, educators and physicians long have observed that girls are reaching puberty earlier than ever. Marcia Herman-Gidden, a physician and associate professor of public health at the University of North Carolina, last year confirmed that girls are reaching puberty as young as the age of eight. In a study of 17,000 girls seen by pediatricians during a fourteen-month period, she reported that white girls started puberty (meaning that they developed breast buds and pubic hair) at an average age of 9 years, 9 months, and black girls at 8 years, 6 months. The reason for the difference between races is unclear, although some scientists have speculated that many black hair products contain estrogen. The on-set of menarche, the time of a girl'fs first menstrual cycle has remained unchanged at 12.5 since the 1950'fs, but better nutrition and health care led to a precipitous five-year drop in the 100 years previous to that (Tanner, 1991).

Over the past thirty years the situation for families has changed powerfully and dramatically. Consider the following information provided by the U.S. Department of Justice:

'' Illegitimate birth rates have increased more than 400 percent.

'' The percentage of families headed by a single parent has more than tripled.

'' The divorce rate has more than doubled. Many project that about half of all new marriages will end in divorce.

'' Teenage suicide has increased almost 300 percent.

'' Scholastic Aptitude Test scores among all students have dropped 73 points.

'' The number one health problem for American women today is domestic violence. Four million women are beaten each year by their partners.

'' One-fourth of all adolescents contract sexually transmitted disease before they graduate (U.S. Department of Justice, 1992)

Since 1940 the top disciplinary problems in public school have changed from chewing gum and running in the halls to teen pregnancy, rape and assault (Berry, 1993).

In the midst of all this, the percentage of families with one parent at home with the children during the day dropped from 66.7 to 16.9 percent (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the ...

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