What do we really need to do to turn the tide of more and more teens becoming addicted, especially to prescription opiates? Consider this: I currently see millions of dollars being spent of Rehab, Counseling, drug courts, and the like. These are all ‘after-the-fact’ repair mechanisms and do not deal with the root cause. In my opinion we do not give our young people the knowledge or life-skills that they need to be able to take care of themselves. We also keep them ‘children’ for way too long.
What do I mean by this? Let me explain. All creatures learn survival skills from their parents and the similar creatures around them. These skills begin at birth and continue until adulthood. Adulthood usually means the time that they can reproduce. This applies to animals as well as humans. In many cultures, viewed by the western world as primitive, children learn all adult skills from very small. They learn the dangers: – fire burns and knives cut – by seeing and eventually doing. By the time they reach puberty, they are ready to be accepted into the adult community. They have a place and a responsibility. They are raised, for the most part, to support their community as well as their mate and children – not just their own children but all the children of the community. They know that the survival of their community depends on teaching the children what they need to know. So the cycle continues.
In our society we have come too far from this natural model. Please bear with me while I explain what I mean. We isolate our children, often from birth, into unnatural groups; childcare, babysitters, early childhood learning, kindergarten, grade school……and on and on. If that were not bad enough, we keep them tied to an isolated group of age mates until they are at least 18 years old. This is at least 5 years beyond puberty and the ability to reproduce. We give them no ‘place’ in our society so they have created a place for themselves – Teenagers!
I hear so much about Troubled Teens, The Problems of the Teen years, Teen Hormones etc . When you think about this, it is pretty ridiculous. We do not talk about Twentyagers as a group nor yet Fortyagers, so why Teenagers? Because they have had to defined themselves to give them the power that we are denying them. By the time people reach the twenties, they are at last perceived as adults and mix freely with people of all ages. Alongside that we have a huge, and I do mean huge industry built on this Teenage culture. Everything from Teen music to teen clothes to the best drugs for teen problems. Ritalin comes to mind here, which has made millions for the pharmaceutical companies. Also we have a self fulfilling prophecy as we expect the ‘teens’ to have problems. This is far from the expectations of the primitive society who expect a young person to be an asset to the whole community.
So what are we, this wonderful western society that we have created, teaching your young people about themselves? We teach them that they are an isolated group. They have no actual purpose in our lives. We do not need them in our communities. They serve no useful purpose until they emerge as a twentyager, where hopefully they can find some productive work. They are constantly reminded that the teen years are hard. That teenagers cause problems. That teenagers ARE a problem and we, the wise ones here, are working on a solution to the problem. Is it any wonder that they turn to drugs and alcohol? I do not think so!
What is the answer? I think our whole society needs a swift re-evaluation of the situation that we have created. Teenager are not a problem to be solved. If they were allowed to be the people they are becoming, the problem would go away – naturally. I homeschooled my daughters and never had a problem with the teen years. Why? Because they were doing adult things in an adult world.
Now I know that homeschooling is not possible or practical for many families so how could we accomplished what I am suggesting? First, the schools need to be totally restructured. In my opinion they need to be structured like a college. From the very first years in a school, the subjects that are needed – reading, math, sciences and living skills need to be divided into courses which the children take in order. Once they achieve proficiency in one course, the go on to the next. This does away with the current group by age and puts each child where they should be, grouped by experience and ability. This should continue until a basic level of proficiency is achieved. By age 12 or so, the young person should have mastered all the basic skills and also living skills. Then they should be directed to use their given gifts to explore what work they will likely be drawn to in the future. Whether it is art or truck engines, nursing or gardening, these skills should be explored with the way they have been done for centuries, by learning from someone already skilled in the craft.