By Dr R. Balashankar
Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Christian Smith, Oxford University Press, Pp 284(HB), $27.95.
Finally, at least in some quarters, mild noises are being made about the way American children are brought up. Distanced from parents from childhood, yielding to peer pressure, mimicking virtual and imagined idols, the adolescents in America emerge into adulthood confused, disjointed and chaotic.
A group of scholars led by sociologist Christian Smith, have done a study on the adolescent Americans, which transformed into the book Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. The book draws on 230 in-depth interviews to find out the difficulties today’s youth face, the reasons behind it and most importantly the consequences of it for the individuals and the society. “The conclusion is that—notwithstanding all that is genuinely good in emerging adulthood—emerging adult life in the United States today is beset with real problems, in some cases troubling and even heartbreaking problems”, says Smith.
Smith and his collaborators Kari Christofferson, Hilary Davidson and Patricia Snell Herzog, squarely blame the social situation pointing out that “most of the problems in the lives of youth have their origins in the large adult world into which the youth are being socialised. It might be the problem of the adults in their immediate lives…”
More specifically, Smith talks of five major issues that is affecting the emerging adulthood in America today —rampant consumer capitalism, the mess and failure of the education system, hyper-individualism, morality adrift and disengagement with the society. For the youth, life was all about “get a good job, become financially secure, have a nice family, buy what you want, enjoy a few finer things of life, avoid troubles of the world, retire with ease. That’s it.Nothing much bigger, higher, more meaningful, more transcendent, more shared, more difficult.”
The studies used by Smith and his collaborators point out how the celebrated American individualism is captive to “mass consumer capitalism.” “Stripped down to a mere autonomous individuality, people stand naked before the onslaught of commercial media, all-pervasive advertising, shopping malls, big-box stores, credit-card buying, and the dominant narrative of materially defined version of the good life.”
The teenagers live, play, study and interact almost exclusively with their age group. As a result they are deprived of the wisdom, experience and counselling by the elder relatives. The interaction with teachers ends within the walls of the class. This is like putting together novices together in a tennis court and expecting them to come up with advanced skills, says Smith. The adults need to interact and engage with the emerging youth in a positive way, he adds.
The book is totally America-centric. But it has lessons for all those trying to ape the American culture. Christian Smith is the William R Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. While the sample number may be small, the interviews give a clue to the minds of the youth. More than the sociologists, the teachers, policy makers and parents need to respond to the wake-up call given by Smith and his collaborators.
(Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP)