*Sorry, I did it again. Put post up and forgot to push the “publish” button. I swear…*
An article came out recently saying that the brains of 25 year olds today resemble those of 15 year olds in the past.
(I’d link it, but, as usual, can’t now find the article. If one of you puts it in the comments, I’ll link it.) (Thanks to Alert Reader RES for the link!) To some extent this sounds like a good thing. Note the “to some extent.”
I grew up in a society where it was clear that there were different rates of maturation for those who started working at ten and those who went to school to their early twenties.
When I was little, ten was the most usual age to get a job in the village. Yes, the law was that kids had to stay in school later. Portugal was, if not the first, among the very first countries to pass anti-child-labor laws. But there were loopholes – there always are when a well-intentioned law is out of step with the economic reality of the country – and so people got certificates saying their kids were educable mentally retarded – despite often flying grades from elementary which ended in fourth grade – and got them jobs in the textile factories or apprenticed them with various craftsmen. Later there must have been a crack down on these certificates, so every middle class family acquired a maid of ten or twelve years old, who was according to parents “Sent to live with relatives” – well, I suppose that was right, right? After all go back far enough we’re all relatives.
This is btw a prime example of how both well intentioned, completely unrealistic laws help nothing, and how crackdowns make things worse. In the factories the kids were treated well, because there were inspections and labor laws to follow. Once the factories were forced to stop hiring kids – but a family still couldn’t support itself from just a salary or even two — those little girls were all but slaves, because they had no recourse to any legal authority, their wages such as they were were mailed to their parents, and their conditions depended entirely on the benevolence of their employer. It made me faintly queasy. (Made mom faintly queasy too. Her reaction was “I can’t ‘hire’ one of those girls, because what would happen was I’d adopt her and do the work for both of us, and pay her parents to boot. She also thought less of – and lost – a few friends who ‘hired’ these kids.)
Anyway, it was very easy to see – and I mean physically – the difference between those kids and we, pampered children of the middle class. They looked older. And I don’t mean older in the sense of aging. There is some of that, but mostly I see that in paintings of the nineteenth century or so, where little kids have these aged, on the verge of lined faces, and I’ve always wondered if that was vitamin deficiency. The kids I grew up with weren’t like that, but two years after I’d left elementary (ten, fourth grade was the end of elementary and fifth and sixth grade were middle school) and was ready to enter high school, these kids whom I’d played with and who had looked pretty much like me back then looked… grown up. Yes, they were usually smaller than I – at 5’5” at 12 and weighing in at 120 lbs, for my generation in Portugal I was what is known as a moose – and often less developed, but they stood with more confidence, they could do things I couldn’t (like navigate opening a bank account or a savings account.) They were adults despite the lack of full adult growth.
But even that changes. We just bought the entire Columbo series and we’re going through the second season – listen, I DO have a sinus infection, which, btw, is annoying because it’s something no one dies of, but my mind becomes total mush – and I swear the women who are considered “young and sexy” look my age now (though thinner, I’ll grant you.) I.e. to the modern eye they read “forty to fifty.” How much of this is improved health care and vitamins and all that, making us look younger? I don’t know. But I do know that twenty something year olds now look like we did in our teens (only usually pudgier, but that’s a talk for another time).
And that makes me wonder. People are maturing later physically and emotionally. I remember watching Friends and thinking that might have been stuff my friends and I did in our early twenties, (not really. Well, some of my friends, but in general we weren’t that sex-involved. OTOH the stupid pranks and such? Totally.) but these people were turning thirty and were still not established in life; still had no direction. I’m afraid that’s slipped further still, due to a combination of many things, including the horrible economy. I now sometimes see “a bunch of kids in coffeeshop” then realize some of them have white hair coming on and are probably early thirties. But their faces still look like kids’ faces, their movements and everything still says juvenile.
I wonder how much of this is the brain regulating the body. We do know that in the history of the species we’ve been moving to extend our childhood and that to an extent this has helped us because we had more time to learn. This particular brand of naked apes, after all, hasn’t conquered the world through our special speed or whatever, but through our learning and brain. We have been extending childhood so we can cram more and more learning before we hit our adult years.
There are only two problems: we haven’t really pushed off senescence much. We mitigate it, sure – through stuff like better nutrition and MUCH better medicine, but that doesn’t really push off getting old. We’re still hitting the beginning of old age – white hairs, decreased energy – at around thirty five, just like our ancestors were. We’re healthier, so it’s showing less, but it’s still there.
And this applies to having children too. By the time today’s children hit “grown up” they likely are no longer able to have children.
All of which might or might not mean much of anything, but what worries me is the idea that our kids – all our kids – are now behaving like the kids of very wealthy people in the past. They never mature, they live at an infantile level forever, and they waste their lives in the pursuit of “juvenile” stuff.
More, I’m worried that at some level we’re creating the exact same type of personality as the royal prince whose parents lived too long and prevented him from taking adult responsibilities for far too long. I’m afraid we’ve entered the territory of “we’re making their lives so easy, why do they hate us?” (Which could also very easily apply to home-grown terrorists.)
What precipitated it was this prank that some cute comedian came up with. You were supposed to text your parents with “I got two grams for $40” and then “Sorry, wrong person” and sit back and watch the results.
Yes, I know there’s a whole genre of “fake texts” and that some of these might or might not have been doctored. OTOH the whole thing, both the prank and the responses rings true to what would happen in most of our social circle. And it baffles me.
Our kids know we’re giving all aid and support we can, PROVIDED that they keep their noses clean and bring home nothing worse than Bs. (This is only necessary because younger son messes up tests on a routine basis, and “does not test well” has always been his issue. Even he has mostly As.)
If one or both of the kids had sent us that text, they’d find themselves on the front porch with the clothes on their backs, as we waved goodbye. Yes, even knowing that it was a prank. Perhaps particularly knowing that it was a prank.
The idea of kids who are, probably, mostly, legal adults, who think it is fun to play on their parents by pretending to be drug buyers/dealers (considering all the legal penalties that attain to both kid and parent if the drug is in the house, up to and including forfeiture of the property) have proven that at some very deep seated level, they resent the parents who are looking after them.
I don’t even know what to say other than that, other than “when you artificially prolong childhood in homo sapiens, till it starts blending with senescence, it seems to create a backlash. Perhaps Heinlein’s thing about there being however many words for “Thank you” in Japanese and all of them involving some level of resentment should be invoked. Or perhaps the thing about never ruining your children’s lives by making them too easy.
Yes, as a parent, of course I want to ease everything for them. On the other hand… How much is adversity or at least struggle needed to form the adult brain? And what happens when people never encounter any growing up? (Addition thanks to alert reader Bearcat. [someone has to be alert. This is my brain on sinus infection.])