History invented the stage of "youth" and "adolescence". Can we "uninvent" it?
The current pathway we know as "youth" or "adolescence" is a modern, mostly 19th century invention and as our society becomes ever more knowledge-centric and our life expectancies extend, the pathway into adulthood becomes longer and longer. Can a solution to the challenge emerge from a call to "uninvent" this stage for future generations?
History - or better our many layers of economic, political, social, cultural, linguistic, psychological, and biological contexts - make us who we are. They not only impinge upon our our development but without the content these contexts provide we don't become fully formed humans. And so it is with the life stage we're focusing on in this challenge: Ages 16-24 - adolescence and youth.
This is not to say that there hasn't always existed some point of transition from childhood to adulthood, from being directly dependent to being expected to contribute in some way to whatever society you live in - be it a village, a nation-state, or a nebulous global cosmopolitanism. Scan our our religious and cultural histories and we see rites of passage, mostly coinciding with the pubescent biological transition, though even that
seeming universality has changed with time.
But something important happened. The short pre-Modern history is this. Children were expected to be like adults but in miniature - to work, to contribute to the household, etc. The phrase 'times were different' applies. When the biological transition occurred they became, almost immediately, fully contributing members of society, with the expectations of fulfilling whatever gender, caste or other social role they had before them. But then came modernity and more sophisticated forms of production and the need for new skills and education, which took time to learn. Youth and adolesence then became a time of transition. A time for exploring, trying things out, and, relatedly, exploring your identity, who you are. It's the journey into the forest and then come back and you're an adult who fulfills your responsibilities. It's a kind of Amish
rumspringa for all. The contemporary danger, especially in regions with a "youth bulge" is that these adolescents and youths "lose their way" and are not given the opportunity to insert fully into society.
Implicitly, many of the success stories we've seen posted to date seek to fill the skill, knowledge, and experience needs gaps which accompany the 16-24, the adolescence and youth life stage - in developed and emerging markets. But we also understand these OpenIdeo spaces as areas for questioning and exploring in order to develop, collectively, innovative solutions. And like the rules of Improv Comedy, sometimes the worst thing we can say is "no". For all ideas, run with them and see where they lead - follow just the basic parameters. Miles Davis gave his musicians the most basic instructions and said play, improvise. So what would happen if we were to say ...
How might we univent the stage of youth? What would this imply? What assumptions are we bringing to the table about 16-24 year-olds and how does the "uninvention" of youth help us envision alternative solutions?
Could more responsibilities be given to children - to develop skills or be contributing members of societies (excepting onerous child labor, say some "no's" remain). If
less pressure were placed during a small age-graded window to "transition" would anxieties, and with them frustrations and the search for outlets for these frustrations, diminish? How could this be done? After all, adulthood is already changing on its own as it has become, for many, a series of transitions (e.g., second and third careers, the boom in lifetime learning, etc.) Should we see it as a transtion as well and thus change our conception and associated pressures placed on youth? What would this mean for connecting people at different transitions in their lives - as some posts have recommended? These are mere parameters. Identifying what specific solutions would look like within these parameters is the work of group improvisation.