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In Limbo - Teen Life

ADOLESCENTS are usually viewed as a menace to society. However, youth cultures are essential to any modern society.

Teenagers in modern societies go through an immensely difficult period of emotional turmoil. They do not want to be seen as children but adults will not accept them as “one of them.”

In pre-industrial or primitive societies, the transition from childhood to adulthood is fairly simple. Distinct rites that signal a person’s transition to adulthood make it easier for the individual to deal with the process of psychosexual development. Aboriginal boys have a tooth wrenched out to pass as an adult. The ability to withstand pain creates an adult. Lose a tooth the hard way and you’re an adult.

Girls are confined to specially constructed huts at the onset of menstruation, where older women tend to them. The appearance of a girl in adult clothes and a tattoo confirms her adult status. How does the youth of today know when he/she is an adult?

Why are the teenagers so frustrated in the so-called modern societies? Teenagers in primitive societies have less to “unlearn” since the pace of change in those societies is slower. Children in primitive societies start working with adults at an early age. One day they are told they are adults, and they automatically assume adult roles.

In industrial societies, there are a variety of values that have to be learnt. The values that stress affection and equality clash with those of competition and individualism at the workplace. These societies develop youth cultures whose purpose is to facilitate the transition from childhood to adulthood. It does this by helping the youth to break away from the family. At home and at school, adults dominate teenagers. It’s only in a peer group that a teenager asserts himself.

The teenagers find emotional support in the youth culture during the difficult transition phase.

Youth cultures developed as a result of rapid social change in society. Take the example of Britain. Industrialization was the greatest change that occurred. It lead to other changes. There was a shift from farms to factories. Life became more stressful and complex. The school leaving age was raised to 16. Children began to spend greater time away from the adult world. Peer groups and youth cultures provide the necessary support during this seclusion. The media has contributed greatly to the emergence of youth cultures. In the 1950s the affluence of the youth influenced the various media organizations and fashion houses to concentrate on the youth market. Our own society seems to be going through the same process. More children are going to school, and there is no shortage of media influences. The values of the old generation no longer appeal to the young.

In the 1960s some middle class youth attempted to produce a counter culture opposed to the technological age in which they lived. It came to be identified with the ‘flower power hippy movement’. Members also experimented with drugs. The culture was based on creativity and it opposed technology.

Youth in Pakistan is probably more confused than youth anywhere else in the world. They have to conform to both family and peer pressure. There is increasing exposure to Western culture through the mass media. The liberal lifestyle appeals to the young but not the parents. As a result they have to adopt two different sets of values. The youngsters conform to their parents’ traditional values at home and are a reflection of their Western counterparts outside the home. Many things that are brushed under the carpet at home are actively engaged in outside the home. So much for our so-called ‘better’ society that instils ‘good values’ in children.

Young people are often hostile towards adults. They may envy the freedom given to adults to do things they are not allowed to do. They question the dual morality of our society. Also, the youths are economically dependent on adults for a longer time.

There is a time for letting the next generation shape the values of society. Our society has stagnated, to some extent. Progress will be a long and tedious process. There is too much stress on conformity, to the extent of stifling individuality. It’s time our society came to be associated with a more open minded generation that retains the essence of its basic, traditional values.