rebelling against low expectations

Adolescence is a Modern Plague


(Matt Walsh Blog) — Child psychologists have “discovered” that adolescence actually ends not at 18, but at 25. Once again psychologists have waved their wands and magically created a larger customer base. But maybe I’m being cynical, maybe adolescence really does end at 25. Or is it 18? Or is it 40? 35? 50? 12? 2? 93? I think the answer is yes. And no.

Let me explain.

Back in the old days, there were two types of people in the world: children and adults. You were a child and then you became an adult, and you really had no choice in the matter. The timeline of events went something like this:

Phase 1: Birth, childhood.
Phase 2: Adulthood.
Phase 3: Death.

Of course, this is just a general outline; Phase 3 could rudely interrupt Phase 1 or 2 at any time.

Still, the transition from “child” to “adult” happened early and inevitably.

Just look at some of the religious initiation rites that are still practiced by Christians, Jews and other faith groups.

In Catholicism, the sacrament of Confirmation is usually administered between the ages of 12 and 15. Once Confirmed, you are officially a full-fledged adult member of the Church.

In Judaism, 12 and 13 year olds celebrate their Bat or Bar Mitzvah; a coming of age ritual where they pass from child to accountable adult. The newly minted Jewish young adult is then given enormous sums of money from his family members, while his gentile friend looks on with envy, remembering the plastic rosary and pocket prayer book he got for his Confirmation.

Virtually every culture has its own child-into-adult initiation, and almost all of them happen significantly before the 18th birthday.

In the Amazon’s Satere Mawe tribe, 12 year old boys have to don ceremonial gloves filled with bullet ants. This is pretty unique, although I’ve seen it done at a few Sweet 16′s.

Some tribes in Papua New Guinea practice “bloodletting,” which is about as fun as it sounds. Young males, in order to become men, must expel the “female blood” from their bodies by shoving sharp objects up their nostrils and down their throats, right before stabbing their tongues with arrows.

Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure they sterilize everything ahead of time.

We might feel fortunate that we played Pin the Tail on the Donkey during our childhood birthday parties, rather than the slightly less pleasant Stab Myself in the Mouth, but all of these customs, barbaric or not, stem from something quite rational: the need for young people to become adults at some point before the emergence of their first gray hair.

In that sense, even the Mawes, with their gloves full of stinging bullet ants, have a leg up on us.

In modern Western society, we’ve delayed the onset of adulthood, instead inventing a new sort of human: the “teenager.” The teenager exists in this limbo which we’ve created; we call it “adolescence.” Adolescence is a state-of-the-art modern innovation, like crack-cocaine or chemical warfare.

Take a time machine back to the early 19th century, or any century prior, and you won’t see it or hear of it.

The contemporary Western adolescent would be looked at like an alien species by anyone who lived in any era prior to the late 1800′s. He is a strange and mysterious creature; he doesn’t possess the innocence or natural helplessness of the child, but he isn’t expected to assume any of the responsibilities and challenges of the adult.

The adolescent can live a life that, in times past, only the children of Emperors and Pharaohs might have enjoyed.

He can spend entire months — generally from June to August — aggressively engaged in doing absolutely nothing.

We even had to come up with new terms to describe the primary function of the adolescent: “Hanging out,” or “chillin’.”

Our ancestors — who would have considered “hangin’” to be a punitive measure for convicted murderers — took the strength and energy of youth and used it to make strong and energetic young adults.

We, on the other hand, suddenly decided that a 16 year old is really nothing more than an enormous child, incapable of being helpful and useful.

Rather, not expected or required to utilize their energetic nature in a valuable way, adolescents end up developing their own hobbies, such as vandalism and binge drinking.

Although physically capable of contributing to his household and his community, the adolescent is permitted, by many parents, to sit back and have all of his needs and desires met.

He can be an ungrateful, resource-sucking leech, and his behavior and attitude will be shrugged off as a “natural” phase.

But of course there isn’t anything natural about it. And, for many, it isn’t a phase.

The damage done during this strange period of developmental regression can be permanent.

While poor and middle class mothers and fathers struggle to make ends meet, we legally prohibit their teenagers from working and helping the family financially until they reach the frivolous threshold of 16.

We’re told child labor laws are meant to protect 1st graders from being enslaved by sweatshop owners, but they also “protect” high schoolers from pushing a mop at a grocery store for a few hours a week.

I started working when I was 13 — mowing lawns at a competitive price — little did I know that I was the victim of oppressive “child labor.”

If I had realized, I might have told my parents, and they likely would have responded by saying something like: “yeah, and why shouldn’t a child do some labor?”

We won’t even trust a grown man with a beer until he turns 21. By that age, our great-grandparents were married with kids and a few acres of property. Now, at 21, most people still depend on daddy’s financial charity, but at least they can lawfully own a 30 pack of Natural Lite.

Our new timeline looks something like this:

Phase 1: Birth, childhood.
Phase 2: Extended childhood.
Phase 3: Teenage adolescence.
Phase 4: Early twenties adolescence.
Phase 5: Late twenties adolescence.
Phase 6: Adult adolescence.
Phase 7: Adulthood.
Phase 8: Adolescence again, adulthood didn’t work out.
Phase 9: Death.

You’ll notice that death generally still comes without a warm up period, which is another solid reason to consider trimming a few of those steps, in favor of getting on with an actual life of your own while you still have that option.

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Photo courtesy of nedsolo and Flickr Creative Commons.

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About the author

Matt Walsh

is a blogger, speaker, and professional sayer of truths. He wrote this article for his website ( and is not affiliated with The Rebelution. Matt was once an adolescence and suffered from a pretty bad case of it. He recovered thanks to the intervention of his parents.


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  • What a very intriguing yet amusingly written article. He’s right, our grandparents would have gawked at the idea of adolescence. I started doing small jobs when I could walk. My mom’s rule is “if you can toddle you can tote.” I have not regretted this experience at all. Thank you mom and dad!


    James W.

  • Wow this a both serious and funny article, still at the same time giving out the truth.

    I agree with this, modern young adults think their teens years as a time to goof off. I myself was Bar – Mitvah’d (because I am half Jewish) At the event I overcame some of my fear on public speaking (speech and debate will probably get rid of it entirely). Shortly after that I new I DIDN”T want to waste my teen years “chillin out.”

    After feeling that way I reached for a book on my book shelf. It was Do Hard Things and oh my did I know where I was going after that.

    I agree with this entirely. 🙂

  • It is true that the “teenager” didn’t exist a few hundred years ago. People were considered adults at a much younger age. However, you also have to realize that people did not live nearly as long either. You were an adult well before the age of 20 because, well, you would die by the age of 30. Now, with modern medicine, people’s life expectancy has increased a lot. As a result, we see people postponing certain aspects of their life. For example, we get married later, have kids later, and are a “child” longer. Is this a bad thing? No, in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with it. What is wrong is to look in the past and assume that because people were considerd adults at age 12 that they were somehow “right”; as if people in the past some how had things figured out simply because they lived in the past. Arguing that 2’000 year old philosophy of life is “right” simply because it is old is a bad argument.

    • So you think that the teen years are a time to do whatever? Really? What value is there in wasting some of the most important years of your life goofing off and doing stuff that wastes your time.

      Just because we may live longer now a days doesn’t mean we should prolong our life! It should be for the better that we live longer. The longer we live the more time we have to do something worthy with our life!

      • I don’t think the teen years should be wasted, just as I don’t believe any time in life should be wasted. Life is precious and we should value and respect it. However, if someone likes to just hang out with friends all day and watch TV or go to the beach, that is just fine. They are enjoying life and enjoying their youth, that is a good thing. It would be very disrespectful and rude of me to say they are wasting their life. Life is more than just having a job and “changing the world”, a big part of life is spent simply enjoying it. Teens understand that and I wouldn’t say that enjoying life is a waste at all. Probably the only way I would say someone wasted their life is if they did more harm in the world then good.

  • Wow, this is so true. I’m only 14, but i couldn’t agree more… This text made me think a lot. I mean, why are we (supposed to be) only capable of sending text messages, eating, surfing on the internet and “hanging out”? That makes me sad, but it’s the actual image of the adolescent nowadays. And to make the situation worse, lots of us don’t even realize it and just obey that stereotype. They become what everyone expects them to be.. Ugh.

    • Yes! So don’t live by the world expectations!

      Show the world what you are made out of! Surprise them with the hard things we can do but most don’t. Trust in God and Do Hard Things for His glory!

  • This is really good. I’m almost out of my teenage years and I keep feeling like I’ve wasted them. I mean all I really did was my school and normal everyday duties. Just slugging through, enjoying life, but what did I DO? I want to DO something. Any suggestions…what hard things do you guys do??

      • Could you explain what a feature length stop motion is? Sorry. 🙂
        Right now I’m so busy with school and I’m the 2nd oldest of 7 kids. But when I look back of my previous teenage years, it’s just like, how many hundreds of hours did I waste? or how much stuff could I’ve done for people that I didn’t, because I was so busy with life? I almost wish I wasn’t this old. To answer your question, I’m interested in journalism (that journalist that just rocks people’s world and convinces people of the right worldview) or working with special ed. kids. We’ll see. I’m beginning to think maybe my family needs me too much. I know I’ll be happy either way, I just have to start doing something to help people, you know?

        • Sorry Kristen my comment didn’t get through for some reason.

          Stop motion is a type of film where you take multiple shots and piece them together.

          As for what you do. Journalism is great! If you have any great subjects to write about I would try writing some articles and posting them somewhere.

          If you want a better direction on this I would suggest you read this book –

          • Hey that’s a great idea! I didn’t even think of trying to post my articles yet. That book’s been sitting on my shelf for a while, I oughta give it a shot! Thanks!

        • I love writing too! I tried journalism once, but I was only like 9, so… let’s just say it didn’t work out so well.
          I agree with Liam; it would be a great idea to make a website/blog or just post them on social outlets (such as Facebook, Twitter, +Google, etc.)
          Sorry, I’m reading this comment for the first time and I didn’t realize it was posted 4 months ago, lol. 🙂

  • This is so right. And sad. Teenagers tend to be lazy and useless, because that’s all people expect of them. They act like children but want to be treated like adults. And I think adults are actually the instigators, because teenagers may do nothing but fulfill the expectations, but it’s the adults who have the expectations to begin with. I think adults should be held just as accountable as their “adolescent” sons and daughters when it comes to this.

  • I find this article to be somewhat problematic. Adolescence is a genuine thing; it’s when our minds and bodies are developing at a rapid pace. I can honestly say my thought process is a lot more developed and fluid at 18 then it was at 16. The change wasn’t just from experience either; it’s also biology. Yes, hundreds of years ago, there was no such thing as teenager, but there was also very little knowledge about the mind at all. I read the book “Do Hard Things”, and I have to say, while I liked the general point of the novel, that teenagers should be active and work for change (which I ENTIRELY agree with), I didn’t like how they seemed to glorify child soldiers (the part about Washington and how he was basically a soldier by the time he was 12). That’s not admirable; that’s sad. Again, I agree that teenagers should be active (sidenote: the majority of teenagers actually DO work, at least in the States, as well as clubs, sports, extracurricular activities, and go to college), and I won’t deny that their is profit gained from having a teenage audience. Furthermore, I agree that people will generally rise to meet low expectations. However, don’t pretend that adolescence is just a “modern invention”.

    • Hey Maggie, thanks for sharing your concerns. Here are a few thoughts:

      1) Matt Walsh, the author of this article, tends to put things strongly — which some people love and some people hate. We included this excerpt on our site because it mirrors some arguments we make in “Do Hard Things” (except we are a bit more reserved while doing so).

      2) There’s no question that the brain and body are undergoing rapid changes during adolescence. But the modern concept of adolescence is not based on these biological changes, but on theories of psychology from the early 1900s that are already considered outdated by experts in those fields. Today, advances in brain science and psychology actually confirm that young people are especially designed to take risks (i.e. do hard things). Alison Gopnik, a psychologist and philosopher from Berkeley argues that modern adolescence generates so much trouble because our society provides little opportunity for teenagers to take constructive and tangibly relevant risks. Even Margaret Mead was making this argument back in the 1960s — saying that American young people would act out because they were too sheltered and weren’t being challenged.

      3) You are the first person to accuse us of glorifying child soldiers! First of all, real child soldiers (e.g. in Africa today) can be as young as 7-years-old and are often forced into conflict by poverty, sold by relatives, kidnapped, or tricked into joining. George Washington chose to accept an appointment in the Virginia militia at the ripe-old-age of 20! He wasn’t a child soldier in any sense of the term.

      Perhaps you are thinking of David Farragut, who became a naval cadet at the age of 10 and a midshipman by the age of 12? Once again, these positions were voluntary, generally reserved for young men from upper-class families (or with connections), and served as fast-track towards a distinguished and promising career (which David went on to enjoy). None of that could be said about for modern child soldiers. The comparison just shouldn’t be made.

      At the same time, I should clarify that we in no way recommend sending children or teenagers off to war. The use of these examples was only to demonstrate that young people in the past performed remarkably well with high levels of responsibility — and that children like George, David, and Clarissa were considered normal throughout most of history.

      4) In conclusion, I think we’re pretty much on the same page. I think you misinterpreted “the myth of adolescence” as a denial that young people are still developing as teenagers. That is not what we believe or teach. On the contrary, we believe that young people are developing in such extraordinary ways that it becomes CRITICAL to challenge them during these years. The latest research supports this conclusion.

      Unfortunately, many people are still influenced by the idea that young people are unprepared for high levels of responsibility and that the only way to prepare them is to wait longer and longer to really challenge them. This approach is producing low expectations and terrible results.

      Of course, the struggles of modern teens and twentysomethings is far more complicated that just the pernicious affects of low expectations — but low expectations (stemming from the myth of adolescence) do plenty of damage. It is a fact (essentially indisputable) that young people who challenge themselves, rather than conform to expectations, outperform their peers. That is what we are encouraging. The results have been amazing.

      • Hey Brett,
        I know this is off topic, but I would like to know about how long it takes for you guys to look over submitted articles to decide whether it will be posted or not. Because about a week ago, I submitted an article and now I think that it might not have gone through. Should I resubmit it?

        • It probably went through. We often have posts scheduled out a month-in-advance, in which case we don’t always review new submissions as soon as they come in. I’ll be going through submissions again this next week, so I’ll be on the look-out for yours. Thanks for letting me know!

  • There are some things you still have to take into account. For example, the law may require people to be about 16 before they start working, but in my opinion some laws are passed to try to ‘delay’ or ‘lesser’ something. I keep thinking of a comic a saw a while ago that showed an adult talking to a baby and the adult telling the baby “If we can make owning guns illegal it will lower the violence and usage of them.” Then the baby looked back at him and said “Really? Then we should make drugs illegal,” my point being that some laws are passed so that people can only go so far passed them. There are plenty of teens that younger than 16 that have found work for themselves, I know that for a fact. This article seem to be judging from the ‘less than average’ teenager views that even most of the secular world disagrees with. I’m not saying I completely disagree with the article, but I definitely feel like it’s been a little bit exaggerated. There are plenty of teens who have put purpose to their life and lived to the fullest to reach their goal, but there are plenty who think they should be respected for their video game scores. :/ There are some in each category, so an accusatory article is not exactly the best way to handle that some teens don’t know what to do with their life.

    • Sam,
      I started working at about 7. I worked with my father in construction at $1 an hour. I was so happy to make money that I earned. And I still work with him on an as-needed biases (now at $7 an hour) and I am thankful for the work. I have never been given an allowance or been payed to do chores. So I quickly learned the value of work that is harder then vacuuming my room or the ‘backbreaking’ chore of doing laundry. So yes, I think that this article does not fully discribe every person.
      However, I am not exaggerating when I say that this article DOES discribe the average teenager, in first-world nations, very well. Even when I go to my Christian friends’ houses after church, I sometimes see signs of laziness and disrespect, (I myself have sometimes been guilty of this) but in my neighborhood, many of the teens are very lazy and get mad when their parents want them to do something relatively easy. It

      • It must just be where I live then, almost everyone I know has started working before 16 and we don’t have many teens that just sit there and ‘chill’. Sorry for making it seem like I was sticking up for the teens that don’t know what to do with themselves.

        • Well, to be fair, teen work ethic is generally better in the country then it is in the suburbs or the city. So in some areas, you are absolutely right, but in most, I tend to agree with this article that many teens today are more lazy then not. I really appreciate your input, Sam. If you hadn’t said this, others may have misunderstood the meaning of the article. Thank you.

  • This post hit hard. I really like how blunt and honest the author was so that we were shaken a bit. I love how the article talks about kids and teens doing work. That doesn’t necessarily mean getting a job. As far as I understand of the article, teens and kids could work to help their family like babysitting siblings, making meals, helping their grandparents work in their yard, ect. My current schedual doesn’t allow for a consistant job, but that does not mean I’m sitting around texting friends. I’m lucky enough to have a mom who has us wash windows, rake pine needles, and do other kinds of work at my grandparents house. I’m also not being sarcastic because I am truly thankful that my mom is teaching my siblings and I how to be servants. Taking odd jobs around my neighborhood like babysitting, mowing lawns, raking leaves, and moving boxes are jobs that me or my siblings have done who can’t have a consistant job due to time or age. If you actively look for work, either to serve or for pay, I’m positive that you will be able to find something to do that works for your age and the time that you hve available.

  • I was reading through the comments and I am loving this website even more than I did before! Something that really stuck out to me was that teenagers aren’t challenged very much. Challenge is something that I lack. Adults don’t challenge me very much. My school challanges me, but I need more than just academic challanges. I need activities that challenge my natural selfish tendancies. I need challenges that test my perserverence. I want to be challenged to come up with solutions to problems where there is no formula for me to use. I think, deep down, other people my age have these desires too. So far, I am challenging my ccommitment by helping train my grandpa’s loveable but headstrong horse, and challenging myself to go out of my comfort zone to talk to some girls at youth group that I never talked to before. Does anyone have any other ideas for ways that I coul challenge myself? What ways are you challenging yourselves? I’d love to hear any ideas that you hve!

  • This article is extremely problematic. It needs to be taken into account that the mental concept of what it means to be a “child” and what it means to be an “adult” are both man made concepts. Therefore, neither the concept that they had 200 years ago, nor the concept that we have now, that includes adolescence, are wholly correct. Living in modern day America, having the United States be a remarkably well developed country has given us a lot of gifts and privileges that they did not necessarily have 200 years ago. We have a freedom to spend more time developing our own minds and more time learning. The problem, then, is not inherently found in the idea of adolescence, but in how we treat it. Adolescence can be a really cool time of learning, developing and forming a starting point for what you want to do with the rest of your life. This time in your life that gives you a little more freedom of exploration allows you to grow closer to God in ways that you might not be able to under the stress of the normally fast-paced adult life. I started working at the age of 13 and was managing a restaurant by the age of 14. Now, 5 years later, looking back at what I’ve learned since then, it is unbelievable to see the development that has taken place in myself. If it hadn’t been for adolescence, I wouldn’t have had the room to grow.

    Also, this article comes from a very one sided perspective. While the issue of adolescent laziness crosses all ethnic and class divides, it is concentrated most particularly in the middle to upper class groups in America, which makes up only 21% of the population – kids who simply don’t need to work because their parents can give them everything they need (this is not to say it’s the kid/adolescent’s fault). This is one of the primary reasons you see a disturbing upward trend in mental illness among middle – upper class adolescents. I have worked in a development context for the last 2 years now, and the vast majority of adolescents from low income families are working themselves into the ground. They are either illegally/legally employed before the age of 14, or you see kids as young as 8 raising their entire families because their parents are working 19 hours a day to make ends meet. More than that, the vast majority of adolescents who do not have jobs from low income communities are in that position because they do not have the opportunity afforded to them as people from middle to upper class backgrounds do. They cannot get jobs because they do not have the abundance of connections and resources that we do, or because they simply have a particular skin color. Laziness/ “wasting your life” is a problem we’ve seen in children and adults since the beginning of time. The only difference now is that we have a particular category of people (namely, adolescents) that we can label with it. It’s not just a “modern” issue.

By Matt Walsh
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →