The Washington Times
May 7, 2007

Washington Times Op-ed—Let’s Smarten up on Teen Rebellion

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

We all have heard the term “teenage rebellion.” It’s conventional wisdom that teens go through a period of turbulent adolescence before—it is hoped—they settle down and become mature, productive adults.

Recently, the media and sections of the scientific community have concluded that because brain scans show the teen brain operates differently than the average adult brain this explains the behavior. It’s all in your head, therefore, the acting out and rebellion are just a normal part of growing up.

At the Home School Legal Defense Association, we have been skeptical of the idea that there’s an inevitable teenage rebellion. Through anecdotal evidence, we knew many parents with homeschooled teens were not experiencing the traditional teen rebellion.

Furthermore, the 2004 study “Homeschooling Grows Up” shows that homeschooled teens are successfully integrating into society. There was little evidence of teenage rebellion and significant numbers of students demonstrated their maturity by being involved in community activities. They also reported generally good relationships with their parents.

Teens are much more intelligent and capable than we realize. We need to have greater expectations for teens by giving them greater responsibilities.

Most homeschoolers have consistently maintained that the institutional school, with its necessary one-size-fits-all approach to education, constrains the teenager’s natural ability to learn and advance rapidly and, at the same time, exposes them to negative peer influences. The environment of the institutional school might be the place to start looking if we are trying to uncover some of the causes of teenage rebellion.

Homeschoolers are not alone in their skepticism of the current explanation for antisocial teen behavior. A challenge to the conventional wisdom also has been offered by psychologist Robert Epstein, whose work was published in the April-May 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind.

His main point is the way teens are treated in society, by parents, institutional schools, the entertainment media and other government agencies is more likely the cause of the observable differences in the way the teen brain operates. He asks the question—“Did the brains cause the turmoil, or did the turmoil shape the brains?”

He points out that if teen rebellion was simply a function of the brain we should see the phenomenon across all cultures and all time. This isn’t the case. The majority of pre-industrial cultures, where teens spent most of their time with adults, didn’t develop a word for adolescent and most of the young males in these cultures didn’t display antisocial behavior. Also, a series of long-term studies began in the 1980s show that delinquency increased when Western-style schooling, television and movies were introduced to non-Western countries.

He also suggests that if the “answer” to behavioral problems is to restore “normal” brain chemistry, the pharmaceutical industry would actively support this position due to the increasing use of drugs to address behavioral problems. If society is the main culprit driving teen behavior, however, then the solutions are very different from administering more drugs.

It is our view that teens have been shortchanged. So much more can be accomplished by teens if they are allowed to flourish in a home-based environment. They have so much potential, but unfortunately have been constrained by a system that doesn’t serve them well.

Homeschooling has begun to give the wider society a glimpse of what can be achieved by simply returning to an individualistic home-based model where teens spend most of their time with adults learning how to become mature citizens.

We encourage parents of teens to carefully consider homeschooling because history shows teens are very capable and that we are at risk if we don’t prepare the next generation adequately for the challenges we all face every day.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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