“We’ve created a kind of endless, perpetual adolescence,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in a recently published interview with Bill Kristol. “There has never been a civilization that’s had perpetual adolescence before. Adolescence itself is only about a 2,500 year old concept, and it’s a pretty special gift.”
Taking a broad view of human history, Sasse spoke of adolescence as a relatively new phenomenon allowing young persons to develop mind and spirit beyond pubescent maturation.
Contemporary sociological phenomena, added Sasse, have extended the adolescent phase to unhealthy lengths; stultifying of both individual actualization and broader civilizational development.
Adolescents should not resemble Peter Pan, said Sasse:
“We’ve created this new idea that you can have a greenhouse-sheltered environment for two, three, or four years. And it’s great. It’s glorious. And yet, it’s always been a transitional state. It’s not supposed to be Peter Pan. You don’t want to be stranded in Neverland. It’s a hell if you don’t get to become an adult.
The number one address for college graduates in America, right now, is moving back into their parents’ basement. By far the number one address. We have 18- to 24-year-old males, a large share of whom play video games a majority of their waking hours. I don’t want those guys marrying my daughters.”
A large swathe of young persons entering colleges and universities have never been employed, said Sasse, recalling an anecdote from his former role as Midland University’s president:
“What shocked me about the experience of arriving at the school is that overwhelmingly, the incoming students had never worked before. They’d never done any hard labor … They just never really had to do any work of any kind.
When I went to college in 1990 … all of them had worked. I don’t think I knew a soul who hadn’t done some hard before.
What have we done to lose the transmission of a work ethic to these kids?”
The modern era in America, said Sasse, has largely divorced production from consumption in the lives of many young persons. The absence of meaningful work for many young persons obstructs their pursuit of the Good Life, he added.
Children in modern American life, said Sasse, are largely missing out on character development associated with work:
“We live in a time in history where work has been so separated from the home, that there isn’t really much work for kids to do when they’re ten or twelve or fourteen. You don’t grow up around a house where there’s a lot that needs to be done.”
On the pedagogical front, Sasse critiqued the status quo of classrooms as the primary means of educating teenagers. “Progressive” educational approaches to “protect kids from work,” he said, interfered with education’s higher purpose of “freeing kids] up to find meaning in work:”
“I think it’s highly dangerous to think that the main thing fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds should do is sit still and be in a classroom inside for the majority of their waking hours, Monday through Friday.”
Contrasting young Israelis serving in the military (Israelis subject to the draft are conscripted for military service at eighteen years of age) with their American counterparts, Sasse and Kristol observed the disparity of maturity between the two cohorts.
Last week saw the publication of Sasse’s new book, “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.”
Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter.