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A new scientific paper out of England proposes that social media is one cause for both the premature ending of childhood and delayed transition to adulthood until age 24.
The age of adolescence
Adolescence is the phase of life stretching between childhood and adulthood, and its definition has long posed a conundrum. Adolescence encompasses elements of biological growth and major social role transitions, both of which have changed in the past century. Earlier puberty has accelerated the onset of adolescence in nearly all populations, while understanding of continued growth has lifted its endpoint age well into the 20s. In parallel, delayed timing of role transitions, including completion of education, marriage, and parenthood, continue to shift popular perceptions of when adulthood begins.
The paper suggests a view of adolescence as between the ages of 10 and 24 “corresponds more closely to adolescent growth and popular understandings of this life phase.”
The paper also remarked on the role of social media, regarding it as being among the “unprecedented social forces…affecting health and wellbeing across these years.”
The paper cited “delayed timing of role transitions, including completion of education, marriage and parenthood” in affecting the perception of when adulthood effectively begins. It goes on to suggest the longer range of adolescence is “essential” for “developmentally appropriate framing of laws, social policies, and service systems.”
If the paper’s premise were adopted, one logical conclusion would be the extension of the period in life when one might enjoy the privileges of adulthood, such as voting and driving automobiles, without the corresponding responsibilities or legal liabilities of being an adult (for which those costs are often shifted to the innocent victims or society in general). For example, in many states, minors (under age 18) are treated as juveniles and often receive much more lenient sentences (and charging decisions) on account of age, even when their crime is very much a “grown-up” crime and the impact of the crime on the victim is no less.
One can also view this as cynical social engineering. A call to increase social services, with the justification of an expanded population “in need” and “at risk,” would result in subsequent calls for increased government funding of social services. As someone has to be paid to provide those services, the redefinition of adolescence can be suspected to be merely the latest pseudo-scientific attempt to lengthen the public employee / social services gravy train, which always seems to run on time.
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