Questioning Elkind on Cognition and Identity

My recent series Liberal Education (parts I, II, III, and IV) is partially based on the readings and discussions for the class I am taking in Adolescent Psychology. One book in particular that has been interesting is All Grown Up and No Place to Go by .


Our professor requires us to come prepared with written questions based on the week’s assigned reading, so those are below the fold.

Cognitive Development (25-53)

Elkind (31): “Boys are more likely to be competitive and achievement-oriented, and to measure themselves against an absolute standard. In contrast, girls are more socially focused and tend to evaluate themselves from the perspective of their empathy for others and their interpersonal skills.”

Question: Does this lead to boys being superior in low-network-density operations, while girls would be superior in high-network-density operations? Specifically, would education be more effective if it centered around “free play” for boys and “gossip” for girls?

Elkind (36): “Formal operations aid and abet such attachments by enabling young people to idealize the person to whom they are attracted.”

Question: What are the religious implications of this? Specifically, would cultures that do not encourage formal thinking not have idealized views of heaven, or hell? For example, is the reason that “heaven” does not appear in the Bible until the Maccabees Rebellion indicate that pre-Greek Israel was cognitively underdeveloped, and unable to imagine such a place?

Elkind (50): “Young people become very idealistic once they have attained the level of formal operational thought.”

Question: The flip-side of this is that people become less idealistic as they age. Is this an indication that formal operations weaken as an influencer of human thought? Would this be entirely because of additionally socialization, or would genetic factors be in play? For example, UNL’s John Hibbing has argued that politic beliefs are influenced by genetics as people age. Would idealism be adversely affected by genetics as people age?

Elkind (51): “We can help young people become more realistic by encouraging them to engage in community service. Some schools make such service a requirement for graduation. When young people volunteer to work with the young, or the elderly, or in environmental clean-up efforts, they learn the difference between merely expressing an ideal and the effort that helps make it a reality.”al

Leaving aside the notion of forced volunteering, Elkind’s justification for community service is interesting. Is community a service an activity that increases agitation while emphasizing “concrete” thought. Would this encourage the rise of evolutionary strong ideologies, that energize their followers while deafening them to competing viewpoints?

Elkind (53): “In general, most people return to the faith of their parents once they become young adults and particularly when they become parents. But other teenagers, particularly in our increasingly secular society, have had little or no religious training as children and, in the absence of effective parenting, turn to gangs for leadership, guidance, and a sense of community.”

Interesting that the rulesets of secular society are less able to control behavior than the rulesets of a more religious society. Is this true in general/

Cognitive Development (18-24, 189-214, 215-238)

Elkind (24): “The new morbidity is but one measure of the stress experienced by contemporary young people. There are many other, nonfatal behaviors that officer evidence of the crisis of contemporary youth. Our teenage pregnancy rates are the highest of any Western country, almost seven times that of the Netherlands…”

Yet teenage pregnancies are the lowest since 1948. What kind of “contemporary” crisis is this?

Elkind (198): “The peer group has no intrinsic power; it exercises power only when it feels a parental vacuum and when the teenager lacks a healthy sense of personal identity.”

Would folk and trade- based identity groups also have more power than peers?

Elkind (200): “If we were sitting around a table with a group of people and we all wrote our troubles on a piece of paper and exchanged them, most of us would choose our own problems over those of the other people.”

What does this say about the ability of people to “rationally choose” the friction in their lives? Is this evidence that one’s identity or adaptions becomes tied to the problems one faces, or merely that there is a “fetishism of difficulties”?

Elkind (221): “Teenage drinking is not a new phenomenon, and certainly alcohol was not unknown to adolescents of the modern era. Nonetheless, the percentage of young people who are drinking today is greater than ever before. In part this is a reflection of our postmodern perception of adolescents as sophisticated and the acceptance of this perception by the larger societies.”

At least some teenage drinking was legal in the United States until Federal reforms in the 1980s. How does this growing infantilization of adolescents square with Elkind’s thesis of societal sophistication?

Elkind (225): “That is to say, because adolescents in the postmodern world experience more loss than was true for teenagers in the modern world, they necessarily suffer more depression than did earlier generations of young people.”

Elkind fails to distinguish between psychic loss and physical loss. Contemporary youths doubtless face less physical loss than those in past ages, because death rates continue to plummet. However, a liberal culture may encourage more psychic or social loss, by weakening the rulesets that keep people together.

Elkind (229): “French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that suicide was the result of a condition that he termed anomie — a form of withdrawal that separated the individual from social contact and created a sense of isolation from the rest of society (1950).”

Could an empirical test of this view be done now in Japan, analyzing the suicidal tendencies of otaku compared to the general population

3 thoughts on “Questioning Elkind on Cognition and Identity”

  1. >>Elkind (225): “That is to say, because adolescents in the postmodern world experience more loss than was true for teenagers in the modern world, they necessarily suffer more depression than did earlier generations of young people.”

    Is this measured depression or actual depression? Society today has decided that more children are depressed than in previous generations. Were children happier before? Or did society just not notice that they were depressed?

  2. Biz,

    Good point. Measurements are much more generous today than before. What we call depression may have been called soul-sickness, “melancholy,” etc before, and not treated as seriously.

    Multiple-sclerosis was once called “faker's disease,” and I know my fibromyalgia wouldn't have been recognized before.

    Likewise, the pathologization of boyhood (he's not rambunctious — he has ADD!) has unduly medicalized many healthy people.

    Then again, by taking away the identity of adolescents, I do believe real depression has been on the rise. It's possible to be too poor to too busy to be depressed. A poignant example of this is the behavior of the “young lords,” as compared to their father, in The Good Earth. [2]


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