Tag Archives: Society

Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Slow Down?

Funny Sleeping Bear

Human believe that they are not the same as other animals in the world and in many ways this is a true statement, but there are many things that are the same between humans and other animals. One of the most important similarities is the need for rest, whether it is sleeping or just relaxing. Another similarity is that all animals have lower activity levels in the winter months (colder time of the year) as compared to the summer months (warmer time of the year).
This paper is going to examine on area of similarity that has been misunderstood for so long that there is no longer any fresh materials on the subject. This is the topic of torpor or a significant slowdown of bodily function in a human being. Additionally, I am going to provide information to show that humans go through a period of slow down just as much as other animals do and this has been mistaken for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as well as how this mistake is causing more problems than doing any good.
Winter Time
The world slows down in the cold months of winter and this is a phenomena that has been known for centuries. Animals with the ability to hibernate will do so, plant will go dormant and all of the rest of the world will slow down. History has shown that humans will also go through a period of slow down during the colder months, which was usually obscured by the patterns of agriculture. While humans have believed that they were more than highly developed humans for centuries, the belief in overcoming all of the effects of the natural world only started in the 1700’s when the rational skill became highly prized. In fact, during the modern times of the 20th century and going forward, it is believed that a human can have the same levels of productivity throughout the whole of the year even though there is incidences that can be cited through all of history that show that even humans have to take a step back in activity during the coldest time of the year.
Before the end of World War II, most humans worked with the patterns of nature, but this is also when most of the working world still lived on farms. Farms are far less active during the winter months and the humans were allowed to rest on the food stores like other animals do. Also, many traditional human activities such as Christmas and Thanksgiving are related to the need to increase calories for the torpor of the winter and prepare food for long term storage. Other holidays such as Brigid’s Mass (Groundhog Day) and Lent (40 days of fasting in many of the Christian religions) are to assist the humans in managing through these slower months and surviving.
Cold season during the winter months of most parts of the world and it is believed that this is mostly the cause of the restrictions to indoor activities, but it is could also be because of the immune system not being as activity during the colder months. The human body like so many other animals go into a type of torpor during the colder season and this affects the immune system, as the whole body is functioning at a far lower rate of productivity and efficacy. Other evidence of the slower system of the human body is found in longer hours of sleep and deeper sleep during this time of year. Higher numbers of mistakes, less work being completed and over-all sleepiness. Many people complain of fatigue and/or a notable loss of productivity during the colder months.
The symptoms of seasonal torpor include: long periods of deep or deeper sleep with periods of activity between sleeping spells, sluggishness, dullness, stupor as well as higher levels of fatigue during the awake periods (Medicinenet.com, 2015). Additional symptoms noted in other animals includes decrease in overall appetite but increase desire for higher fat and higher protein foods; lower body temperature, lower heart rates and more shallow breathing.
Winter Blues
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a disorder of the modern times, having been a disorder only since the earlier years of 1980’s (Rosenthal, Sack, Gillin, Lewy, Goodwin, Davenport, Mueller, Newsome, & Wehr, 1984); and in many ways, the fact that there is a disorder for this is also a sign of the changing times as well as the expectations of what a person does with their time. In many ways the symptoms of SAD are similar to those of torpor, including low mood and concentration during particular seasons (often the winter time), increased sleeping, cravings for sugars and other fat sources, low energy and fatigue. As outlined in the earlier section, these symptoms are all associated with the torpor states of most animals.
There is a lot of speculation that there is a relationship between the torpor states or at least the slowing downing of the human body during the winter months. Tests have been completed to find that there is a relationship between hormones and sunlight (Judd, 2008) and the Melatonin the brain produces and gets rid of. Melatonin is associated with tiredness and fatigue as well as many of the other symptoms of SAD. There has been other research on this disorder to locate the cause but little has been found outside of the changing the hormones that naturally adjust through the year.
In many ways, it is argued that SAD is just a more extreme form of the Winter Blues that affect everyone and the difference is that the affected people are not able to fight the symptoms off with large amounts of coffee and ‘mind-over-matter’ therapies. While this might hold a candle of truth, there is another side of this, in that most people are not able (not a willing issue) to fight of the winter blues. SAD diagnosis are people that need a break more than most during the winter months and there are plenty of people that do need to take the time of the winter to relax and recharge for the coming year. A person that takes this time and does so happily often is not seen as having a disorder. A person that fights the needs of the body will become distraught over the lack of energy and there could result in a feeling of depression from a fight of the mind with the body.
It was noted on the Mental Health America website (2014) that the age groups primarily affected by SAD are 18 to early 50’s or the ages in which a person is the most active and living with the highest expectations for community activity, productivity and involvement. The pressure of the social activities in addition to the natural torpor state might in fact create the feelings of depression and also result in the far more extreme symptoms that are associated with SAD. In other words, SAD is a disorder that has been culturally created because social and productive culture has not taken natural processes into consideration. Instead of allowing the human body to do what it is supposed to naturally, fighting has resulted in a Seasonal Disorder.
Hot Chocolate for the Soul
While many might not see the creation of a disorder as a problem as there at least half a million people in America affected by severe cases of the “winter blues” but on the other hand, there are too many people that are still fighting the natural state of winter living instead of letting it be what it is. For many of the people that have SAD in milder forms, they might be better off allowing their bodies to process through the natural seasonal patterns instead of using lights and other measures to force themselves into more productive states. There is nothing wrong with sleeping a bit more and spending more time watching TV during the winter. Much like sleep is a time for the body to be at rest, so too is the winter season. This is a time for reading, resting and rejuvenating for the rest of the year.
As for treatment of the seasonal blues, one should examine what has been done in the cultures closest to the Arctic Circle as well as what agrarian cultures did during the cold months for hundreds of years. Most of these people survived the winter with no light bulbs or medication because they understood something about the cycles of time and life. Also, the celebrations of the passage of time like Christmas and Groundhog Day should be held in the highest esteem. The darkest days are battled with the greatest hope, and the knowledge of the end of suffering is the greatest hope of all.
Conclusion
Humans have been encourage to believe that they are not animals and as a result they are not victims to the calls of nature and cycles of life like all of the other animals on this planet. But time again, this has been proven to be a fallacy, not only because of the relationship of physical similarities we have with primates but also because of the core behaviors humans engage in for survival of the self and the species.
One area of the cycle of life that has been placed in the realm of human self-control has been the responses to the seasonal cycle but the prevalence and views of the disorder Seasonal Affective Disorder have shown that humans are as much victims to the seasons as all other animals. And instead of accepting the colder, winter months as a time for rest and rejuvenation, humans elect to fight it and as a result causing pain to a half a million people in America. This paper outlined the similarity of the symptoms for torpor states of winter rest and the diagnostic criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This paper also indicated that the better treatment for the disorder is for humans to accept that the cycles of life are real and should be allowed to follow like so many other things in the natural world. Sometimes, the best solution for a problem is to realize that it is not a problem at all.

Bibliography/ References

Crossingham, J. & Kalman, B. (2002). What is Hibernation? New York, NY: Crabtree Publishing Company.

Hickman, P. & Stephens, P. (2005). Animals Hibernating: How Animals survive extreme conditions. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press Ltd.

Judd, S. J. (Ed.). (2008). Depression Handbook. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, Inc.

MedicineNet.Com (2014) Defiantion: Torpor. Retrieved from http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=24814

Mental Health America. (2014) Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad

Rosenthal, N. E.; Sack, D. A.; Gillin, J. C.; Lewy, A. J.; Goodwin, F. K.; Davenport, Y.; Mueller, P. S.; Newsome, D. A.; Wehr, T. A. (1984). “Seasonal affective disorder. A description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy”. Archives of general psychiatry 41 (1): 72–80. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1984.01790120076010

Zancanaro, C., Biggiogera, M., Malatesta, M., & Ayre, M. (2004) Mammalian Hibernation:
Relevance to a Possible Human Hypometabolic State. Retrieved from http://www.esa.int/gsp/ACT/doc/ARI/ARI%20Study%20Report/ACT-RPT-BIO-ARI-036501-Morpheus-Verona.pdf

Burning Man: A Reflective Culture

The post-Burning Man euphoria is slowly passing as the flood of photos, videos, and blog posts are hitting the Internet. The first wave has passed and the second wave will be coming soon. While most of the comments and thoughts are positive and joyful, there will be many that have had a hard time with the events of such a festival. This is no surprise from an event that is “whatever you want it to be” because time, study and history has shown the people will find joy in their internal joy and misery in their internal misery.

Burning Man has been referred to by many social scientists as a Sub-Culture or a Counter-Culture, though this is done with hesitation. Part of the reason for the hesitation is due to Burning Man not fitting the finer points of the definition of sub/counter culture. Using a wide brush definition, then any group that have more than a handful of people could be seen as a sub/counter culture and in many ways that worked with the Burning Man groups for a while. But the growth and diversity of the groups within the groups of the population of Burning Man has revived this discussion.

Burning is Not a Sub-Culture

The definition of a ‘sub-culture’ is: “a cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture” (Google). And the definition of a ‘counter-culture’ is: “a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm” (Google). As it can be see here, the definitions of each is the same as the other. So for ease of communication, from this point forward both with be referred to as ‘sub-culture’.

Sub-culture is about the opposed view or a variance (the fact or quality of being different, divergent, or inconsistent [Google]) from the larger culture and at first glance Burning Man and all of the smaller communities that have branched from it does fit the definition of a sub-culture because what is seen on the surface is a complete lack of control and what looks like a society built only on the use of drug and acquisition of as much sex as possible. While there are those parts it is on the surface, because it is what is or has been the most shocking parts; and Americans love the shocking. But these things does not make Burning Man a sub-culture, and in fact it helps to prove the opposite, the Burning Man is in line with the current culture.

One of the largest reasons that I have found outside of people referring to Burning Man as a sub-culture is the names. Because Burning Man has a name and the people that self-associate with the location, event, and activities call themselves “Burner”; is the reason that many will believe that there is a sub-culture there instead of referring to it as a very large crowd within the larger culture.

A Reflective Culture

As the title of this paper indicated, in order to explain what Burning Man is to the larger culture, a new idea had to be born and this idea is a Reflective Culture. A Reflective Culture is “culture within a larger culture that will reflect the views of the larger culture in either minimizing form or heightened exaggerated form.” While there are many people that might argue with this idea, spending a week or more at Burning Man might help to point out that this definition is a truer one than calling Burning Man a sub-culture.

In an effort to show that Burning Man is a reflective culture, here are five brief examples of things that are within the current scope of the American Culture and are being either exaggerated or reduced in the behaviors of the members of the crowd:

#1: Non-violence and Redirected Violence

The Death Guild and Thunder Dome has become one of the most well-known and popular attractions on the ground at Black Rock City. Partly because of the well-known dome and the association the Mad Max movies but more for the intense fighting that will be played out in the confines of the dome. Americans love to watch violence play out in many different forms and Thunder Dome is a form that has become a staple of the event. Outside of Burning Man, people will get their need for violence fixed through action movies and video game play; but at Burning Man, you not only have a chance to be part of the action but you can climb on to a large dome to watch it happen when others are fighting. In many ways, the presence of Thunder Dome helps to sub-due the need for violence that most people feel when frustrated.

Outside of the Thunder Dome there is very little violence, and as one person point out, there seems to be almost an excessive amount of love and happiness. In many ways, people seem to be compelled to be happy and excited all of the time. It could be argued that this is due to being on vacation but it is far more believable that the increased happiness comes from an environment that is encouraging of this behavior. This same sets of behavior is also found in American Culture in the form of the ‘be happy’ movements that started in the sixties and are still being forced on people to this day. In day to day life, most people are expected to be smiling and happy and if they are not, efforts are made to bring about this condition. One behavior that is often present is while people are walking down the streets, they will randomly yell “Woo Hoo” as if trying to encourage hyped up feeling and happy feelings.

Burning Man is an environment of emotional highs and lows. It is argued that the extreme highs and lows are because of the extremes of the environment, and while this might be true on the surface, the truth might fit more with the expectations of the environment. People are encourage to self-express their emotions with others, and recognize themselves; and this is exaggerated in the Burning Man environments.

#2: Community Involvement

America was built by smaller communities helping each other out and that is no different at Burning Man. The principle of “No Commerce” is in large part responsible for keeping the community support alive in a larger culture of purchase power. Interestingly enough, recent reports on the lower SES communities has shown that the power of the community is still very much alive in most of American culture and in many ways, Burning Man seeks to magnify these relationships. For many, survival in the harsh desert environment is about having a little help from friends and neighbors; and the community is heavily encourage to maintain these survival behaviors.

While there is increasing bemoaning of the loss of community, Burning Man actually shows that community does still exist and can thrive. The difference is where we are looking for people’s communities. Many people all over the country have communities, but they are not made up of their next door neighbors. Country clubs, churches, schools, local hang-outs and even online chat groups are the prime areas for finding communities. Burning Man is another place to develop communities and in many ways, is help to create national and international communities because the individual of a group are in fact scattered all over the world. For many Burners, it is the exaggerated community and sense of belonging that keeps them coming back year after year.

#3: Gender Roles

Gender roles and gender discrimination has been a hot topic on the news, in the government and in many areas of life for the better part of the last 40 years of American history. This issue has be focused on from many different angles including: sexual rights, reproductive rights, work place discrimination, affirmative actions, safety, violence, etc. Observations of interaction at Burning Man has shown that not only are gender role beliefs suppressed to a point of non-existence but there are environments in which people can work together and there is little to no bias based on their gender, sex or orientation. Burning Man is well known for being an environment that encourages people to look at skills, strength and weaknesses beyond the visual assessments. Unlike with the ‘be happy’ movement and community involvement, both magnified in the Burning Man culture, the gender roles is sub-consciously suppressed and has little influence, just as it is becoming in the larger American culture. It has been a slow process and there is more work to do, but Burning Man is leading the way into a less discriminating world.

#4: Drugs and Alcohol

One of the big concerns about Burning Man is the amount of drug and alcohol used there. While there are law enforcement officers at the event and they often ticket people for possession and use of illicit and illegal drugs, it does not change that there is a lot of it all out there. For some people, the start their drinking when they get there and might sober up enough to drive at the end of the week.

Many have complained that the excessive use is one of the variance items that makes Burning Man a sub-culture but that is also not true. Americans drink, and do drugs… a lot of them. In many ways, some of the foundations of American interactions are found in bars and parties, though not to the point of being drunk for a whole week. It is fairly common for a person to have a cocktail at the end of the day and for many, getting drunk on Saturday is the highlight of the week. For proof of how much Americans like their drugs and alcohol, watch television for a while or sit outside of a bar for a while.

Burning Man culture does not encourage people to drink too much, but it does nothing to stop them outside of asking people to be healthy and safe and when the person falls down, the community tries to get them to a safe place or a medical station. This is no different than would be found on the streets of any American city or town but at Burning Man it is magnified and larger.

#5: Sexuality

Much like with drugs and alcohol, Americans like sex and a lot of it. American culture has roots going back to the Age of Enlightenment, of which sex was believed to not only be something to embrace and enjoy, but also a fundamental right (the belief in the right has it’s own problems but that is for another paper). Evidence of the right to have sex is seen in the various different assaults and other sexual activities that have become increasingly public. Play parties, polygamous relationships, Viagra commercials and even sex therapy are points of evidence that Sex is seen as a right deserved by all willing and able people. In fact, sex is a very publicly private thing in American society, as could be seen in the ways in which American will show availability and public efforts to engage in sex.

And just like with drugs and alcohol, Burning Man culture does not stop people from seeking out what they think is their right to pursue, but instead asks people to be respectful of other’s rights and safety. The big difference between Burning Man and the rest of the America is that Burning Man takes the transparent world of sex and allows it to be see-through there. Many of the people in the culture treat sex as a fact of life and nature and so should be seen as an obvious fact of existence.

Conclusion

A first time attendant said to the author “Burning Man is not a vacation, but a survival experience.” This statement is very true and the culture of Burning Man has weathered it much in the same ways that the American culture has survive over time and through trials. Another person said that “Burning Man was a micro-cosmos of the development of America” and this is also a true statement. While Burning Man is reflecting the larger American culture it is also calling America what it is: an adapting, survivalist culture. Looking through the American history books and the media, one can see that Americans are invested in survival and when the world has gotten to easy to survive in, they will seek out another environment to survive in. Burning Man is surviving because of the facts of life (drugs and sex), shifting responsibility (gender roles or lack there-of), a little help from friends (community) and the ways of violence and happiness… and these are the same ways that America is adapting. The survival of America is not based in staying the same but instead adapting to the future and in many ways the magnifying glass and fun house mirror of Burning Man is showing the ways America is adapting, for good and for bad.

Authors Note: This document is wholly the opinions and thoughts of the author and has not sought or received approval from Burning Man LLC.

Paper #1: Proposal for Education for 16-18 year olds (to replace the 3 years of high school): The issues with the current system.

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If one were to stop and ask people on the street about how well high school education works today, you might get a small group that think high school education is working just fine. The majority of people asked, including most parents of teenagers and the teenagers themselves would agree that the education system as it is now is not working very well, if at all. Many parents will say that school is not teaching their child about issues and skills they will need in the future, and in many schools it is agreed that the classroom is more like a place for children to be babysat rather than taught. Even grown, successful adults now have a difficult time remembering any detailed information that they learned in high school; instead citing work and friends as much of what they learned during that time.

There are many reasons for the failings of the present school system including the often used statement “it does not prepare children for adulthood.” This is truer for high school than any other part of the education system. This paper will look at the many different ways in which high school does not prepare students for the future as well as addressing many of the larger social issues dealing with the 16 to 18 year old populations of Americans. Among the issues with the current system that will be considered here are issues dealing with the discoveries about the development of the brain, legal concerns about teenagers misbehaving, and the focus areas of the education system and how they are not addressing the real focuses of the teenage psyche and development.

This paper is a blunt, focused and simple description of what is a large national issue, there is little debate that the United States of America fails in our education of teenagers and young adults. This is a description of the difficulties with this system and will have a follow-up paper with a possible solution. The hope is that within 20 years America will have changed the ways of managing education in order to maximize the learning of each students by encouraging the use of positive reinforcement, proactive self-management and opportunities to look forward to the next step in life. These papers are an effort to bring attention to the problems with the current system and then offer up a solution to better aid the teen population to better and more satisfying adulthood.

Issues with Current System- Brain Development

Issues with the current system have been debated in many different environments and have been studied, analyzed and examined time and again. If you ask a teenager what the number one issue they have with high school, they will say ‘it is boring’. One of the first issues that comes up is that students are not really learning anything in high school classrooms. There have been debates as to the reasons for this including the students not paying attention, the teachers not being paid enough, and the lack of qualified instructors, but none of these make as much sense as the argument about the neuropsychology of an adolescent. Research that was outlined in the Frontline special “Inside the teenage brain” indicated that the development inside of the adolescent brain is as intense and massive as during the first two years of life outside of the womb. And during this time, most of the major brain structure is broken down and rebuilt within the walls of the skull, and American society is also expecting our teenagers to take on more work than ever before and retain more information than is expected in earlier educational settings. In many ways this is asking our teenagers to push a two ton boulder up a hill while suffering from a 5 year long headache.

In an unofficial survey, the author asked several dozen people what they remember most from high school, and the results focused on incidents of dating, school yard fights and working in low wage jobs. Very few people could remember an incident of learning a new piece of information, though they will tell you about a note that was passed to them during a class. Much of the brain activity focus during this stage of human growth is on learning about one’s place in the world (Erik Erikson’s theory of Development Stages). Many of the habits and behaviors that are considered to be within the roles and responsibilities of the person’s social place are trained and reinforced during this time of life. Examples can be found in groups of individuals that don’t ‘fit the mold’ of what is socially expected of the individuals. Comparing the childhood experiences shows nothing, but comparing the adolescent experiences shows that the social training of expected behavior is done with teenagers. An example is that most girls learn to be feminine during the years of puberty and the reinforcement of expected behavior is more profound in not only the home but also the school yard. In the modern day, it is not hard to find a movie or television show that reinforces the stereotypes of much of the roles American society expects. Girls act like girls, students like students, and accountants like accountants.

The current high school environment does not support the development of the brain in the focus points of social interaction and roles of the person in the large social structure. Much of the synaptic pruning during this point in development is focusing on the social cues, traditions, and other stereotypical behavior. Those individuals that were alienated to the outside of the typical social networks often don’t learn all of the details of many roles and as a result, tend to fall outside of the normal behavior expectations as an adult. For many of those people, they are referred to as eccentric and are frequently recognized later in life for strong success financial stories but socially maladapted. In many ways the environment of high schools makes this worse and there is an increased focus on the popularity of a student rather than the success in functional behavior. In other words, teenagers might learn more about appropriate social guidelines and behavior if they spent less time surrounded by each other.

Another major problem with our current system and the brain development of a teenager is that there is too little physical movement. Most of the day for an average high school student is spent sitting, and it does not require a lot of studies to see that the lack of movement is ill-effecting on the students; mentally, physically and socially. Though team sports are offered in most high schools it is not enough for all of the students and far from encouraging a diversity that needs to be learned but instead assists in creating a high form of selective skills, restricting learning other skills. Teenagers should be physically active during large parts of the day, partly to use up the extra energy of growth but also to facilitate and focus the physical development of the brain. For most teenagers’ brains to develop well there should be a diversity of experiences, social activities and physical activities.

Issues with Current System- Theories in Development being ignored

Development theories have agreed that there are many different parts of a whole that work together to assist a person in their growth and maturity through life. Adolescence is consider to be some of the most important time for the development. Up until the 1960’s, the teenage years were considered to be part of adulthood and as a result, most teenagers were treated as adults with adult expectations. In the 1960’s, the view was turned around and as a result, most teenagers are treated as if they were still children. Both views have their problems and the problems have created new problems. One of the first problems is found in a lack of balance in the bio-psycho-social model (the unbalance is out lined in the prior section). At this point in time it is fine for a child that is younger than a teenager but not suitable for an adult. The current system does not maintain a balance for a teenager’s needs; which are somewhere in between a child and an adult.

Other theories that are ignored are Erikson’s Development stages. Adolescence is a time in which a person works to find their place in the larger world and having teenager shuttle between home and school does not encourage self-learning of one’s place in the larger world. The theories and research support that this is the time that people should be the most involved in the community and larger society rather than locked up in a building with others having the same experiences of brain development.

According to Piaget’s theories, this is a time for the development of abstract thinking and comprehension of the emotional experiences. While emotions do run high during the high school, often they are hyper-inflated because of the isolation of the students with each other within the building. Many of the individuals that offered descriptions of their experiences said that they learned more about emotional regulations and abstract thinking while at a job or community service activity rather than the school yard which was often more stressful due to the ‘drama’ that was created in the actions of the other students.

In looking through the information about the current high school system, the author could find no theory to support the current system as being psychologically functionally, or even socially benefiting for anyone but the people that wish for teenagers to stay out of the way until they grow up. This also comes with the problem of ignoring what teenagers can offer the larger society. One of the greatest problems with the function of the current system and what research has shown about teenage growth is that this is a great moment for development and the high school system holds our student in a stationary place for 3 to 4 years, handicapping them much like a prisoner in a cell.

Issues with Current System- Involvement in the community

            Ask a teenager for an idea and they will give you ten… adolescence is a time of innovation and creativity. This is not a point that needs be researched because we have examples every year in the forms of awards given to high school students for innovation and creativity. There are more and more contests and competitions each year encouraging innovations and many of the results of these competitions have ended up helping to change and better the world. The loss of these resources can be considered when considering the possibility that each person has a potential for a world changing idea and for many that idea comes during those years of the freedom and lack of fear that comes from being a teenager.

Additionally, there are heard many complaints that teenagers spend too much time living in their own little worlds and not being involved in the larger community, society and world. While there are many adolescents that are proactive enough to find ways to get involved in their community, there are many that don’t know how or cannot find advice to ways to get involved; in addition to having a motivation to do so. There is a strong relationship between teenagers being involved in their community and later involvement during adulthood.

There are many high schools that require community service for graduation from students, and there are some teachers that require service for passing an important class for graduation. There are many churches that insist on teens volunteering and many after school programs that encourage and focus teenage energy towards community involvement. A common penalty for teenagers who break the law with less than a felony is community service. But this does not help with the majority of students that do not get involved in their community. While there are many in the current system that are trying to foster involvement, it is not enough to make a really impact.

Many adolescents have said that involvement in the community, either through work or service, is valuable but they would not have done it if it were not for being pushed by parents and educators (statements made in many different news reports and documentaries). Many teenagers are open and willing to be involved and many would like to be help, if only there is a way. The current system is not supportive of these drives and desires outside of the ways in which there is an effort to manipulate the time during the day for use towards a select amount of after school work and recreation. And because there is such a limited amount of time in the after school hours it is difficult to manipulate and fill the time well or comfortably. Most teenagers wish to have more responsibility like that of a job, a paycheck and involvement and the current system restricts this in addition to holding the teenagers back from many opportunities to grow in working and diverse environments.

Issues with Current System- Developing Healthy Relationships

Holding teenagers back from involvement in the community is not the only ways in which an adolescent is held back from their potential, there are also the skills of adulthood and the development of healthy relationships. Most of the focus of teenagers in high school is not on the school work or the future but on the relationships that are there. While there are some teenagers that have the select skills for being highly successful in the high school environment, most individuals will not develop those skills until they are in the college education world. Most of the skills that are being worked on during this time in the life span focus more on managing interactions with others, and finding one’s place in the social environments.

While many teenagers will claim to know that they will ‘want to be when they grow-up’ most of those decisions will change over time and experience. The idea skills to be learned during this time are: social balancing, social interactions, healthy boundaries, time and self-management, etc. Much of the learning for these skills are best done through practice and step by step guidance. The current system discourages interactions outside of very small windows and has resulted in socialization being done through technology and secrecy. The use of texting, instant message and many other tools has created a new set of frustrations with regards to the limits of communications and healthy relationships. Sometimes it is better to wait for a phone call than believe that the other person should respond right away, it allows time for thinking and processing of the information about the interactions and how the relationship should function.

The idea of a healthy relationship should not be limited to the current boyfriend/ girlfriend but should also include the healthy interactions of friends and family members. It is easy to keep a secret about distasteful behavior when you are interacting with another person through a limited medium like a computer or a phone, but it is harder to keep a secret when the other person is sitting next to you. While using text messaging and instant messaging has its usefulness, there is still a need for face to face interactions, and the current system does not allow for enough time to engage in these interactions. Because there is such a small window for socialization in the current system, many will put the use of their phone on a priority and then learn that is an acceptable behavior to engage in while in a social environment.

Because of the lack of time for interaction, when adolescents do find the time for socialization they will tend to focus their interactions on a small select group of friends and peers. These restrictions help to create a heighten isolation in small tribes or cliques and restricting experiences of larger social interaction as well as having those smaller groups facilitating the reinforcement of unreasonable beliefs about people from other groups. While it is true that there is less overt discrimination in the larger society, there is still a lot of implicit and subtle discrimination that is reinforced by an increase in isolation. Many of the stereotypes about sex, gender and behaviors is reinforced in smaller social groups like those found among many of the high school students now. Most students that have a strong healthy understanding for diversity and the failures of stereotypes have had experiences of which disproved and dispelled those beliefs, and the best time for these experiences are in the high school years.

One of the last areas of healthy relationships that suffer are the family and home interactions. While there are many high schools that have been able to foster a health relationship with family, most teenagers do not have good communication or relationships with their relatives. For many, this lack of a relationship or bad relationship can continue on until middle or late adulthood. Those individuals whom have good relationships with parents and family have had those relationships since the teenage years or before, and during the teenage years there was social interaction to reinforce the positive relationships. The current system keeps students in a state of non-stimulation (leaving them with little to talk about) and uses a great deal of the daily time which additionally leaves little time for social interaction between family and the teenager. If there is any interaction, then it is tense and there is not enough time to be able to relax, or the teenager would like to be in a different place spending time with friends.

One of the great struggles of the teenager is the development of communication skills and coping methods for the future struggles. The social interaction that teenagers have are the ones that help with the education in these skills. Not only with the interaction with the family, but also in social and employment environments. The current system does not support the interactions that many teenagers need to learn and be successful, and will encourage teenagers into increased isolation and smaller groups that increase discrimination. Additionally, in order to be successful after high school, one must be in the extreme with isolation and friend selection in order to have strong opportunities for the future. Time and again have shown examples of how this level of social isolation creates problems. One of the most telling is the use of popular movies as examples, like “Mean Girls” and “Heathers”. Working and being in diverse social environments improves a person’s chances of strong social skills, as could be easily seen by a person living in tight social environments like New York City or going to activities that have a lot of diversity.

Issues with Current System- Social Policy and Legal Concerns

            The current high school system is part of several other problems that are found in our society and if this system is changed, if could help to eliminate or reduce the ongoing issues. One of the first issues is with regards to gender stereotypes, of which the current system maintains. It is true there have been efforts made to reduce the gender discrimination in schools, and it could be reasoned out that the education system has helped to provide research and evidence for the discrimination that was not otherwise viable, it does not change the fact that the current system still facilitates and reinforces the beliefs about gender roles. Things like sports, cheerleading, drama, dance, etc. have helped to keeps the restricted guidelines on male/ female behavior. An additional paper can be written about the ways in which high school as it currently operates, works to maintain the gender roles and isolation that are still holding our society back from true equality.

Bullying is another concern for this age group and the current system of high school does nothing to dissuade this behavior no matter the efforts that have been made to modify and adjust the system. The larger structure of the system maintains a tiered hierarchy that is similar to chaste systems and make it difficult to move out of the way of the bullies. Bullies are the means in which most people learn to maintain the system and work the system to keep the people on top in that place. With the high school system as it is, the status of the person within the school is often the same out of the school because the large social structure places the school in priority. This often results in a person learning that the means to get what they want is to aggressively over-power a person and not compromise. These sets of behaviors could additionally be outlined in an additional paper.

Delinquent behavior has become an ever increasing concern for parents especially with regards to drinking, drug use and criminal activities. The concerns with regards to teenagers behaving in a way that could cause damage in the long term from the child and as a result there are ever increasing efforts to restrict the teenager’s movement and freedom. The increases in restriction has also created more desire to commit delinquent acts in order to meet the needs of independence, self-recognition, and autonomy. Restriction on the teenager to make sure that they have no chance of committing a criminal or delinquent act has created further issues of time management, lack of interaction, hyper-focus on productivity, and many of the other social issues that are related to difficulty with interaction and socialization. A common complaint about teenagers is that they will spend most of their time being idle and on the computer, and this could be traced to the responses that society has had to the rising numbers of criminal teenagers. Interestingly enough, looking up recent data from a number of websites, juvenile crime rates are no different now than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. Yes the rates have gone down since the 1990s but there is no difference between the 1980s and the 2000s, though there is a significant difference in daily activities and productivity pressure of teenagers from then to now.

More and more there has been an increase in the idea that in order for a person to be successful in adulthood, there has to be notable success in the high school years. The use of the time and the resulted judgment on the use of the time will have a larger effect on the judgments made from college, work and other adult opportunities. Those who do not succeed with the select skill that are required to be successful in this system have a difficult time with access to resources later when those skills have developed. For most, high school is a holding place to stay until the law says that a person is able to leave the system and move on to a different part of the larger society structure. Those whom do not succeed at this juncture with the limited skill set are often doomed to be left behind for the rest of their lives.

Conclusions

Development research, brain research and sleep research have all come to the same conclusions about the teenage experiences and the adolescent development, it is intense and requires a lot of energy and work to process through. Much of the focus of development during this time period works with this idea of the adolescent trying to find their place in the larger world that they live in and management of the choices that they will need to make for the future. The current education system does not allow for the flexibility that most teens need to navigate these tough learning experiences and in fact the current system does the opposite of help students to develop the skills they will need for the future.

The current system is set up to support a select and small group of individuals with a select group of skills that most teenager’s learn to develop after the turmoil and frustration of the adolescence years have completed. For most teenagers, the year spent in high school are mostly a holding place until the choices of adulthood as bestowed upon them with the graduation or dropping out. Additional, in order to be successful in high school, a student must sacrifice learning important skills like communication with others, including family, and learning boundaries with others to facilitate the developing of healthy relationships.

Most of the high schools require an intense amount of focus on the part of the student and for most students this is difficult due the events going on within the brain and what has been found with the development of the brain. The brain is working double time to develop into what the adult result will be and the taxing information processing and other work expected in high school does not get done well and is disabling to the needs for strong development. Additional stress is found in the difficulties with recovering after high school with the current system, most people who fail to reach the bar of expectations in high school have a more difficult time with gaining success later in life.

One of the areas of the greatest concern with regards to teenagers is the legal issues. More and more there are concerns about adolescent crime rates and the mis-behaving or violation of social rules. The current system does little to nothing to support teens developing these important skills and keeping teens from using criminal choice to gain access to desires and needs. There have been every increasing efforts to adjust the system in order to reduce the criminal behavior and social faux pas, but the statistics of juvenile criminal behavior have not dropped below the levels they were in the 1980s, even with the increased restrictions on students’ time and schedules. On-going efforts to reduce the crime rates of teenagers has created further restrictions on their free-will and resulting in less anatomy and free thinking, creating a new and more difficult set of undesirable behaviors.

This is one of a set of papers on the difficulties of the current high school system. The next paper will address a section of a solution, or better put, a completely different system for educating and making positive use of the strength of unconventional thinking and speed that adolescence offers the world. Additionally the new system will seek to eliminate or better manage the problems that were discussed in this paper. As the current system is failing most of the American youth, hopes are that the new system will provide the future with greater chances for success and happiness.