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Review of "The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager"

By Thomas Hine
Harper Perennial, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Feb 16th 2002
The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager

Thomas Hine is a journalist and author of several books, and his history of the social role of American youth is a useful, clearly written account in a somewhat journalistic style.  The first three chapters address current thought about teenagers from sociological, psychological, and anthropological perspectives.  Hine then turns to the early settlement of North America and the roles that children and youth played in the early days of an emerging nation.  The book then proceeds fairly swiftly in covering nearly 400 years of American life.  Facts and stories are grouped together to give an account of different periods. 

            What this book provides is a sense of perspective on the concept of the teenager and the expectations we place on young people today.  As he sums up in his last chapter, it is in fact very rare in history for most people in their teens to be full time students deprived of the status of adulthood.  Children and young people fought in wars, worked full time from early ages, and often started their own families far earlier than they have in the twentieth century.  It took major societal changes for the idea of universal education for children to catch on, and the psychologization of adolescence seeing those years as a beautiful and perilous time was certainly a twentieth century phenomenon, particularly influenced by the work of Granville Stanley Hall. 

            While Hine is a competent writer, the book lacks any strong organizing theme, and tends to read like a collection of historical facts.  Although there is a useful bibliography, this is not a scholarly work.  It is packed full of information, but for the most part Hine leaves readers to draw their own conclusions concerning the relevance the history of teenagers for our current worries.  The book would be more compelling if Hine did do more to draw connections between the past and the present I have to confess I found the book a little hard to get through.  But it is probably a helpful starting place for those wanting some historical perspective on the apparent crises of teenage life that beset our society today.

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

    Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.

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