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Without mentors, teens can slip up
If kids can't apprentice with adults, a life skills program can help

Date published: 7/25/2010

IT'S NOT VERY often that I get to go out to dinner with both of my daughters. I'm happy as we sit in the booth at Sammy T's--until they both start busily texting their friends and not listening to their dad's pearls of wisdom.

Are they products of the 'lack of apprenticeship for adulthood' that has supposedly undermined our children's development, I wonder?

They're both recent college graduates and usually fairly attentive. But according to Judy Diero, a rehabilitation specialist at Western Washington University, young people have shown deterioration in such things as discipline, achievement, motivation, crime, pregnancy, drug use and suicide--all due to a significant shift in U.S. culture that has separated young people from the wisdom of their elders.

Talking at the 11th annual Fundamentals of Addiction conference last year, Diero described how in the late 1970s, President Carter asked H. Stephen Glenn, a psychologist and expert in youth development and chemical dependency who had raised four biological children and 14 foster children from alcoholic families: 'What's going on with our families?"

Loss of Apprenticeship

The answer is, a multitude of different influences.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, when men came back from the war, they had developed worldliness and didn't want to move back to the farm--and the women had gotten to like being part of the work force.

The culture changed from 73 percent rural in 1940 to 97 percent urban in the early '50s as we built bedroom communities. Now, both parents went off to distant jobs and the children did not work side by side with adults, as they would have on the farm--they spent all day at school with other kids.

The grandparents did not want to move, so stayed down on the farm, which "weakened cultural bonds between generations," said Diero.

Then the postwar baby boom caught the authorities on the hop, and there were not enough schools or teachers. So class sizes jumped from an average of 20 in 1940 to 50 in 1952, and classes stayed big for many years, noted Diero.

Teachers had little time for passing on cultural wisdom and just focused on keeping the kids quiet--in the class, in the hallways, on the bus, so even interaction between kids was minimized.

Behold--The Boob Tube

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The Developing Capable Young People program emphasizes three perceptions and four skills critical to being able to meet life's challenges successfully.

The three perceptions are:

"I am capable of facing problems and challenges and gaining strength and wisdom through experience."

"My life has meaning and purpose--who I am and what I have to offer is of value in the scheme of things."

"My actions and choices influence what happens."

The four skills are:

Intrapersonal: The tools to respond to feelings effectively--self-assessment, self-control and self-discipline.

Interpersonal: The tools to communicate, cooperate, negotiate, share, empathize, resolve conflicts and listen effectively when dealing with people.

Systemic: The tools of responsibility, adaptability and flexibility necessary to deal with the environmental family, social, legal and other systems in which we live.

Judgment: The tools to set goals and/or make decisions, judgments and choices based on moral and ethical principles, wisdom and experience.

Dr. Patrick Neustatter recently retired as a family practitioner in North Stafford. Dr. Patrick Neustatter can be reached at newsroom@freelancestar.com.