In contemporary industrialized countries, adolescence roughly spans the teenage years, although some analysts place the lower and upper ages at 15 and 24. Before
the twentieth century, adolescence did not exist as an age category. Today, it is a period in which young people are expected to continue their education andperhaps hold a part-time job. What inequalities based on age are experienced by adolescents in our society? Adolescents are not granted full status as adults in most societies, but they are not allowed to act “childish” either. Early teens are considered too young to do “adult” things, such as stay out late at night, vote, drive, use tobacco, or cunsume alcoholic beverages. Many adolescents also face conflicting demands to attend school and to make money. Most states have compulsory school attendance laws requiring young people between the ages of 6 and 16 or 18 to attend school regularly; however, students who see no benefit from school or believe that the money they make working is more important may find themselves labeled as juven ile offenders for missing school. Moreover, juvenile laws define behavior such as truancy or running away from home as forms of delinquencywhich would 110t be offenses if they were committed by an adult. Despite child labor laws implemented
to control working conditions for young employees, many adolescents of today are employed in settings with hazardous working conditions, low wages, no benefits, and long work hours. A variety of reports have labeled contemporary U.S. teenagers as a “generation at risk” because of the many problems that social analysts believe to be profound among todays adolescents (see Zill and Nord, 1994;Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1995). Among the most pressing adolescent problems identified were crime and violence, teen pregnancy. suicide, drug abuse, and excessive peer pressure. However, other social analysts dispute these claims and suggest that teenagers have become the “scapegoat generation” and are widely viewed as being a problem for society. Although defining the “youth problem” in this manner may be harmful for all adolescents, it could be especially harmful for young people of color from lowincome families. Without educational and economic
opportunities, they are the 1110Stlikely to constitute themajority of young people in jails, prisons, and detention facilities, where it is believed that they can do less harm to other people or to the nation as a whole. One analyst finds this trend especially troublesome: American adults have regarded adolescents with hope and foreboding [for many decades). What is transpiring is new and ominous. A particular danger
attends older generations in dulging “they-deserve-it”myths to justify enriching ourselves at the expense uf younger ones. The message. adults have spent two decades sending to youths is: You are not our kids. We don’t care about you. (Males. J 996: 43) In Males’s opinion, the primary way to save the adolescent generation of.today is to reduce poverty among children, teenagers, and young families, as well as to move away from the large number of age-based laws that restrict adolescents’ opportunities for employment and freedom (Males, 1996).