The Fixation of Modern Culture: Stuck on Teenage

Psychologists define fixation in the following way:

Fixation refers to a persistent focus of pleasure-seeking energies on an earlier stage of psychosexual development. A fixation occurs when an issue or conflict in a psychosexual stage remains unresolved, leaving the individual focused on this stage and unable to move onto the next.

I would like to argue that our modern culture seems to manifest many fixations on the teenage years. In fact, one way to describe our modern culture is to see it as developmentally like a teenager. This of course presents rather serious problems for our culture not only in terms of facing life with the necessary sobriety, seriousness and maturity but it also means that there are many people in our culture who never grow up.

Let me try to illustrate some examples of what I see as a fixation on teenage issues and mentality.

  1. Wanting all the rights but none of the responsibilities– It is not uncommon, as a child approaches adulthood the hear them declare that, since they are now and adult, they can do what they want. They often boldly declare this to their parents. If a parent is smart he or she will teach the child that adulthood does not magically happen at 18. Rather adulthood happens when they move out, get a job, pay their own rent, pay their own bills, drive a car that they own, purchase their own insurance etc. In other words, adulthood is about accepting and exercising responsibility for one’s own self. But the teenage mentality claims the rights of adulthood (self-autonomy etc.) without wanting to accept the responsibilities that come with it. This is very often the case with our culture today. Strident claims are made regarding our rights but little is said of our duties.  Accepting responsibility for our actions is often cast aside by excuses that blame others: “I’m not responsible, my mother dropped me on my head when I was two, I grew up poor, I have ADHD”  and so forth. There can be legitimate excusing or explaining factors in life  but we have made an art of it. Our culture has a hard time insisting that people take responsibility for their actions. Those who do suggest such things are called insensitive and harsh. Not only do many make excuses for their bad beahvior but they also try to shift blame, “What about him!”  Further, we often see that in our culture people increasing expect others to provide them what they ought to provide themselves. There are expansive notions of entitlements on both the right and left. Surely there are some basic needs that government and industry can and should provide, and there are those among us who truly cannot care for themselves, but the list grows ever longer and money it seems is no object. All of these behaviors I have described tend to overemphasize rights but underestimate personal responsibility. I am arguing that this bespeaks a teenage mentality. An adult attitude respects the need to take responsibility for our lives, ask for help when we need it but does not ask other to do for us what we can do for ourselves. An adult attitude also takes responsibility for the consequences of decisions that are made and does not shift blame for things I have done.
  2. Sexual immaturity– Teenagers experiencea powerful sexualawakening and their bodies flood with hormones. This leads to a number of effects. First of all there is a general silliness about sexuality that sets up. There is giggling and off color jokes. Everything is thought of in terms of sex and many ordinary words and references have ulterior meanings. There is a kind of obsession with sex. They begin to dress provocatively and “strut their stuff.” Sadly too teenagers struggle a lot with sexual misbehavior and very bad judgment about sexual matters. This is all the more prevalent since we do not often chaperon and oversee youth in the way we should, neither do we teach them well in regard to sexuality and modesty. American culture too often exhibits a teenage mentality and immaturity about sexuality. There is the incessant chatter and exhibition of sex in movies, music, books and the general media. In many ways our culture seems like a sex obsessed teenager. There are off color jokes. Many comedians devote lengthy sections of their monologues to sex and speak of it in very demeaning and unedifying ways and everyone thinks its a big joke. Surely too there is great irresponsibility today with regards sexual behavior: premarital sex, babies out of wedlock, the even greater tragedy of abortion, adultery, homosexual behavior and on and on. People often exercise very poor judgement about sexuality. Further many celebrate lewdness and sexual irresponsibility often applying moral thinking  more reminiscent of a college frat party than a truly thoughtful and responsible perspective on the matter. An adult and mature attitude accepts that sex is a very beautiful and personal gift given to the married. It is holy and good and is an important part of life. It has its place but is not the only thing there is. The obsession, silliness and out of control quality exhibited in our culture bespeaks an immaturity that reminds one of untutored and uncorrected teenagers.
  3. Hatred of Authority– As children grow into the teenage years they begin to push the boundaries with parents and other authority figures. They test limits and ask tough questions. Now this is not all bad. They are not little children any longer and increasing autonomy is sought and often times incrementally appropriate. However, teenagers also can go too far and be both disrespectful and disobedient. At times they engage in inappropriate power struggles with their parents and other elders. They start to assert that no one should tell them what to do and some even go through periods of intense dislike and contempt for their parents and any who would try to direct them. So too our culture today struggles with the issue of authority. One of the geniuses of the American Political System is a balance of power and that elected officials should be accountable. So there is such a thing as healthy and vigorous debate and a proper limiting of the power of authority. However, some of the snide attitudes toward legitimate authority, not just government officials, but police, supervisors at work, pastors, and community leaders et al. seems at times a bit immature. Whispering behind their backs, dragging of feet, ugly comments, outright disrespect of elders and leaders all seem a bit teenage. One might argue it has always been this way. But there seems to have been a major uptick in this sort of beahvior starting in the mid to late 1960s. Rock music helped to usher in very negative attitudes about authority and that thinking has become widespread in our culture. An adult attitude respects the place of authority and the need for it. It does fear authority but speaks sincerely, truthfully and respectfully to those who have it.
  4. The “It’s not Fair!” Mentality– One of the most common cries of children and teenagers is that something isn’t fair. It is usually a plaintive cry that is self serving. It usually means that “I didn’t get what I want but it seems like others did.” Basically this cry is “all about me.” Truth be told life is NOT fair. Both my brothers were smarter than I was. Neither of them seemed  to have to study much and they still got “A’s” I had to struggle mightily just to get C’s and B’s. Not fair. But I had other gifts they didn’t have. Bottom line is that we all get dealt the cards we have and we have to play them. No one has exactly the same cards. In our culture too the plaintive cry often goes up about something not being fair. The most troublesome version of it comes in relation to moral and doctrinal  issues. The Church is often excoriated for her positions in ways like this: “Are you saying Gays can’t get married? That’s not fair. Are you saying women can’t be ordained? That’s not fair! Are you saying that people who are dying can’t commit suicide by euthanasia and that they have to accept suffering? That’s not fair. Are you saying a woman has to carry her child to term and can’t abort?  Not fair especially since the man can usually walk away. Again, notice that most such claims of unfairness are rather egocentric: Something isn’t fair because I can’t do what I want. An adult attitude accepts that life is not always fair. An adult attitude DOES fight against true injustice. Not all of life’s inequities should be tolerated. But here too an adult and mature attitude distinguishes between matter of true justice and merely getting what I want. The battle for true justice usually involves the needs of others and the whole community not just personal or egocentric concerns.

So I offer you this analysis. I do not say everyone is equally afflicted. But the big picture looks pretty teenage if you ask me. We take a very long time to grow up in our culture and some never do. We seem stuck on teenage issues. You may not agree with my view, or you may want to add to it. Please use the comments and weigh in. I do not want to seem harsh in this analysis but it seems more and more clear to me that we’re stuck. Seeing it for what it is the first step to correcting the tendency.

….Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.(Eph 4:13-16)

This brief video shows the usual sitcom scenario: parents (especially fathers) are stupid and kids are smart and that it’s OK for them to be sassy, and disrepsectful. Afterall it’s a teenage world.

9 Replies to “The Fixation of Modern Culture: Stuck on Teenage”

  1. Something to add to your immaturity list- our culture’s sense of entitlement. There was a book out there a while ago and it’s title escapes me, but it was about how we dumb down our kids and make them feel good about themselves without requiring accomplishment. It was directed at a failing educational system, but its message was bigger than education- we are do our children a disservice by growing this sense of self that is void of responsibility and accomplishment.

    I have a friend with whom I debate this issue at length. My kids have mandatory weekly chores for which they don’t receive allowance (there is a list of optional chores for $), and her children receive money for each chore, like walking the family pet. My children have summer jobs, but my friend believes summer is “off” time. My friend bought a car for her 15 year old so he’d learn to drive in the car he would be driving. My child didn’t get a drivers license until he was 18, much less a car (once he mastered regular, proper use of the washing machine we’d move onto something that could go up to 100 mph).

    Last summer, I overheard two teenagers talking about jobs. One flippantly declared, “Well, I’m NOT flipping burgers or anything like that.” It was clear that she was “above” that sort of thing, but she wanted money. Her mother had apparently implemented a budget for her clothing which the girl deemed insufficient. The teen was wide open on spending but very narrow on earning.

    When I heard the justification of the big salaries, bonuses and other incentives offered to all those higher-up’s in the banking and brokering industries, I kept hearing talk about what must be given to get people to accept and keep these multi million dollar jobs, even though those same employees were failing in large enough measure to require taxpayer bailout. Seems like a teenage mentality of self worth was at work.

  2. I think your points about teenage attitudes are right on, but the tone is a bit dismissive. Of course, there’s also the argument that “grown ups” have always sung the same old song–“These kids today! They have no respect or self control, yadayada….” going all the way back to the ols Testament. Having taught teenagers for some years I am well aware of the difficult stages of development of the adolescent brain but I also have observed countless so-called adult authority figures insisting upon truly unfair rules in the name of simply maintaining authority. I have also seen teens rightly question why we do or require certain things and have often heard adults come up short on substance but again insist that either a) it’s what we’ve always done so you musn’t question, or b) I’m the authority figure and i say so so you musn’t question, or c) I had to do it so you have to do it . To my mind, these attitudes among adults are worse than the teens because they have the excuse of a still-developing brain. Questioning and provocative teens can help us to live up to our responsibilities as adults if we compassionately listen for the voice of God in their questions and take them seriously rather than being dismissive.

    1. Hmmm…..I guess I understand your point but there is also the opposite problem of too many parents wanting to be “cool” and their kids friend. WHile it’s true that authority and discipline can be abused it is also true that we have to get back into the business of raising our children and not just pleasing them.

  3. My 17 yr old daughter exhibited one on the list…she respects authority and respects her place as a dependent….I never hear, “it’s not fair” or “other kids are….”; and she has been baptized and accepts Jesus Christ as her savior, my problem, however is she exhibits poor judgement with her sexuality. She sent pictures of herself in her brazierre in an email to a young man she tells me was worthy of seeing them because he cares about her. She doesn’t think it was bad judgement. How can I speak with respect and understanding to her when she may not even understand herself why she has done this?

    1. Well she needs to understanding that messing around with sex can get you in as much if not more trouble than drugs and excessive alcohol usage. She’s playing with fire and pretty soon all her dreams will be on hold if she’s not careful. Bad decisions in this area can last a lifetime.

  4. Modern culture is also obsessed with teens, especially in sexual way. And most of tv programmes, films live alone web sites are done for teens, and they ‘advertise’ teen behavior. The place of interest is when and how did it all start?

  5. The late Christopher Lasch has written a classic on this subject: “The Culture of Narcissism” (1979).

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