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RESPONSE TO ELKINDS ALL GROWN UP AND NO PLACE TO GO 1

Response to Elkinds All Grown Up and No Place to Go


Asher Lindenbaum
Yeshiva University














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Part I General Remarks
In his book All Grown Up and No Place to Go, David Elkind (1998) presents his basic
psychology of education in which educational techniques are based mainly on childrens
development. He argues that many of the major problems in schools can be attributed to their
lack of attention to development and social changes (p. 186) and have focused their reforms
instead on principles that arent necessarily appropriate for educational environments (p. 164).
Elkind applies this basic approach to his understanding of teenage psychology as well.
According to Elkind, teenagers seemingly erratic behavior is often a result of their
developmental changes. He describes a teenage crisis, in which we ignore the world of the
teenager and expect them to mature into adulthood with very little preparation or guidance
(Elkind, 1998, p.7).
According to Elkind (1998), teenagers face a vast number of challenges throughout their
development. Firstly, teenagers have a need for peer approval coupled with an attitude that
everyone else is always noticing them (what Elkind calls a teenagers imaginary audience),
which causes them to be extremely sensitive toward changes in their body (pp. 40-41). These can
be issues of height, weight, or other bodily changes that come with puberty (pp. 55-66).
Teenagers often feel bogged down by issues of intimacy problems with a significant other or
complicated sexual feelings.
Elkind (1998) describes three types of teenage peer shock - social situations which can
completely overwhelm teenagers with anxiety. These situations are exclusion from a peer group,
betrayal, and disillusionment with peers (pp. 81-102). The anxiety in these cases is particularly
salient because adolescents so desperately rely on the support of peers as they attempt to become
autonomous (p. 85).
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While at home, teenagers are often faced with identity moratorium. As James Marcia
(1991) explains, many teenagers in this stage begin leaning toward specific identity choices but
are unable and/or unwilling to make any specific commitments. At this critical time, teenagers
have a lot of difficulty with their families because they feel that nobody understands them. They
feel that the world expects them to be something that theyre not, and that they dont have the
freedom that they feel is their right.
Elkind (1998) suggests that parents should learn the basics of childrens development.
Through this knowledge, he claims, they will be able to recognize where childrens issues come
from and how to respond appropriately (p. 242). In terms of discipline, he suggests that parents
speak in terms of principles rather than threat (p. 245). Care for children, he adds, is not about
complete control, but about setting boundaries with clear explanations. In this way, adults are
treating their children like adults, consistent with the image thrust onto teenagers by changes in
society (p. 242).
One issue with Elkinds suggestion is that he doesnt provide evidence which directly
supports his opinion. Elkinds argument against so-called non-developmental techniques is that
they can misfire. He cites Faber and Mazlishs (1980) parenting technique to state what you see
(The door is open), and their admission that this technique can misfire the request can
potentially be completely ignored by the child (So what? You open it.). According to Elkind,
techniques like this mistakenly assume based on postmodern principles that children should
never be made to feel guilty. However, he argues, it is important for teenagers to feel guilt under
the principle of justice. He then cites an anecdote where he used a response to his son which
made him feel guilty and this technique was successful (Elkind, 1998, pp. 249-250). The obvious
problem with Elkinds argument is that neither the parenting techniques nor Elkinds suggestions
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about attitudes toward children are supported by research, and both can be plagued by the same
problems. Elkinds suggestion can certainly misfire as well perhaps some children will react in
horrible ways if they are made to feel guilty in the wrong time.
In my opinion, parents turn to parenting literature to suggest new methods to deal with
old problems. As Elkind argues, some of these techniques are developmentally appropriate, and
many are not. But regardless of their developmental appropriateness, they are techniques, and
without evidence to the contrary we can assume that they can be at least as equally as effective as
developmentally appropriate techniques.
Furthermore, there are multiple proven theories of child development, and none is seen as
the prevalent conclusive theory in the research community today. Should parent assume that
development precedes learning like Piaget or can they teach children in Vygotskys zone of
proximal development? Elkind provides many anecdotes in support of his own understanding of
teenage development, but never quite explains how to apply the scientific knowledge of
development to parenting.
Elkinds advice to schools is based on similar principles to his parenting advice. He
suggests that schools should recognize the changes that teenagers experience and strive to adapt
to those changes. Like rules set by parents, school rules should be based in specific principles
(Elkind, 1998, p. 253). Lastly, he suggests the restructuring of the last years of high school to
make them more open to rearrangement and allow for mutual authority of students and schools
(p. 254).



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Part II Focus Question
From a halakhic perspective, Elkinds advice regarding the involvement of teenagers in
religion would be virtually impossible to implement in its entirety in an Orthodox school. It
would go against every fiber of a halakhic-based education system to allow children the
opportunity to take off from religion Judaism demands complete participation.
It is important to note that Elkinds argument assumes that children and teenagers will not
feel connected to the religious community. In my experience, however, the insular nature of the
Orthodox community already encourages Jewish children and teenagers to identify themselves as
deeply attached to Judaism. That being said, this does not apply to every Jewish community, and
there certainly are many teenagers who feel disconnected from Judaism.
Elkinds historical depiction of the change from the golden era of adolescence (Elkind,
1998, p. 4) to the current teenage crisis took place amongst Jewish children as well. The era in
which teenage clubs and groups were so popular saw the rise of very strong Jewish youth
movements such as Bnei Akiva, Hillel, BBYO, and NCSY. These were each groups which
engendered a sense of religious purpose and community in teenagers. However, as the youth
movement culture fizzled, the support which each of these groups offered was no longer sought
after by teenagers. Nowadays, youth movements can no longer be successful based only in
synagogue programming or in political thought. If implemented successfully, though, youth
programming can offer a tremendous amount of support to Jewish teenagers.
If I was implementing Elkinds advice into the Jewish community, I believe it would be
most successful outside of school. Youth programming must offer the second leg of Jewish
learning one which produces a sense of community through an emphasis on social and
intellectual growth rather than textual learning (Elkind, 1998, p. 52-53). Successful youth
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programming can offer the fun and inviting environment that teenagers so desperately want.
While we cannot offer teenagers a sabbatical from Jewish observance, this can provide a half-
shabbos from their limited experiences in school. Programs which can present teenagers an
avenue for questioning, though, and growth can have a significant impact on the religious
community as a whole.

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References
Elkind, D. (1998). All grown up and no place to go. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Faber, A., and Mazlish, E. (1980). How to talk so kids will listen: How to listen so kids will talk.
New York: Avon.
Marcia, J.E. (1991). Identity and self-development. In R.M. Lerner, A.C. Peterson, and E.J.
Brooks-Gunn (Eds.), Encyclopedia of adolescence (Vol. 1, pp. 527-531). New York:
Garland.