Do you sometimes feel as if adolescence is in effect another culture, one to which you are not privy? Author Patricia Hersch followed a group of junior high and high school students for several years in Reston, Virginia to discover more about their culture and found that they really are A Tribe Apart!
One of the primary developmental goals during adolescence is to find out about yourself, gaining a sense of who you are within the context of the larger society of which you are a part. Adolescents seek to answer the question “Who am I?” In her introduction to Tribe, Hersch identifies “aloneness” as a major theme of adolescence. She writes:
~ “The most stunning change for adolescents today is their aloneness (p.19)”
~ “In the twentieth century, not only are children alone, but everybody is alone (p.21).”
~ “Aloneness makes adolescents a tribe apart (p. 30).”
Jonathan, one of the teens Hersch interviews writes: “The teenager has been classified as a remote being…there is an unspeakable distance between youth and the grown-up world (p. 30).”
Hersch’s insight into the adolescent world is invaluable. Even though the book was published in 1998, many of her conclusions are still valid, if not more so today. With our society’s penchant for digital communication over face-to-face interaction, adolescents are more likely to chat online than in person. Hersch also identifies a lack of boundaries for adolescents. We need only to watch the first ten to fifteen minutes of any news broadcast to view a story that highlights the incredible lack of boundaries for teens in our society. She notes that in this era of relativistic morality, expectations for teens are not clear. Furthermore, Hersch purports that parents, in lieu of talking about tough topics, will allow their teens to talk about such topics, but then choose not to engage in meaningful conversation with them. This cycle of behavior leads to adolescents feeling as though their parents are really listening. Only by listening — sincerely, honestly listening — will parents (and concerned adults) be able to affect the aloneness about which the adolescents in Hersch’s book speak.
The author does not gloss over the darker side of adolescence. Instead, she presents the lives of the teens with whom she interacted in their words, in their logic, and in their time. She draws conclusions based upon the feelings and actions of those same teens. Is this book a fair representation of ALL teens? No. It is, however, a primer to begin to understand the dynamics of adolescent culture. It is an introduction to the issues that adolescents deem important and a glimpse into their world.
What Hersch does not provide is a recipe for a solution. She makes some suggestions as to how adults can begin to reconnect with adolescents, but the logistics of it all is left to the reader. But, knowledge is power…and by reading this book, I have become better informed and my awareness has been heightened. What I choose to do with my new-found knowledge is, of course, up to me.
Given my career in gifted education, I have no choice but to interact with adolescents every day in meaningful ways, so Hersch’s book is yet another tool in my proverbial toolbox. I choose to work with this age group and love the choice I have made (on most days). Adolescents keep me young while simultaneously giving me grey hair…it is an interesting mix that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have used Tribe as a supplementary text when I teach adolescent psychology. It is interesting to discuss Hersch’s observations with students’ and compare their own perceptions of their adolescence with those adolescents described in the book.
Hersch, P. (1998). A tribe apart: A journey into the heart of American adolescence. New York, NY: Ballantine. ISBN: 978-0345435941 $14.95
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