Typically- when speaking of adolescent addiction- one word comes to mind: drugs. I beg to differ. The real addiction is the “me, myself, and I” mentality that is a common byproduct of modern society, which has tolerated- and sometimes even encouraged- extreme measures of individualism. By definition, adolescence is a time period characterized by a search for identity, so allowing such a liberal approach to individualism is an oxymoron. In short, adolescents do not know who they are, so their concept of self is poorly defnined. They are vulnerable to misleading possibilities. Drugs, yes, but tattooing, caking white and black make-up on one’s face, drinking alcohol, and even pretending to be the perfect child are all merely reactions to normal adolescent experience.
This addiction to the word “me” might be seen as composed of three subdivisions: egoism, individualism, and selfishness. In Philosophy, ethical egoism is the belief that you might as well do the best for you, because everyone else is doing the same and it benefits all to behave that way. Individualism is similar to egoism in the “do for yourself” outlook on human actions and ethical accountability, except for the fact that it is built upon the belief that the recognition of the “inalienable rights” is more important than human actions. While ethical egoism and individualism both emphasize the freedoms and interests of the self, they are still based on philosophical premises. Selfishness is not. It has no illusions, no excuses, and no exclusions of entitlement.
How does this affect adolescents? Their generalized, mainstream psychology went through the subdivisions of individualism and ethical egoism, and now has only one place to go: down. Selfishness is the base product of too few regulations and too many personal freedoms. Years ago, the heroes would ask of all citizens: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. It seems that the younger citizens only heard excerpts from the quote and have embraced their version as a motto to live by. After all, today’s public heroes are rich heiresses with narcissistic complexes and homemade pornographic videos. Presidents and Prime Ministers have become another far-off symbol of “the man”, the nameless authority figure fighting to keep the newbie citizens from realizing their true potential.
Family, school, and church officials particularly are weary of the rise of the three subdivisions. Without the limits of rarely-disputed authority, the number of street-bound, uneducated, disrespectful adolescents is higher than ever. The irony is that once these more-children-than-adults learn the harsh truths about selfishness and how society has duped them into believing sloganeering about how the “American dream” is close at hand, they are past the point of no return. Well, they may not have been DUPED, but try telling them that. Selfishness knows no wrong.
Before I go off the rails riding the “for shame” head-shaking bandwagon, let me put a bug in the indiviualistic society’s ear: it is not just the so-called BAD KIDS who are catering to themselves. The highest academic achievers are in constant competition for spots in the best schools and/or scholarships. While no one is looking, they are just likely to be acting out. In schools across the country (as well as was in my own) there are just as many expected community leaders who get pregnant during high school as there are juvenile delinquents. It is not just an individual problem or yet another example of parental failure, it is the addiction of the young to a falsely-presented idea of the indiviualistic reality- much like reality television itself. The only authority they will allow is experience, and that is the harshest authority of them all.