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Adolescence and Adultescence. Reflections on the new pathologies and new normalcies of the life cycle in family relationships

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Edited by Maria Giovanna Ruo and Maria Beatrice Toro. Adolescence and Adultescence. CISU, 2011, pp. 188

Kidults? You can find them anywhere: at the workplace, on the streets, at the movies, on the bus. Perhaps even within your home. They are the adults that can hardly be called adults because their attitudes and behavior are like those of a child. Those parents who, in their lifestyle and in their interests, are much too similar to their children – fragile and at the same time powerful – are not kids anymore, but are not yet adults either because they are struggling with an identity to be defined. Those young adults who, economic difficulties aside, don’t even want to think about the idea of separating themselves from Mom and Dad. Men and women for whom adolescence tends to be prolonged in middle ground that never ends, defined precisely as “adultescence”. Neologism that combines the terms adult and adolescence in order to identity a suspended and indefinite existential dimension, unknown to our grandparents, which has become a distinctive feature of contemporary society.

The Book. This brand-new publication, Adolescence and Adultescence, expounds upon this phenomenon, and in particular, its effects on daily and family life. It is comprised of a collection of documents from two conferences organized by the association CaMmiNo-the National Juvenile Chamber of Italy together with FederPsi-SCINT held at the Tribunal for Minors in Rome. This comprehensive reflection goes into detail on various aspects of the issue through the multidisciplinary contributions of judges, psychologists, child psychiatrists and neuropsychiatrists, sociologists, and anthropologists. There’s a plurality of voices and skills all centered on the big question: is adultescence a regressive state or a “new normalcy”?

The Scenario. The question is anything but bizarre. It looks to a society that ages at the blink of an eye, which seems to have separated itself from the present and future fates of its “outraged” youth. It sees a boundary between pathology and normalcy that is in itself unstable, due to the influences exerted by dominant sociocultural factors, and the complex uniqueness of the human being. The contributors of the book have preferred to focus on this millennium in light of the crisis of traditional orientations and the lacking promises of modernity. Regarding values, this era is a desert in which the prevalent paradigms – in exalting the primacy of consumerism and technology – influence attitudes and behavioral patterns that convey an idea of freedom that is stripped of responsibility. Freedom is then equated with unlimited possibilities for responding to instincts and desires. It’s a tsunami that sweeps away bays, while limiting and disrupting the usual order of personal and collective action. As a result, this “freedom” obstructs the independent path of self-awareness and growth of young people, and makes adults’ identity fragile and ambiguous.

The Phenomenon. The effects of all of this are right before our eyes: circumvention of the big and small challenges of life, immaturity toward parental educational responsibility, difficulty in assuming stable affective roles. Phenomena that describe individuals and nuclear families tangles in a rat’s nest of uncertainties and contradictions, hit by the transformations that have complicated the relationships between generations: the litmus test of a society that reeks of narcissism and has a hard time finding itself in certainties that are not individualistic. The transition mechanisms, the so-called “rites of passage” that have always accompanied us from the transition of one stage of life to the next, are so deeply modified today that their capacity to evaluate and promote “the change” is greatly diminished. Since these mechanisms are no longer recognized by society, they tend to be avoided by the younger generations. Because people are not able to grasp their profound meaning, these generations prefer to take less demanding, vague paths. Maturation is continually procrastinated, also due to the partial guidance of adults who are less and less conscious of the educational dimension of their role, and are more and more eternal adolescents seized by the trends of the moment. There’s a widespread obsessive tendency to focus on the exterior and superficial aspects of life.

Fragile Parenthood. Here we have eternally indecisive adults, who have poor self-esteem and fear the judgment of others. They chase their careers and success at all costs, and are ready to sacrifice their children and their partner at the altar of individualism. These are adults who don’t cut with the umbilical cord with their family of origin, fostering an intrusive, dependent relationship that generates tension between them and their partners. These adults confuse unconditional love for their children with indulgence and permissiveness, neglecting their parental role as they declare themselves to be their children’s “buddies”. There’s confusion of roles and responsibilities that denies generational differences. These adults do not commit themselves to fulfilling their role as parents who ought to share the exercise of authority and education, which is simultaneously distinct and complimentary, calling mothers and fathers to collaborate in the interests of their children. There is enough evidence to grasp the current crisis of the family and parental plane that is, conceptually and behaviorally speaking, dominated by free, instable unions and extended family relationships. The ones who bear the brunt of the crisis are the girls and boys who are exposed to the risks that come from an incomplete shaping of identity and develop dysfunctional conditions accompanied by distress, psychological disorders and behavioral problems. It is no wonder, therefore, if those interfering judges and lawyers converse with the psychological experts. The aftermath of the events related to family conflicts, which are already traumatic and painful for each member involved, can have devastating effects on the psychological structure of minors.

New and Old Media. Adolescence and Adultescence offers an in-depth look into these issues, by going to the heart of the phenomenon. It highlights the characteristics and perspectives by evaluating the macro-context in which the media play a central role. In the age of appearance and virtualization of human relationships, ample space is dedicated to the digital universe, burden and delight of the old and the young. In this context, adults are a step behind teens who are evidently more tech-savvy, but affected by the same narcissistic influences. These adults are captivated by the same World Wide Web. Just like their children, they update their social network profiles and seek out old friendships and new loves in a game that sees no boundaries between public and private. Fathers constantly play with their smartphone or tablet touch-screens, resembling their children. Stay-home or hypercompetitive mothers are engaged in extreme work-out sessions before the console or digital screens, searching for their lost form.

But don’t worry. If caught by a PlayStation, sitting in a gym, and cool clothes, you now doubt whether you have overdone it a bit, it does not necessarily mean that you belong to the incurable group of “anti-agers” or “big babies”. After all, books like this one are written so that we can get to know ourselves better and understand how we can develop and progress in life.

 

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