The fifth ingredient in the dominant belief in adolescence is the evolution of popular psychology. Of course, psychology is simply “the study of mental life.” It is a field concerned with mental processes and behavior looking at the emotional and behavioral characteristics of an individual or group. It introduces itself as science, attempting to observe, identify, describe, investigate, and make categorical conclusions on human phenomena. It claims objectivity in its examinations and in its judgments (even though we know that the human heart is desperately wicked and not easily nailed down). But it is almost impossible to imagine a modern life without psychology. Psychology continues to have a dramatic impact on the way we think about life.
One way psychology has helped to establish the idea of adolescence is simply by its insistence on categorizing everyone and everything. Psychology could not exist without these divisions of race, gender, age, financial status, and so on. Coming up with conclusions is hard enough when observing only narrow group of persons let alone trying to summarize the whole of humanity. So perhaps as much as any other field of study psychology thrives on pigeonholing. The separation of adolescents into their own class has ironically helped to establish the very same separation.
It isn’t hard to find this fragmentation in our own conversations. It seems like the last quarter of the twentieth century especially has been all about fragmentation. And while once we were enlightened to speak of a youth culture, now there are a whole range of youth subcultures: skaters, geeks, jocks, freaks, druggies, nerds, band geeks, and the list goes on. This terminology comes largely from the world of psychology as it attempts to interpret everyone and get them into a tidy group. There is no doubt that most of us in the church have adopted this worldly way of thinking and talking, and perhaps we are guilty of giving credence to these categories just by the way we communicate about them.