The Divided Self

The Divided Self

Inside the World of 21st Century Teens

By Ron Taffel

July/August 2006

For decades before and after World War II, children all over the United States hung out, had slumber parties, made crank phone calls, and played sports unsupervised. They didn't need the help of adults to set up play dates or hand out certificates of participation. As we know all too well by now, we no longer live in that world. What's less apparent is that, despite the appearance of greater parental involvement and psychological sophistication, most adults are just as clueless about the "second family" of their children's peer group and adolescent pop culture as they ever were.

A fundamental psychological shift further separates the experience of today's children from that of previous generations. Decades ago, most kids carried parents around inside, whether they wanted to or not. Through endless channels, parents constituted a deeply felt, internal presence, however neurotic and oppressive it might sometimes have been. But what I encounter again and again in my practice is the startling reality that many parents have become psychically extruded from the inner lives of their children. While helicopter dads and soccer moms have become more and more adept at managing the logistical challenges of 20th-century family life, they're often too frenetically busy to exert an emotionally magnetic presence in the internal landscape of a child's world.

Increasingly, kids feel the fabric of connection tearing. From an early age, they've learned that most of the time they…

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