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Posted October 1, 2003 

A Journey Into the Heart of American Adolescence
By Patricia Hersch
NY:A Fawcett Columbine Book:1998

Reviewed by: Lon Woodbury

The author, Patricia Hersch, a former contributing editor to Psychology Today, took several years during the 90s to explore the world of adolescents in her home community of Reston, Virginia. Spending time in their schools, visiting and interviewing them when she could, she narrowed her study down to a detailed case study of eight adolescents, which became the structure for this book. She tried to select typical adolescents, bypassing those obviously heading for trouble, or those blatantly trying to shock adults.

Based on her experience, she concluded that American adolescents live in a world that is almost invisible to adults. She found a world where adolescents develop their own values and rules, largely devoid of direct adult supervision. A major cause of a separate adolescent culture in her opinion, was due to the significant amount of time adolescents spend on their own. She found these kids came home to a vacant house after school, and filled their hours with TV and peer activities, sometimes at home and sometimes elsewhere. They seemed to hunger for more direct adult involvement and boundaries set by adults, but in their absence, they established their own boundaries and rules, and then were reluctant to share this world with adults.

This book was quite popular when it was published in 1998, and has frequently been referred to since then in publications dealing with adolescents. Of any recent book I have seen, this one probably provides the best insight into the lives of adolescents today. The author concludes that we as a society have been doing a very poor job of raising our children. She attributes this to the fact that parents are so busy working to support their families, they have very limited time for their adolescent children. She sees that the growth of part time parents is creating a vacuum, and kids are filling that vacuum by running their own lives, almost as if they had already become adults, but without the experience that comes with adulthood.

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