For three fascinating, disturbing years, writer Patricia Hersch journeyed inside a world that is as familiar as our own children and yet as alien as some exotic culture--the world of adolescence. As a silent, attentive partner, she followed eight teenagers in the typically American town of Reston, Virginia, listening to their stories, observing their rituals, watching them fulfill their dreams and enact their tragedies. What she found was that America's teens have fashioned a fully defined culture that adults neither see nor imagine--a culture of unprecedented freedom and baffling complexity, a culture with rules but no structure, values but no clear morality, codes but no consistency.
Is it society itself that has created this separate teen community? Resigned to the attitude that adolescents simply live in "a tribe apart," adults have pulled away, relinquishing responsibility and supervision, allowing the unhealthy behaviors of teens to flourish. Ultimately, this rift between adults and teenagers robs both generations of meaningful connections. For everyone's world is made richer and more challenging by having adolescents in it.
Why do teenagers so often seem like a different species? Journalist Patricia Hersch gives a troubling answer in her fascinating, up-close-and-personal look at what it means to be a teen in today's American high schools. Rather than interviewing "high-risk" teens (those already swept up in a cycle of drug use, gang violence, or unintended pregnancy, for example), Hersch focuses her attention on "regular kids"--adolescents who are average achievers on academic and social levels. In light of this, A Tribe Apart
is all the more startling to read: Hersch's investigative approach makes it impossible for parents to shrug off their responsibilities by saying "That's not my kid." This is
Hersch offers readers a fly-on-the-wall perspective as she spends three years hanging out with eight youths, submerging herself in their environment. They struggle with all the things you might remember or expect from the teen years: figuring out relationships, establishing friendships, determining what's cool and uncool, experiencing sexual attraction. But these teens--and, as Hersch asserts, the majority of teens in America today--have much, much more piled on their plates. Having been left to their own devices by a preoccupied, self-involved, and "hands-off" generation of parents, adolescents have had to figure out their own system of ethics, morals, and values, and rely on each other for advice on such profound topics as abuse, dysfunctional parents, and sex (with all its accompanying ramifications). Adolescents are indeed "a tribe apart," but not by choice--adult society abandons them long before they ever get the chance to rebel against it.
A wake-up call for all parents and teenagers, this essential book is also hopeful. Hersch urges us not to be afraid of teenagers--even if they have piercings and tattoos and strange hair--because what they really, truly want is a little guidance, attention, and love. --Brangien Davis