J. Stanley White, a Cypress marriage, family and child counselor, once received a phone call from a woman who said she had heard about him and wanted to see if he was a good therapist.
"So," the woman said, "before I bring this person in I'm going to read the symptoms off, and you do a diagnosis over the phone."
White was game.
"I thought 'I've never had something like this before; this ought to be fun,' so she reads off this thing: withdrawn, sullen, non-communicative, thinks he can rebuild the world, given to fantasy and excessive daydreaming.
"I said, 'Schizophrenia! . . . Or is it possible you have a teen-ager in the house?' She said, 'How did you know that ?' "
Actually, White knows quite a bit about teen-agers--those adolescent travelers through what he calls that "never-never land" between childhood and adulthood.
And in order to provide insight into that neverland, White on Wednesday presented "The Adolescent World Revisited: Or How to Drive Your Teen-ager into His Right Mind," a free lecture sponsored by the Orange County Mental Health Assn. at the Tustin Branch Library.
In what he called a "crash course in adolescent psychology," White, chairman of the department of psychology at Cypress College, emphasized how to understand the thinking and feeling processes of the teen-ager along with the special behavior patterns common to that age group. Although he stressed that he would be talking about generalizations, White noted that "all these comments apply to most situations, probably 90%."
'Out of Control'
"Why is this important?" he asked. "It's important because there is no doubt in my mind that kids are running out of control, that parents are scared.
"We've come through a very permissive age of raising children in which we've let them grow like Topsy because 'they probably will turn out all right and really we're afraid of them anyway so just back off and leave them alone and hope they'll be OK.' Parents, I think, are starting to realize this is a very ineffective way to raise children, and so now they're groping for answers. And most of us grope too late."
This, then, is the teen-age world according to White:
- It's a sociological fact that society has no definite place for teen-agers.
"A teen-ager is not a child and not an adult and is therefore in a never-never land between the two," he said.
"The teen-ager rejects the world of the child, so if you try to treat a teen-ager like a child, forget it, you're through. And in a very strange way a teen-ager also rejects the world of the adult."
To illustrate, White recalled that when he was a high school activities director and "into doing innovative things," he wanted to change the signs on the restrooms from "boys and girls" to "men and women."
Teen-agers Rejected Idea
"The teen-agers didn't want it," he said. "They went to their student council (to protest). They absolutely did not want it. I asked them why. They didn't know, they just didn't like it."
But, he added, "If you stand at an assembly and call them boys and girls, they roll their eyes at you; they laugh; they look at each other like, 'What's this person doing?' because they don't want to be called boys and girls. It's almost an unconscious desire to cling on to childhood, but not too overtly.
"If you make it too overt and say that, then they reject it. So here you are in this crazy world; you can't treat them as children, and you can't really quite treat them as adults."
White noted that in anthropology "there is something called rites of passage, a ceremony or something you go through that marks a significant change in your status"--getting married or becoming a parent, for example.
In so-called primitive societies, he said, they have puberty rites, such as the manhood training in Africa as depicted in "Roots." After going through the training, he said, a boy is considered an adult with adult privileges.
But, he said, "we don't have anything that clearly indicates when you arrive in our society. We have a whole bunch of little things, not one of which tells a kid: 'You've grown up and are accepted by the society.' For example, you have an age when you can quit school, an age when you can join the service, an age when you can vote and a different age when you can drink."
No More Status
"When you graduate from high school, for many kids that's a big deal: I'm now in the adult world, but that doesn't change anything. Nobody treats you differently or gives you more status or respect."
It is, he said, confusing to adolescents.
- Faced with no definite status, teen-agers create their own subculture.
Today it might be punk rock or heavy metal. In White's day, in the mid-'50s, it was rock 'n' roll.
He remembers the initial surge of popularity of rock 'n' roll around 1955, a time when many outraged adults went out of their way to eliminate the music by banning it and smashing the records.