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Popularly deemed a problem of the minority poor, adolescent crime is also an issue of the suburban middle class, argues sociologist Currie Crime and Punishment in America in his close look at disaffection and transgression among the teenage bourgeoisie. Drawing on numerous interviews with college students and a two-and-a-half-year study of adolescents in drug treatment programs, Currie argues that because "we are accustomed to deploying the image of a stable and successful middle class as measuring stick against which the less One of Currie's subjects, who began using drugs at 13, reminisces about growing up in a "beautiful home, really a beautiful home"—but financial comfort didn't prevent her from stealing from her family to buy drugs.

In addition to the teens' detailed and harrowing personal accounts, Currie offers suggestions as to why teens from supposedly ideal homes are lured into irresponsible and criminal behavior.


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It's not our culture of permissiveness but our "culture of contingent worth," in which kids feel like they're never good enough; similarly, an intolerance for transgression and a "totalizing moralism" labels kids as bad rather than acknowledging their mistakes. Thank you! Harsh criticism of middle-class American culture, one pervaded by a new form of social Darwinism that places its youth at increasingly high risk for the ills long associated with disadvantaged adolescents.

Adolescents today, he says, bear the marks of growing up in a world dominated by a lifeboat ethic that denies mutual responsibility and assistance to the vulnerable.

The Road to Whatever book review

From to , the author conducted a study of adolescents in treatment for substance abuse; here, his recorded conversations with these youths, as well as with many of his college students, provide a vivid picture of adolescent troubles. From them, Currie identifies and examines in some detail four main themes: inversion of responsibility, intolerance of transgression, rejection of nurturance, and worth seen as contingent on meeting certain narrow standards of performance. In their own words, adolescents describe their encounters with these attitudes in families, schools, and other institutions.

Parents are shown as quick to discipline but slow to take responsibility, to nurture and to support. He charges that treatment programs, which often offer medication as the first form of intervention, favor such harsh therapeutic techniques as shaming and humiliation. From his interviews, he concludes that the help that mattered most to youth was practical assistance that did not try to change them but helped them make changes they had already chosen.

The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence

Despite his assertion that the root of the problem is cultural, in his final chapter he does offer some specific steps for better meeting the needs of troubled adolescents. There was a problem adding your email address. Please try again.

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