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A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence

Teenagers will be teenagers.  Perhaps this is the best way to understand the lives of eight teenagers in Hersch’s (1999) book, A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence.  Although Hersch only writes about American teenagers, adolescents around the world may be able to relate to the eight kids interviewed by the author.

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They are naughty, to say the least, and their parents seem to have little or no interest in how they are leading or in fact ruining their lives.  The teenagers use illegal drugs, enjoy premarital sex, steal, get into trouble, and essentially do everything that they are most likely to do in the absence of adults from their lives.

Adults have abused them through neglect or other means.  Hence, the young people do not have real models to follow.  Instead, they experiment with life so as to learn their own lessons before adulthood strikes.  Many of the lessons that such teenagers may learn will undoubtedly be painful if not plain sad.

It is clear to the reader of A Tribe Apart that these teenagers could have been saved from the difficulties they may inevitably face by following models of propriety.

All the same, it is impossible to find such models when their parents are missing from home and out at work.  Teachers may not be able to fill in the gap seeing as it is the parents’ responsibility to teach morality to their kids for the latter to consider it believable.  After all, children are meant to spend more time with their parents than with their teachers.

The teenagers of A Tribe Apart do not belong to poor families.  Researchers have often described adolescents from poor families who are neglected or abused by other means before they turn into drug addicts or thieves.

Teenagers belonging to poor families are therefore believed by the masses to be morally degraded.  The unique fact about Hersch’s book is that all of the teenagers she has interviewed for her research belong to the healthy middle class.  Perhaps this makes it easier for adolescents around the globe to relate to the eight teenagers in her book.

Most if not all teenagers may be considered ‘a tribe apart’ as the reader contemplates the fact that both the haves and the have-nots behave in similar ways through adolescence.  Indeed, teenagers belonging to poor families appear to be destroying their lives just like the adolescents interviewed by Hersch for her study.

The good news is, however, that Hersch’s book could serve as a warning signal for parents who have neglected or abused their growing kids in other ways.  If parents do not take heed, their growing kids may very well shape themselves as adults that behave like their own parents.  Wealth does not matter in this case.  Rather, teenagers would remain as stereotypical teenagers – experimenting with adulthood in their youth.  They know no boundaries.

They are always crossing their limits.  Most importantly, there is nobody to guide them out of their troubled existence.  Drugs and sex become the sole source of joy for them.  Thus, Hersch’s book is a wake up call that all parents must give serious thought to.  The fact that eight teenagers confided in Hersch must also be taken seriously.  It is possible for parents to honestly understand their kids.  Hersch has proved this with her research.