A little over a quarter of a century ago, the book “La cause des Adolescentes” was published, a text to which Françoise Dolto devoted her last energies; dying a few days after having finished her manuscript. Despite its data, its pages are extremely valid and lucid, representing a contribution for parents today.
Seeing that their children are doing perfectly well in a home conveniently equipped with household appliances and other fruits of modern technology, their increasingly absent parents are very inclined to say to themselves: “let them grow up alone, they need less and less of us.” In her lines, Dolto points out that the physical absence of parents encourages a growing absence of them in the areas in which their children evolve and alerts us to the impoverishment of intergenerational communication that results from it.
The determining factors of this situation and their interactions are multiple, of high complexity. However, it can be affirmed that, when parents (or adults in general) refrain from verbally intervening, to advise, or to exchange points of view with their children, about the various possible behaviors to adopt in society such as it presents to us, we face two major errors.
The first is to consider the adolescent as a being essentially determined by their belonging to an age group (categorized as adolescence). This idea is consecrated by common sense and legitimized by the lexicon, which postulates: “adolescence: age that comes after childhood and that elapses from puberty to the complete development of the organism”. However, this is a simplism that privileges chronology, physiology, anatomy, or cognitive development, to the detriment of a comprehensive understanding of the individual. It is a confusion that reduces anthropology to biology.
Dolto’s perspective is another. For her, adolescents are individuals immersed in a motley system of dependent relationships, within which they must forge the tools to build their lives.
“A young man abandons adolescence when his parent’s anguish stops having inhibitory effects on him.” Thus, Dolto raises the adolescent’s central problem: HIS LACK OF Autonomy.
Here we are faced with the difficulty of understanding what dependency means.
Although child and youth dependency is a fact of the cause, its inhibitory effects are neither irreversible nor exclusively coercive.
Throughout the text, the author argues that adolescence is not rigorously identifiable to a period of life, mainly and decisively castrating, whose effects should be radically countered. Rather, adolescence resembles a “breeding ground” in which everything can germinate, a true vital manifestation in which eros and thanatos face each other at the adolescent’s expense.
This is not an existential dilemma between ‘oppression’ and ‘liberation’, but a difficult and often painful transition. According to Dolto, a transition comparable to the to the molt of shell of sea lobsters, a molt that leaves them for a time exposed to all dangers.
Fragile and vulnerable, adolescents must survive and make their way to an adult and autonomous life, with no other resources than the life drive and what adults have been able to transmit to them, through relationships in which the asymmetry is not the least of the difficulties.
Here we find the second of the errors announced above: the one that some adults do not assume the pedagogical function that allows to transfer from one generation to the next, what has contributed to humanize us.
This error is nourished by another confusion: Identifying AUTHORITY – understood as an attribute of whom possess knowledge and is capable of sharing it -, and AUTORITARISM – understood as a mode of domination for which only the most unrestricted obedience counts.
• Francoise Dolto, the Cause des adolescents; Éditions Robert Laffont, SA., Paris, 1988, p. 207. Spanish version, ed. Seix Barral, available on the web.