Truth be told, and this is one of the stories we will be examining throughout the book, the very notion of adolescence is itself a construction, just another story we tell about ourselves or about people of a certain age. Everyone knows the inconsistencies of the adolescent story: Too young to drink but not to go to war. The inconsistencies are part of the ongoing story each of us constructs about adolescence and the young people constituting this arbitrary age group. Hold in mind, however, that adolescents themselves perpetuate these stories as well, believing apparently that they are no longer children, though not quite adults, and that their identities, as Bradford Brown suggested, are provisional, not quite fully formed.
Making these stories possible is the neurological development of young people, and more explicitly, as David Elkind has noted, adolescents capacity to engage in formal operational reasoning. Simply put, adolescents discover they are able to reflect on the stories they tell about others and themselves just as they are able to reflect on their own reflections. Their work, as it were, is to construct identities and develop a consolidated sense of self which they do in part from private reflection and in part from trying out bits of themselves, the products of these self-reflections, on the world. In sharing their reflections, adolescents open themselves to the possibility that their developing selves will be confirmed by others although there is always the possibility of disconfirmation as well. Moreover, adolescents discover that many others are undergoing the same process of self-development and the consequent experiments with self-confirmation. Erik Erikson expressed the notion this way: The sense of ego identity, then, is the accrued confidence that the inner sameness and continuity prepared in the past are matched by the sameness and continuity of ones meaning for others... Believing this to be true, peer groups and gangs assume new significance, because peers contribute to the development of an individuals most private readings of his or her self. Conjoining these notions, we see that the work of adolescents is to construct a consolidated sense of self that integrates the most private explorations of that inner world we will call the mind fields. The explorations, however, are themselves affected by social values, norms, expectations, morality, conventions, rules, procedures, rituals, all stories of the culture, all stories of those who populate the culture of the adolescent. This becomes another major theme in our discussion. For we will argue that although the world of self-exploration, what many adults perceive as the selfishness or self-indulgence of adolescence, is precisely what is meant to characterize this stage of development, the culture often works to mislead adolescents by pushing them off the intended paths of self-exploration and self-reflection. It does this inadvertently at times by distracting adolescents as they undertake their narrative work. It also does this knowingly, with clear-cut intent and purpose. It would be lovely to think that the well being of children and adolescents is first and foremost within the culture, but this is not always the case.
The story of adolescents growing up in a culture of distraction is a story of thinking and, more precisely, the sort of thinking about self that adolescents necessarily undertake as a function of their newly found capacity to reason at post-conventional levels, often with great sophistication. Although many theories of adolescence rest on a physical or biological foundation, that it is the emergence of secondary sex characteristics that symbolize this particular stage of life, I will argue that adolescence is inevitably about consciousness, thinking, personal reflection of a profound order, the development of the self, story telling in which the audience is sometimes the culture, sometimes the individual adolescent and where the storys source is sometimes the individual adolescent, and sometimes the culture, replete with distractions.