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N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change


For over one hundred years, American social structures have largely embraced two central principles—the innocence of children and the omniscience of adults. But as we now know from behavioral and development experts, adolescents—neither children nor adults—challenge such simplistic categories. In resisting binaries, adolescents represent a threat to the standard world order. But rather than simply accepting the fluid nature of adolescents and adolescence, American adults continually try to manage, regulate and control teens in ways that deny their agency, encroach upon their personhood, and impede social change. From outward appearance, to physical presence, to intimate communications and engagements, young people have continually faced familial, communitybased, and state-sponsored management of their most basic day-to-day actions and interactions. This obsession with policing puberty has, at times, reached the level of panic. Extreme reactions have manifested themselves not only in behaviors of individual actors, but also in the terms of court orders, local ordinances, and codified laws. This article seeks to examine this recurring phenomenon and suggests that adults might find more productive ways to grapple with the teen identity formation process in this country.