The Dabbling Adolescent
( Originally Published 1916 )
AFTER dinner the grown-ups sat about on rockers down on the lawn, while the younger people danced on the wide veranda, to the music of a phonograph.
A father was saying that so far as he could observe, the chief reason for the high cost of living was to be found in the fact that the young people are so fickle in their tastes. He did not remember just how many dollars—but they were many—his son Percy had in-vested in cameras and ruby lights and dishes and chemicals less than a year ago ; and now he did not care a bit about photography. Was going in for geology, and had decided to go to college just to have a chance to study that.
Father thought that he might have stuck to photography and finally worked into the business—it is a pretty good business—or he might have made up his mind about geology last year and have saved all that money.
Mrs. Darling felt the same sort of grievance, for her Genevieve had made such a muss about the house with her photographs and things, and now she hardly ever takes her camera out. Indeed, Genevieve has had four hobbies since she took up with the camera—there was raising pansies, and hand-painted china, and the foreign missions, and now it's dancing. The Darlings never mention the cost of anything; but such shifting and restlessness is very, distracting.
Another mother observed that, after all, we have to expect to do a great deal for our children, but she did fear that her son was frittering away altogether too much time in ways that would prove to be unprofitable. He gave up collecting stamps when his album was far from full, and there it was, after all that work, doing nobody any good. And it was the same way with his wireless telegraph. They had had so much trouble getting a permit for the masts, and he had worked so hard studying the codes until he was able to pick up all sorts of curious and interesting messages (the mother could not conceal her pride behind her complaints) and now all was abandoned since he met that North boy who got him interested in ants ! What all this would lead to, goodness only knew, and she was patient enough, goodness also knew.
Mr. Burrowes, who dreaded the water, felt the same way about it; for had not his son dabbled about in a dozen—yes, a score—of useless hobbies, only to turn around suddenly with his mind made up to enter the Naval Academy next year, when he will be old enough? As if there were not a hundred excellent things to do on the solid earth! And Mr. Burrowes proceeded to enumerate some of them, though he stopped long before he reached ten.
But the fathers and mothers in the party worried altogether more than they had a right to. Or at least, if they were entitled to all that worry, they worried in the wrong direction. The young people, if they are fairly healthy, and if they are fairly free to find out about what's going on in the world, and if they are fairly free to go in for things that do not bring in money—or especially if they have a chance to go in for things that cost money—are quite sure to take up one absorbing hobby after another. It is just because there are so many excellent things to do on the solid earth—and in the air, and in the water, too—that they need several years to find out which they would rather do. And apparently the only way to find out is by trying the feel of them.
Of course this is rather expensive, because the things with which they clutter up the house are never entirely used, and they form a worthless collection of junk to mark the meanderings of the adolescent mind. But the most serious concern is not the cost in money, for, where the money is not to be had, we find the same tendency to jump from one interest to another. The fear of adults is always that the growing girl or boy will become a dabbler, a " rolling stone," an unsettled wanderer without definite purpose or goal. And it must be admitted that once in so often, a person reaches years of maturity without finding a guiding aim in life.
For the adolescents in general, however, this rapid shifting of interest seems to be the normal manifestation of the rapid development going on within the organism. The changes in the nervous system bring forth a multitude of new interests and new impulses which simply cannot all find expression at the same time, and which crowd upon each other in such fashion that now one and now another breaks to the surface in quick succession. To people of comparatively fixed habits and conventionalized standards, these fickle ways are not only annoying, but often even alarming. Those of us who cannot remember the golden days when we wavered between the operatic stage and a lonely island in the South Sea, or between saving the world from selfishness and sin and becoming the chief of a band of brigands, simply cannot understand this fickleness. It does seem so inconsistent, so unreasonable—and what will it all lead to? But a more serious problem is the adolescent who does not show a wide range of interests, who does not experiment with many possibilities.
The adolescent years are those in which the child feels that he can do anything that human beings can ever do ; and in truth no one has yet found the limits of what he can do. The rapid growth in physical and mental strength gives rise to the feeling of unlimited growth; and past performances quickly lose their interest with the advent of new powers. All the possibilities of the child come to the front and it is only as these are tried out that the most profitable lines of development can be discovered.
The danger for most children during this period of growth and impression is not in the dissipation through contact with too many lines of interest, but in the lack of opportunity to try out enough to give a broad sympathy, a far outlook, and a wise choice of permanent interest.
Let the children dabble while the dabbling is good; soon it will be too late.