Finding Your Road

 

May|June 2010 contents
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As the parent of a recently minted teenager (my daughter Sarah turned 13 in March), I can’t quite figure out whether to feel more freed or frustrated by Vivian Seltzer’s theories of adolescent development, which are laid out in “Alone Together,” this issue’s cover story by senior editor Samuel Hughes. A professor emerita in the School of Social Policy and Practice, Seltzer has spent the past several decades formulating—and testing across multiple cultures—a framework to describe how young people develop their identities that she calls the “first roadmap through adolescence.”

There’s much more about this in the article, but a key component of Seltzer’s analysis is the negligible role of parents in the process. Rather than the typical family-centered view built around teenage rebellion, in Seltzer’s framework adolescents are highly calibrated comparison machines, who define themselves almost totally with and against their peers. This does take some of the pressure off; on the other hand, if one has to go through all those years of tears and shouting anyway, it would be nice to think they were more than a sideshow.

What we all want for our children, however much or little we may have to do with preparing them to achieve it, is a satisfying and productive life. The insights of positive psychology—a discipline led by Penn Professor Martin Seligman Gr’67—have been receiving increasing attention as a way to help individuals live the best lives they can as well as add to the world’s general happiness.

For the past five years, Penn’s master’s degree program in applied positive psychology (MAPP), designed for working professionals, has been turning out graduates who are pursuing that goal in fields ranging from economics to international peacekeeping to dentistry to stand-up comedy (really). In “Degrees of Happiness,” Kathryn Levy Feldman LPS’09 describes the program—the first of its kind—and profiles a few of its alumni.

One MAPP graduate, a management consultant, had this to say: “Now when I approach a client I do not ask them about the problems or weaknesses in their businesses. I ask them to tell me about the times the business was at its best.” A constant striving for that best drove pioneering entrepreneur Fred Harvey, whose chain of restaurants, hotels, and retail businesses helped bring civilization (and fresh-brewed coffee) to the West during the great days of the U.S. railroads.

Harvey and the company he created are chronicled in Appetite for America, an eye-opening new book by Stephen Fried C’79. In “The History Buffer,” Fried talks about the book and the trend among magazine journalists to look to the past for subjects (a genre he dubs “history buffed”). We also offer some excerpts.

Before he built his “hospitality empire,” Fred Harvey was an immigrant to the United States who started out as a dishwasher. That story continues today on the streets of New York, where thousands of recent immigrants struggle to make a living as food vendors. In “Vendor Defender,” Jordana Horn C’95 L’99 recounts Sean Basinski W’94’s journey from being a Penn freshman frightened of Mexican food to the director of the Street Vendor Project—which seeks to increase opportunities and improve conditions for vendors—as well as the impresario of the annual Vendy awards, aka the “Oscars of food for the real New York.”

Finally, Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69 tells “The (Continuing) Tale of Troy,” detailing the research of Penn Museum Deputy Director C. Brian Rose, who has run excavations at the site for 20 years now. But Rose got his start as an archaeologist—forged his identity, as it were—as a teenager, when he got the chance to participate in a dig at an Etruscan cemetery outside Rome during a summer in Italy on a high-school exchange program.

—John Prendergast C’80
Editor


   
 

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