I was a teenager in the 1970s. It was a different time. We did not drink—or do drugs or have sex—in captivity. We did those things in the wild, away from our parents, in the danger and thrill of the dark, sacred night. Our parents understood that it was the beginning of the end: We were leaving them. Some of us had curfews, others did not—but either way, you could get a lot done by midnight. Beyond us, on the other side of high school, was some sort of future, probably more or less in line with our parents’ larger plans for us, but maybe not. The average middle-class kid (as we were called back then, meaning: a white kid whose parents owned a house and whose father was steadily employed) was not burnishing dreams of Princeton. Go to class, show up for the SAT, fill out the applications, and then enroll in the best, or the most interesting, or the farthest from home, or the cheapest college that lets you in. We didn’t need much help from our parents to do those things. Which meant that at night, we were free. And we did many dangerous things. Mothers were not yet against drunk driving; cheerful ladies did not give you condoms at school. It wasn’t an arcadia, and many times things went terribly wrong. But most of us survived.
Today, of course, all of that is different: Professional-class parents and their children are tightly bound to each other in the relentless pursuit of admission to a fancy college. A kid on that track can’t really separate from her parents, as their close involvement in this shared goal is essential. Replicating the social class across a generation is a joint project. That’s why it’s so hard to break into the professional stratum of society: The few available spots are being handed down within families. From this has flowed a benefit that parents love—deep emotional closeness throughout adolescence, with no shadow of a future parting. Kids don’t rebel against their parents anymore; why would they? Would you rebel against the concierge at the Hyatt?