The word ‘adolescence’ comes from the Latin adolescens, present participle of the verb adolescere (to grow).
In the fourth book of the Convivio, Dante divides human existence into four stages:
I say that human life is divided into four ages. The first is called adolescence, which means “increase of life”; the second is called maturity, which means “the age that can be helpful” (that is, that can give perfection, and so it is considered a perfect age, for one can give only what one has); the third is called old age; the fourth is called senility, as has been said above.Dante Alighieri, Convivio, IV, 24.1
Adolescence for Dante would include all that portion of life that goes from the age of eight (some critics even read months) to the age of twenty-five. What unites such different ages of life is the need for guidance. In fact, Dante writes a little further on:
We should therefore know that just as someone who has never been in a city would not know how to make his way without guidance from someone who is familiar with it, so an adolescent who enters into the meandering forest of this life would not know how to keep to the right path unless it were shown to him by his elders.Dante Alighieri, Convivio, IV, 24.12
Adapting the Florentine’s observations to our times, we cannot but agree with him. In the context of the covid-19 pandemic, it has now been demonstrated that those who have suffered most are adolescents and young adults (up to around 25 years of age).
What brought such different ages together was a feeling of disorientation and demotivation that stemmed from the cancellation of places in society, but also from the fact that everyday ‘guides’ – parents, teachers, reference persons – were themselves hit by the shockwave of uncertainty that the virus brought. The ‘guides’ also found themselves disoriented in their own city.
In this way, what Professor Claudio Mencacci calls the ‘karst river’ of suffering of a generation that has tried in every way possible to react has gradually built up, but has all too often lacked the support or even the attention it would have required. Young people are always talked about, but rarely allowed to speak: Ginevra, Stefano and Luigi instead told us what their personal experience with the virus was, opening up to talk about a before and an after that indicate how our young people more than ever need to recover, if not acquire, the tools to build a narrative of exit from a condition now undeniably alarming.
Please leave us a word for your feelings about adolescence.