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The First Year Out

Understanding American Teens after High School

The First Year Out

Understanding American Teens after High School

Wild parties, late nights, and lots of sex, drugs, and alcohol. Many assume these are the things that define an American teenager’s first year after high school. But the reality is really quite different. As Tim Clydesdale reports in The First Year Out, teenagers generally manage the increased responsibilities of everyday life immediately after graduation effectively. But, like many good things, this comes at a cost.

Tracking the daily lives of fifty young people making the transition to life after high school, Clydesdale reveals how teens settle into manageable patterns of substance use and sexual activity; how they meet the requirements of postsecondary education; and how they cope with new financial expectations. Most of them, we learn, handle the changes well because they make a priority of everyday life. But Clydesdale finds that teens also stow away their identities—religious, racial, political, or otherwise—during this period in exchange for acceptance into mainstream culture. This results in the absence of a long-range purpose for their lives and imposes limits on their desire to understand national politics and global issues, sometimes even affecting the ability to reconstruct their lives when tragedies occur.

The First Year Out is an invaluable resource for anyone caught up in the storm and stress of working with these young adults.

239 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2007

Morality and Society Series

Education: Higher Education

Philosophy: Ethics

Religion: Religion and Society

Sociology: Social Psychology--Small Groups


"Tim Clydesdale has done a remarkable job of getting inside the minds and lives of American teenagers. I know of no other study that provides as rich and up-to-date insights into the decisions teenagers make as they leave high school and enter the work force and college. The stories are riveting. The candid confessions about doubts and anxieties are sobering. The First Year Out is an example of sociological research at its best."

Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University, author of The Next Wave:  How Young Adults Are Shaping American Religion

"Tim Clydesdale provides a new and powerful vision of America’s young people.  He opened my eyes to realities I never imagined even though I have been studying the nation’s college students for the past twenty five years."

Arthur Levine, President, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation

“This is an excellent book, with scholarship and writing of the kind that more sociologists ought to be producing. It is exceptional in its longitudinal and qualitative focus on this life-course transition, its fascinating big-picture story, its consistent and understandable plot-line, and its counter-intuitive overturning of big cultural stereotypes about life after high school. Clydesdale’s observations about stability and managing daily life tasks are fascinating, and provide important contributions to our substantive understanding of this important piece of social life."

Christian Smith, author of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

"A highly readable, compassionate, and empathetic look at the lives of young people as they leave high school and enter universities, colleges, vocational schools, and employment. . . . [It] should be of interest to life course, youth, and education scholars alike."

Wolfgang Lehmann | Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Clydesdale has written an engaging and accessible book about how American teens experience their school life, family life, work life, religious life, peer life, and leisure time. It is filled with delicious nuggets of information as well as thoughtful (and sometimes surprising) claims about who American teens are, and what, if anything, ’we’ can do about it. . . . This book has much to recommend it and I encourage educators to read it in order to gain some insight about the worldview of the people they intend to educate. Also, I would not hesitate to assign it in an upper-division sociology of adolescence class."

Robert C. Bulman | Teaching Sociology

"Clydesdale provides directives for all educators (faculty, residence life, student activities, career services) who work with first year students. . . . His is an interesting voice in the dialogue on how incoming students are changing."

Katie Beres | NACADA Journal

"Worthwhile reading for a number of different audiences. It is relevant to educators, as its vivid descriptions of youth culture will inform, and likely challenge, pedagogical practices. The depiction of youth culture will also be helpful to social practitioners and others engaged in direct practice with young people in their late teens. . . . Finally, scholars of American Culture will find it a fascinating reflection on mainstream culture."

Sarah Taylor | Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

"Cydesdale’s impressive study yielded a rich and entertainingly told story of what young people are up to in their first year beyond the family nest. It is a superb book, convincing in its ethnographic realism, surprising in its findings, insightful in its analyses and discussion."

Paul Attewell | Qualitative Sociology

Table of Contents

Introduction: An Unexpected Journey

Four Teens

Starting Points

Navigating Relationships, Managing Gratifications

Working for Money, Spending for Fun

Cognitively Sharper, Intellectually Immune

Narrowed Perspectives, Broader Implications
Methodological Appendix
Selected Bibliography

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