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Recognition of the life stage between childhood and adulthood as a subject of modern scientific inquiry began in the early twentieth century with the publication of Antonio Marro's La Puberta (1898) and G. Stanley Hall's highly influential compendium Adolescence (1904). Although Hall's book represented an initial effort to describe adolescence, it nevertheless resonated with themes already familiar among scholars and the public. In Europe, romantic conceptions of a sexually charged, troubled youth (e.g., in Rousseau's Émile) circulated among the socially concerned. In America, an established tradition of cautionary literature emphasized the impressionable nature of young people and their vulnerability to sin (e.g., in the essays and sermons of Cotton Mather). Hall incorporated many of these ideas into a Darwinian framework to conjure an "adolescence" recognizable to his readers (Ross 1972). Although the work is viewed as a curious and difficult amalgam today, it nevertheless emphasized themes that continue to shape the study of youth.
Hall viewed adolescence through the lens of Ernst Haeckel's biogenetic principle, which holds that the human life span recapitulates the phases of human biological and social evolution (Gould 1977). Hall maintained that late childhood corresponds to a period of peaceful savagery in the distant past, whereas adolescence represents a "neo-atavistic" period of migration into a challenging environment, which prompted physical, social, and psychological conflict and growth. This characterization of the adolescent, as troubled by all-encompassing turmoil, was contested early in the twentieth century by prominent behavioral scientists such as Edwin Thorndike (1917) and has been repeatedly challenged since then, perhaps most famously by Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) (but see Freeman 1983; Côté 1994). Likewise, sociologists such as Robert and Helen Lynd (1929) and August Hollingshead (1949) found little evidence of pervasive trouble among the youth of Middletown or Elmtown. Contemporary behavioral scientists take a more moderate view than Hall's, depicting adolescence as a time of both change and continuity (e.g., Douvan and Adelson 1966). Nevertheless, the study of adolescence has been indelibly marked by the "storm and stress" motif.
Hall also maintained that adolescents are highly responsive to adult guidance. Drawing on work by Edward Cope, a leading American proponent of the biogenetic principle, he believed that the influence of the environment in producing acquired characteristics that were then transmissible by heredity was greatest during adolescence. The implication of this Lamarckian view was momentous: The future development of the human race depended on improvements in the adolescent (Hall 1904, v. 1, p. 50). Indeed, as a leader of the Child Study Movement, Hall forcefully argued for collaborative efforts between pedagogy and the emerging discipline of psychology, creating schools that push adolescents to their physical and mental limits, and effect the "moral rejuvenation" of youth, society, and indeed the human race. A view of adolescence as a source of manifold revitalization was especially appealing to Hall's readership, a Gilded Age middle class weary from concern over urbanization and the perceived cultural and eugenic threats posed by large-scale immigration into the United States (Kett 1977; Ross 1972). The view that adults can constructively regulate the socialization of youth is reflected in continuing scientific and public interest in the settings of youth (e.g., the workplace) and their implications for development.
Hall's Adolescence was an interdisciplinary work, and drew from a wide range of sources, including writings by early sociologists such as Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Gustave Le Bon, and Adolphe Quételet. The interdisciplinary study of youth remains an important theme, with many fields recognizing adolescence as a significant area of inquiry, including psychology (Petersen 1988), history (Modell and Goodman 1990), and anthropology (Schlegel and Barry 1991). Yet each discipline has its unique presuppositions and focal points. Psychologists tend to focus on adolescents' cognitive, motivational, and emotional capacities; their maturation (often along universalistic lines, as one finds in the work of Piaget and Erikson), their interrelationships, and how they are shaped by experiences in proximal settings, including the family, peer group, school, and workplace. Anthropologists and historians focus on the range of experiences that adolescence encompasses across cultures and through historical time: the existence of the adolescent life phase, its distinctive social and cultural traditions, and interrelationships among youth, other age groups, and social institutions.
Sociological studies of adolescence often overlap with these concerns, reflecting interests in the social settings of youth and their implications for the self, as well as variability in this stage of life across societies and through historical time. Yet sociologists have also maintained a unique view by drawing on the life course paradigm as an analytic framework. The life course focuses on age-graded roles, opportunities, and constraints; how these differ through historical time, and how they shape the biography. The analytic focus is on the structural complexity and diversity of social settings through time and place, as well as the plasticity of humans in these settings (Dannefer 1984).
The remainder of this entry will focus on three distinctive features of adolescence as viewed from a life-course perspective (see Table 1). The first feature concerns adolescence as a life phase in historical perspective: Has adolescence been a recognized part of the life course through historical time? And how have the factors that mark the transition both into and out of adolescence changed? Implicit in the concept of markers that distinguish adolescence from childhood and adulthood is the rate of movement from one phase to the next. Accordingly, the second feature concerns how quickly young people move through the adolescent role set and the social circumstances that promote an accelerated life course.
The third feature focuses on the central role of institutionalized pathways through adolescence. In this context, pathways refer to routes from childlike dependence on the family of origin to the autonomies of adulthood. At the same time, individuals actively construct their lives. Within the structured pathways from childhood to adulthood, how do adolescents actively shape their biographies? Throughout this essay, social historical accounts are presented to underscore the highly variable nature of adolescence in the last two centuries; in turn, these accounts are juxtaposed with current sociological efforts to understand the social worlds of youth. The entry concludes by considering the dual role of sociologists in the study of adolescence: To contribute to substantive debates about the place of youth in society, but
also to identify how the contours of these debates are themselves the products of social forces.
Two additional features of adolescence are not covered in this entry. One involves the social relationships of youth, a subject that has been examined from several vantage points. Considerable attention has been devoted to the "sociometric" properties of peer relationships, mapping out affiliations among young people in high schools (see Hallinan and Smith, 1989 for a contribution to this tradition). Relatedly, sociologists have also examined the typical personalities, behavioral patterns, and group identities of youth as they reflect responses to the social organization of the high school and this phase of life (e.g., Matza 1964). Sociologists have also focused on youth and their intergenerational relationships: How youth are integrated into adult society (for example, see Coleman 1994), how they and their parents interrelate (for a useful review, see Dornbusch 1989), and how youth serve as agents of social change (for a classic statement, see Mannheim 1928/1952). The second feature is juvenile delinquency.
(see JUVENILE DELINQUENCY)
ADOLESCENCE AS A LIFE PHASE
Each phase of life reflects social norms and institutional constraints and serves as a principal source of identity for the individual by specifying appropriate behaviors and roles (Elder 1980). The study of adolescence as a life phase requires that it be situated in the life course, that its distinctive features be identified in comparison to both childhood and adulthood. Indeed, adolescence is frequently depicted as a transitional period of semiautonomy, reflecting movement from the complete dependence of children on their parents to the establishment of one's own livelihood and family in adulthood (e.g., Kett 1974; Katz 1979; Gillis 1974). Yet the study of adolescence as a life phase also requires that it be situated in history, that the changing norms and institutions that shape adolescence be identified, and correspondingly, that the changing nature of adolescent semiautonomy be recognized. Within this frame of life-stage analysis, social scientists have studied the historical permanence of adolescence and the factors that have circumscribed this phase of life, marking its beginning and end.
"Adolescence" in historical time. Initial efforts to interpret the social history of youth concluded that adolescence did not exist before the modernization of societies (modernization refers to a constellation of societal changes thought to mark a break with previous forms of social organization: rapid technological changes, the emergence of market economies, urbanization, industrialization, the decline of agricultural life, secularization, broad-based political participation, the use of currency, and the spread of science [Kleiman 1998]). Norbert Elias (1994) suggested that children and adults became increasingly distinct in their behaviors as etiquette became more widespread and refined, particularly with the collapse of feudal societies. Indeed, Elias implied that the life span recapitulates the history of manners, an instance of Haeckel's biogenetic law.
More focused on youth was Philippe Ariés's path-setting Centuries of Childhood (1962). Drawing on a diverse array of evidence—including art history, linguistics, and literature—Ariés argued that in medieval times children merged directly into adult roles starting at around seven years of age. Medieval society distinguished between adults and nonadults, but, in the latter category, distinctions were not maintained between children and adolescents. Most medieval and premodern children did not attend school, but were incorporated into adult life as quickly as possible by way of daily interactions with their elders in tightly knit communities. The few youth who did attend school remained integrated in adult society by way of a vocational curriculum designed largely to train lawyers and the clergy. According to Ariés, beginning as early as the sixteenth century, a wide range of factors—from Cartesianism to technological advancements—led to the prolongation of childhood and the emergence of adolescence as a life phase. Youth were to be educated in age-segregated settings according to curricula that were less concerned with vocational training. With this prolongation of education and segregation from the adult world, adolescence emerged as a distinct age-graded identity.
Like Hall's Adolescence, Ariés's work was read by a receptive audience (Ben-Amos 1995). The prominent functionalist Kingsley Davis (1944) had already argued that the transmission of adult norms and values took less time in "simpler" societies. Similarly, in his highly influential The Lonely Crowd, David Riesman (1950) argued that children could assume adult roles in tradition-directed societies (see also Eisenstadt 1956). But Ariés was unique in his use of the historical record, and his work was a point of departure for the social history of children and adolescence that subsequently emerged in the 1970s (e.g., Demos 1970; Gillis 1974). Accordingly, some commentators maintained that adolescence was "discovered" or "invented" in the eighteenth century, as shown in part by more precise distinctions among words like "child," "adolescent," and "youth" (e.g., Musgrove 1964). Yet a linguistic analysis says little about the historical permanence of adolescence as a set of transitional experiences marked by semiautonomy between childhood and adulthood. Indeed, many of Ariés's arguments have been seriously contested, including his description of education in medieval and Renaissance Europe and his lack of appreciation for the semiautonomous roles youth often played in these societies as servants or apprentices (e.g., Davis 1975).
The guiding principle of most contemporary social historical research is that adolescence reflects ever-changing values and societal structures, encompassing demographic, political, economic, and social realities. For example, Kett (1977) views American adolescence as a set of behaviors imposed on youth beginning in the late nineteenth century. This imposition was justified by "psychological laws" (e.g., the necessity of religious decision during adolescence) freighted with middle-class concerns over the dangers of cities, immigrants, bureaucracies, and the pace of social change. Not surprisingly, social historians have detected "different adolescences" in diverse settings defined by historical time and place.
Reflecting a continuing engagement with Ariés, a focal point of social historical research has been the experience of adolescence before, during, and after the emergence of industrialism. An overview of research on England highlights the contingent nature of adolescence as a social category. Two realities were prominent in defining adolescence in premodern England (Gillis 1974). First, children of all social classes were often sent out of their household of origin to become servants for another family at about age seven. "Binding out" coincided with the adoption of adult dress and codes of behavior, although the young person was viewed as neither fully adult nor child. Rather, this practice marked a form of semiautonomy: they participated in the labor market and resided outside their parents' home, but they did not marry and they were not financially independent.
Second, marriage was often linked with the establishment of an independent household. The timing of this transition, which marked full adulthood, was in turn determined by when the father conveyed dowries for daughters and annuities or land to sons. Although the specifics of inheritance were often far more complex than the rule of primogeniture would suggest (Stone 1979), the net result was that marriage was typically postponed among the poor and lower-middle classes (that is, most of society) until young people were in their late twenties, with males marrying about two years later than females. For the proportion of the population that never married (about one in five), the commencement of adulthood hinged on occupational achievements and financial independence, which probably took place in the late twenties as well.
The coming of industrialism changed the adolescent experience dramatically. Reactions to industrialism differed greatly by class and were complicated by a wide array of factors. For many strata of society, however, economic livelihood was often enhanced by encouraging several wage laborers within the family (Gillis 1974). In turn, wage labor was a strong force in creating new and popular pathways into marriage. Concerns over inheritance were less common than in the earlier period, and kin ties were defined along more pragmatic lines that allowed youth greater freedom to marry and to establish a household. The absence of strong patriarchal control and new-found pocket money led many youth to courting and consumption patterns that shocked their elders. A new adolescence had emerged.
This broad-brush view varied in important ways from place to place, among social classes, and by gender (for related accounts of the English experience, see Anderson 1971; Musgrove 1964; Smelser 1959; for the Continental experience, see Mittauer and Sieder 1982; for the American experience see Demos 1970; Handlin and Handlin 1971; Hareven 1982; Kett 1977; Prude 1983). Yet it is instructive for two reasons. First, most scholars now agree that as a transitional stage of semiautonomy, adolescence existed before the emergence of modern societies, although it had distinctive "premodern" characteristics. For example, premodern adolescence was typically not a period of identity formation, as Erik Erikson's (1963) putatively universal model of psychosocial development maintains (Mitterauer 1992). Young people knew their occupational and educational futures, their parents arranged both their marriages and home-leaving, and the realities of inheritance, fecundity, and infant mortality dictated their reproductive behaviors. Furthermore, for most youth, few real political or religious options presented themselves. Although there are recorded instances of youth riots in urban areas and many adolescents and young adults were active in the Protestant Reformation, political and religious beliefs generally reflected the traditions and customs of the locale.
Second, although adolescence existed in preindustrial times, historians such as Ariés maintain too sharp a distinction between premodern and modern phases of the life course (Ben-Amos 1995). The adolescences of both the preindustrial and contemporary West are not entirely dissimilar, suggesting that there are distinctly "modern" features of preindustrial adolescence and "traditional" features of contemporary adolescence. For example, many adolescents of both periods lack a parent. In seventeenth-century England, life expectancy was approximately thirty-two years, so that many youth, born when the mother was in her early to mid-twenties, lacked at least one parent. In contemporary society, parental separation is not uncommon through the early life course. For example, among cohorts born between 1967 and 1973, about 20 percent of white males and 60 percent of black males have lived in a mother-only family between birth and age 15 (Hill et al. 1999). Parental separation and absence today is a substitute for the parental mortality of the premodern period.
Similarly, the adolescence of both historical eras was a drawn-out process. Because of early home-leaving and late marriage, preindustrial adolescence in England spanned two decades. In contemporary times, it is commonly asserted that the span between puberty and the transition to adulthood is excessive because of delays in school completion, marriage, and home-leaving. Indeed, some sociologists have suggested adding a "postadolescence" stage to the life course (e.g., Hurrelmann 1989). Although the duration of adolescence today appears extended against the backdrop of the early to mid-twentieth century, it is nevertheless brief when compared to preindustrial adolescence (about twelve versus twenty years).
In short, adolescence traces back to at least the High Middle Ages in the West, but its form and content have been remarkably responsive to social setting (Mitterauer 1992). Furthermore, one often observes both similarities and differences among the "adolescences" defined by historical time and place.
The transition from childhood to adolescence.
Sociologists have not studied the transition to adolescence extensively, perhaps because it is typically equated with the onset of puberty, which strongly reflects individual differences in genetics, nutrition, and physical exertion (Tanner 1978). This lack of interest is unfortunate, as the effects of these factors on pubertal timing have always been conditioned by social circumstances (e.g., improvements in nutrition diffused through many societies on the basis of class and urban-rural distinctions; see Mitterauer 1992).
In any event, historical analyses suggest that puberty was not always the primary marker of the transition to adolescence. By today's standards, physical changes associated with puberty occurred notably later in the premodern and early modern periods. For example, the average age of menarche was about fifteen for girls in early eighteenth-century America and final height was not attained among men until around age twenty-five (Kett 1977). Sources from mid-sixteenth century Europe suggest even later dates and a much more gradual progression of physical changes than is observed today (for a review of earlier sources and their critical evaluation, see Tanner 1981).
In the premodern period, young people were probably viewed as semi-autonomous when they were sent to other households as servants or apprentices (often between ages seven and ten). Other local customs (such as religious confirmation and conversion, and membership in a wide array of village groups) also marked the end of childhood, and these frequently occurred before the pubertal transition. Thus historical evidence suggests that physical changes associated with puberty were not prominent factors that distinguished children from adolescents, and this generalization may be valid into the mid-nineteenth century, when improvements in nutrition began to take hold for large segments of society. Indeed, the pubertal transition often represented an important step into adult roles. Before the mid-nineteenth century, puberty in America was associated with a sense of rising power and energy and the ability to assume adult work responsibilities. It was largely after the Civil War that puberty came to represent a vulnerable and awkward stage closely associated with the adolescence of today (Kett 1977).
The transition from adolescence to young adulthood. A range of "transition markers" are typically used to indicate movement out of adolescence and into adulthood. These include leaving school, starting a full-time job, leaving the home of origin, getting married, and becoming a parent. These markers can not be used uncritically, however, because their relevance in defining stages of the life course changes through historical periods (Mitterauer 1992). Furthermore, although young people in the contemporary West rely on these markers to distinguish between adolescence and adulthood, they also draw on other criteria, including cognitive self-sufficiency, emotional self-reliance, and behavioral self-control (Arnett and Taber 1994). Nevertheless, most sociological research has focused on these transition markers and has generated valuable insights about the changing life course. Paradoxically, many commentators argue that markers of the transition from adolescence to adulthood have become both more standardized and variable.
Standardization: The compression of transition markers. Standardization reflects the increasing importance of age-grading and is seen in the increasing "compactness" of transition markers, particularly the ages of school completion, first job, and marriage. Theorists argue that the organization of public services, transfer payments, and employment opportunities according to age renders the life course more orderly and calculable (Beck 1992; Kohli 1986). Also, as the state increased the number of rights that an individual could claim on a universalistic, standardized basis, it also restricted the individual's right to organize many aspects of life (e.g., with respect to education and entry into, and exit from, the labor market) (Buchmann 1989).
Evidence from historical demography suggests that the transition to adulthood has indeed become more standardized. Examining the prevalence of different female life-course patterns (e.g., spinster, dying mother, widowed mother) among cohorts of women born between 1830 and 1920, Uhlenberg (1969) observes a convergence on the "typical" pattern, involving marriage, having children, and surviving with husband until age 55. Among women born in 1830, about 21 percent experienced this "typical" pattern in contrast to about 57 percent of women born in 1920. In addition, the age range in which women typically married and had children narrowed. The primary factor promoting standardization of the life course was improvement in mortality due to the management of contagious and infectious diseases such as smallpox, typhoid and scarlet fever, diphtheria, and measles. Similarly, the time it took 80 percent of both men and women to leave the household of origin, marry, and establish their own households decreased markedly between 1880 and 1970 among those who experienced these transitions (Modell et al. 1976). A considerable body of evidence suggests that the transition to adulthood was standardized between about 1830 and 1960, as measured by a constriction of the time in which most people pass through a range of transition markers (for further discussion, see Shanahan forthcoming).
Theoreticians have emphasized the critical role of "modernity" in explaining this long-term pattern, but this formulation, with its connotation of a monotonic pace and continuous process, has not been supported by empirical study. Instead, age standardization has been affected by historically specific conditions, including improvements in health (Uhlenberg 1969) and age-grading in the school system (Hogan 1981). And as historians have noted, legal reforms, public debates about the rights and responsibilities of age groups, and cultural innovations have come into play at different times and with varying degrees of import (Kett 1977; Modell 1989; Zelizer 1994). Evidence thus points to a long-term trend of compression of the transition markers, but that trend reflects manifold factors proceeding at an uneven pace.
Variability: The complex sequencing of transition markers. Variability is found in the increasing complexity of role overlap and sequencing during the transition to adulthood. Theorists of modernity maintain that as individuals were freed from the traditional constraints of family and locale, they were able to exercise more agency in the construction of their biographies (e.g., Beck 1992; Giddens 1991). Consistent with these arguments, Modell, Furstenberg, and Hershberg (1976) observe that as transition markers occurred in briefer periods of time, they exhibited greater diversity in their sequencing. Between 1880 and 1970, the familial and nonfamilial transition markers increasingly overlapped, creating variability in the transition to adulthood in the form of more sequence patterns of school completion, leaving home, starting a family and career, and becoming a parent.
Hogan (1981) provides important empirical evidence for variability in the sequencing of markers among cohorts born between 1907 and 1946. The percentage of men experiencing an "intermediate nonnormative" order of transition markers (beginning work before completing school or marriage before beginning work but after school completion) increased from about 20 percent in the cohorts born between 1907 and 1912 to about 30 percent for men born in 1951. The prevalence of "extreme nonnormative" ordering (marriage before school completion) increased from less than 10 percent among cohorts born between 1907 and 1911 to over 20 percent for cohorts born between 1924 and 1947. "Modernity" has a large negative effect on the prevalence of the normative pattern, but a large positive effect on the prevalence of the extreme nonnormative pattern. That is, in historical times marked by greater educational attainment, lower infant mortality, greater longevity, and fewer youth in the adult labor market, men are more likely to make extremely nonnormative transitions to adulthood. Evidence thus suggests a trend toward individualization of the life course as found in the increased variability in the sequencing and overlap of transitions (for further discussion, see Shanahan forthcoming).
THE ACCELERATED LIFE COURSE AND ADOLESCENCE
A conception of adolescence as bounded by markers implies a normative rate of movement through roles that indicate childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Accordingly, influential accounts of youth view adolescence as a transitory period, marking normatively paced movement from childlike to adult roles (e.g., Linton 1942). The individual is construed as more or less adultlike depending on the acquisition of symbols, the provision of opportunities, and demands for responsibility that indicate adulthood. With respect to the second decade of life, behavioral scientists recognize three forms of an accelerated life course, reflecting the nonnormatively rapid (1) transition into adolescence, (2) movement through adolescence, and (3) transition into adulthood. These manifestations of the accelerated life course are frequently linked to stressors operating on the parents and the young person.
Precocious youth represent an early form of accelerated life course in American history. Since at least the mid-eighteenth century, some young people have been portrayed as astonishingly adultlike in their intellectual, moral, physical, and social capacities. Early American history is replete with admiration for youth who grew up in log cabins only to rise to high levels of prominence while still young, a rise often linked to exceptional talents exhibited in childhood. Yet precocity was also viewed as an inconvenience. Thus, the father of an eleven-year-old graduate from Yale at the end of the eighteenth century lamented that his son was "in no way equipped to do much of anything" (Graff 1995, p. 47). Instances such as these became rare as the social institutions of youth became agegraded, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century.
In contemporary times, an accelerated life course may reflect an early transition to adolescence. For example, Belsky and his colleagues (1991) have proposed a sociobiological model of early menarche and sexual activity. According to this model, high levels of stress during childhood—reflecting marital discord, inconsistent and harsh parenting, and inadequate financial resources—lead to aggression and depression in late childhood, which in turn foster early puberty and sexual activity. In contrast, children whose families enjoy spousal harmony, adequate financial resources, and sensitive, supportive parenting tend to experience a later onset of puberty and sexual activity. That is, depending on environmental cues about the availability and predictability of resources (broadly defined), development follows one of two distinct reproductive strategies.
Empirical studies provide partial support for this model. Menarche occurs earlier among girls who live in mother-only households or with stepfathers. Conflict in parent-child relationships or low levels of warmth are also associated with earlier menarche (Ellis and Graber forthcoming; Graber, Brooks-Gunn, and Warren 1995; Surbey 1990). Drawing on longitudinal data, Moffitt and her colleagues (1992) report that family conflict and the absence of a father in childhood lead to earlier menarche, although this relationship is not mediated by any psychological factors examined in their study. Research findings to date, however, are open to genetic interpretation. It may be that early-maturing mothers transmit a genetic predisposition toward early puberty and the same genes produce traits in the mother that affect parenting (Rowe forthcoming) finds some support for both models. Maccoby (1991) suggests an additional class of explanations, namely that these findings reflect social psychological processes (e.g., the adolescent's imitation of the mother's permissiveness).
The accelerated life course may also involve the rapid assumption of autonomy not typically associated with adolescent roles. This form may appear in the adoption of the parent role by adolescents in their family of origin, what Minuchin (1974) refers to as the "parental child." Children and adolescents may respond to the family's emotional and practical needs through activities such as serving as a confidant to a parent, mediating family disputes, and the extensive parenting of younger siblings. Young people may assume responsibilities such as these in single, working-parent homes, which can have positive consequences for adolescents but detrimental effects for younger children (Weiss 1979). The contextual and interpersonal factors that promote "parentification," however, are potentially numerous and complex, perhaps encompassing family structure, sibship size, marital dysfunction, and the employment status of the parents (Jurkovic 1997).
Likewise some critics of youth employment suggest that extensive involvement in the workplace during the high school years can promote "pseudomaturity," the appearance of adult status that nevertheless lacks the full set of rights and responsibilities that accompany adulthood. (Psychologists have also expressed concern about "pseudomaturity" among contemporary youth, although they define it as a disjunction between the apparent ability to play adult roles and a lack of "commensurate psychological differentiation" [e.g., Erikson 1959].) For example, although youth may earn considerable amounts of money during high school, they spend a relatively high percentage of their income on entertainment because they lack the financial responsibilities of true adults (e.g., insurance, housing). In turn, this "premature affluence" may interfere with the development of realistic financial values (Bachman 1983; Bachman and Schulenberg 1993). However, studies show that youth spend their earnings on a wide range of things, not all of which are concerned with leisure, including savings for future education, car insurance, and even loans and contributions to parents (Shanahan et al. 1996). Moreover, studies of families during the Great Depression suggest that economic hardship can lead to the assumption of more adultlike work responsibilities among children and adolescents, which can benefit the latter group (Elder 1974).
Finally, the accelerated life course may reflect a rapid transition to adulthood. For example, because young black men have markedly shorter life expectancies than white men, they often accelerate their transition behaviors (Burton et al. 1996). There may also be an important element of intentionality in the "search for role exit" from adolescence (Hagan and Wheaton 1993). Although the desire to leave home, marry, and have children may be normative, the intent to exit the adolescent role set too early is nonnormative and often associated with deviant acts. Indeed, the search for adolescent role exits significantly predicts frequency of dating and the timing of first marriage and parenthood. That is, some adolescents may seek rapid transition to adulthood because they are substantially dissatisfied with their experience of adolescence as a life phase. In any event, sociologists have offered numerous explanations for adolescent parenthood including, for example, the lack of role models and opportunities that would otherwise encourage postponing intercourse and pregnancy (Brewster 1994).
PATHWAYS AND AGENCY THROUGH ADOLESCENCE
The preceding discussion highlights the variable meanings of adolescence in the life course; a related issue is the structured pathways that constitute likely sequences of social positions through which the adolescent moves. Pathways reflect institutional arrangements that both provide and restrict opportunities, channeling youth from one social position to another. Pathways are a prominent feature in the school and workplace—and between these institutions (see ADULTHOOD)—where social forces match individuals to social opportunities and limitations. Pathways are also evident in the family, as a sequence of roles that the child assumes and that offer progressively greater autonomy.
Before the mid-nineteenth century in America, the immediate environments of youth were casual and unstructured; mortality and frequent moves from the home placed limits on the direct and sustained application of parental discipline, and schools were decidedly unstructured settings marked by violence and informality (Kett 1977). Between 1840 and 1880, a different viewpoint emerged in both Britain and the United States, a viewpoint that emphasized character formation in planned, "engineered" environments. For example, Horace Bushnell's influential Christian Nurture (1848) argued for carefully controlled settings that would promote in youth qualities necessary to succeed in a world threatened by urbanization and non-Protestant immigrants. By the end of the nineteenth century, efforts to standardize the settings of youth—particularly schools—led to the emergence of recognized tracks of educational and occupational experiences for young men entering the medical and legal professions. Educational and occupational pathways from adolescence to adulthood were becoming standardized.
Although pathways sort individuals and assign them to various positions in social systems, people are also active agents who attempt to shape their biographies. In life-course perspective, agency at the level of the person can be defined as the ability to formulate and pursue life plans. Young people are constrained and enabled by opportunity structures of school and work, but they also construct their life course through their active efforts. This section provides a set of examples that highlight structured pathways that describe likely sequences of social positions in terms of education and work. It also discusses sociological efforts to understand the active efforts of adolescents to shape their biographies in these structured settings.
Educational pathways through adolescence. At the turn of the nineteenth century, youth fortunate enough to attend school typically started their educations late and attended class sporadically. Academies of education, not uncommonly a single room in a private residence, were eager to accommodate the seasonal demands of agriculture. Consequently student bodies encompassed a wide range of pupils, whose ages often said little about their academic accomplishments. This situation was more pronounced in district schools, where attendance was said to fluctuate from hour to hour. Furthermore, teaching was not yet an occupation that required credentials, and teachers frequently resorted to violence to impart lessons or to maintain order, as did the students in response to frequent humiliation.
At the college level, the violence was pronounced. There were riots at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, nightly stoning of the president's house at Brown through the 1820s, and frequent beating of blacks, servants, fellow students, and professors (Kett 1977). During the early years of the republic, little in the educational system was standardized. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the educational system changed as Horace Mann, Henry Barnard, and Calvin Stowe led the common school revival, aimed at creating regulated, controlled school settings. In addition to the efforts of early reformers, many social, economic, political, and cultural forces contributed to the standardization of schools, particularly in the late nineteenth century (Tyack 1974; Tyack, James, and Benavot 1987).
Today, the educational system is highly standardized and adolescent pathways through school are readily identifiable: Adolescent pathways through the educational system can be described in terms of the transition to the seventh grade and tracking through the high school years. A considerable body of sociological research also examines the many structured connections among secondary education, tertiary institutions such as colleges and vocational schools, and the workplace.
At the transition to seventh grade, children may remain in the same school (a "K–8" system) or change to a junior high school. The latter structure is thought to be more stressful by sociologists, as it typically brings with it a disruption in social networks and the student's first exposure to a bureaucratic setting with a high degree of specialization. Students in K–8 systems continue to have one teacher and one set of classmates for all subjects, while students attending junior high school often have a different teacher and classmates for each subject. In fact, students in K–8 systems are more influenced by peers, date more, and prefer to be with close friends more than students making the transition to junior high school. The latter report higher levels of anonymity. Further, girls who make the transition to junior high school appear especially vulnerable to low levels of self-esteem when compared with girls in a K–8 system and boys in either system (Blyth et al. 1978; Simmons and Blyth 1987; Simmons et al. 1979).
It may be that the negative effects of the transition to junior high school are amplified as the number of transitions experienced by a young person increases. A "focal theory of change" maintains that young people are better able to cope with significant life events serially rather than simultaneously (Coleman 1974). Some evidence supports this view: As the number of transitions—including school change, pubertal change, early dating, geographic mobility, and major family disruptions such as death—that students must cope with concurrently increase, their grades, extracurricular involvements, and self-esteem decrease (Simmons et al. 1987). These associations are particularly deleterious for girls. How the transition to seventh grade is organized can thus have pervasive implications for the well-being of youth.
Within secondary schools students are frequently assigned to "tracks," different curricula for students of differing talents and interests. Sociologists have identified several noteworthy features of tracks, including selectivity (the extent of homogeneity within tracks), electivity (the extent to which students choose their tracks), inclusiveness (the extent to which tracks leave open options for future education), and scope (the extent to which students are assigned to the same track across subjects and through time). Scope—particularly the extent to which students are in the same track across grade levels—predicts math and verbal achievement, when earlier scores of achievement are controlled.(Gamoran 1992).
In turn, these differences in educational achievement largely reflect socialization and allocation processes (for a useful review, see Gamoran 1996). Socialization refers to systematically different educational experiences across tracks. Allocation refers to the decisions made by teachers to assign students to tracks, assignments that provide information to students about their abilities and that elicit differential responses from others. That is, students of differing ability are assigned to different educational opportunities, which in turn creates inequalities in outcomes, even if initial differences in ability are taken into account. Unfortunately, tracking systems are often unfair in the sense that students of similar ability are assigned to different tracks, and assignments may be based on factors other than intellectual talents and interests (see Entwisle and Alexander 1993). Furthermore, status allocations from primary through tertiary school and to the labor force are remarkably consistent (Kerckhoff 1993). The advantages or disadvantages of one's position in the educational and occupational systems cumulate as individuals increasingly diverge in their educational and labor market attainments. Thus, educational tracks can exert substantial influence on socioeconomic achievements throughout the life course.
Pathways in the workplace. Work responsibilities have always indicated one's status in the life course. Through the early nineteenth century in America, young people began performing chores as early as possible in childhood and often assumed considerable work responsibilities by age seven, either on the farm or as a servant in another household. Many youth were fully incorporated into the workforce with the onset of physical maturity, in the mid-to late teens (Kett 1977). During this same period, however, agricultural opportunities waned in the Northeast while expansions in commerce, manufacturing, and construction provided new employment for youth in and around cities. Many families adopted economic strategies whereby parents and children were involved in complex combinations of farming, work in factories, and other sources of wage labor (Prude 1983) or whereby entire families were recruited into factory work (Hareven 1982; for the case of England, see Anderson 1971; Smelser 1959).
The second Industrial Revolution, commencing after the Civil War and extending to World War I, led in part to less reliance on children as factory workers (Osterman 1979). Technological innovations in the workplace—the use of internal combustion engines, electric power, and continuous-processing techniques—created an economic context conducive to the consolidation of primary schools in the life course as many youth jobs were eliminated by mechanization (Troen 1985) and manufacturers required more highly skilled employees (Minge-Kalman 1978). These economic factors operated in concert with progressive political movements, as well as cultural, demographic, social, and legal changes (Hogan 1981; Zelizer 1985), all of which fueled debates about the appropriate role of youth in the workplace. These debates continue to the present, particularly focusing on the work involvements of high school students (for useful overviews, see Institute of Medicine/National Research Council 1998; Mortimer and Finch 1996). Today, almost all adolescents work in paid jobs and time commitments to the workplace can be substantial (Bachman and Schulenberg 1993; Manning 1990). Whereas youth work at the beginning of the twentieth century often centered around agriculture and involved family, kin, and neighbors, today's adolescent is more frequently employed in "entry-level" jobs among unrelated adults in the retail and restaurant sectors. These changes have prompted arguments that contemporary adolescent work interferes significantly with the basic developmental tasks of youth.
Yet the transition to paid work represents a large step toward autonomy and can promote a sense of contribution, of egalitarianism, and of being "grown up" among youth. Although very little research has examined the adolescent work career, several generalizations are currently plausible. First, adolescents have work careers in that they typically progress from informal work (e.g., babysitting and yard work for neighbors) to a surprisingly diverse set of occupations as seniors in high school, a trend that is accompanied by an increase in earnings. That is, work tends to become more complex and to produce more earnings through the high school years (Mortimer et al. 1994).
Second, adolescent work can have positive or negative consequences, depending on the extent and the quality of the experience, as well as its meaning. For example, work of high intensity (that is, exceeding twenty hours of work on average across all weeks employed) curtails postsecondary education among boys and increases alcohol use and smoking among high school girls (Mortimer and Johnson 1998). But adolescents engaged in low-intensity work during high school have favorable outcomes with respect to schooling (for boys) and part-time work (for both boys and girls).
Third, the quality of work matters. For example, several studies show that jobs that draw on or confer skills deemed useful in the workplace are associated with feelings of efficacy during the high school years as well as success in the job market three years after high school (Finch et al. 1991; Stern and Nakata 1989). Similarly, adolescent work experiences can have positive implications for development depending on how they fit into the adolescent's life. Thus, when earnings are saved for college, working actually has a positive effect on grades (Marsh 1991), and nonleisure spending (e.g., spending devoted to education or savings) may enhance relationships with parents (Shanahan et al. 1996). In short, the adolescent work career can pose positive or negative implications for subsequent attainment and adjustment.
Life course agency in adolescence. Whereas the concept of pathways reflects an interest in how organizations and institutions allocate youth to social positions and their attendant opportunities and limitations, young people are also active agents attempting to realize goals and ambitions. It is unlikely that most youth were agents in this sense before or during the founding of the republic. In a detailed study of autobiographical life histories between 1740 and 1920, Graff (1995) observes that lives marked by conscious choice and self-direction, a search for opportunities including social mobility, the instrumental use of further education, and risk-taking in the commercial marketplace, were atypical before the nineteenth century. In some accounts this emerging orientation was expressed in explicit emulation of the widely circulated autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, who emphasized planning, thrift, decision making, and independence. Before this period, the major features of the life course—including education, occupation, and family life—were largely determined by family circumstances. (The notable exception to a lack of decision making about one's life was religious "rebirth." Departing from Catholic and Lutheran doctrine, religious sects such as the Anabaptists emphasized the adolescent's conscious decision to be baptized and then lead an appropriately Christian life [Mitterauer 1992].)
This active orientation toward the life course gained currency as "conduct-of-life" books in the first decades of the nineteenth century departed from Puritan hostility to assertiveness in order to emphasize the building of a decisive character marked by "a strenuous will" (e.g., as found in John Foster's popular essay "Decision of Character" of 1805). The message was especially appealing to the large number of young men leaving rural areas for the city in search of jobs. Since that time, themes such as self-reliance, decisiveness, willpower, and ambition have recurred in popular advice books and social commentaries directed to adolescents and their parents (Kett 1977). Indeed, a view of "youth as shapers of youth" has become prominent among social historians of the twentieth century (for a superb example, see Modell 1989).
In contemporary times, a conception of life as shaped through decision-making, planning, and persistent effort is common. A particularly useful concept to study this phenomenon is planful competence, the thoughtful, assertive, and self-controlled processes that underlie selection into social institutions and interpersonal relationships (Clausen 1991a). Although these traits can be found in approaches to personality (e.g., conscientiousness), planful competence is uniquely concerned with the ability to select social settings that best match a person's goals, values, and strengths. That is, planful competence describes the self's ability to negotiate the life course as it represents a socially structured set of age-graded opportunities and limitations. Clausen (1991b, 1993) maintains that a planful orientation in mid-adolescence (about ages 14 and 15) is especially relevant to the life course because it promotes realistic decision-making about the roles and relationships of adulthood. That is, one's self-reflexivity, confidence, and self-regulation at mid-adolescence lead to better choices during the transition to adulthood, choices that in turn have implications for later life. Clausen reasons that children are not capable of planful competence, but most adults possess at least some; therefore interindividual differences at mid-adolescence are most likely to differentiate people during the transition to adulthood and through later life. Adolescents who are planfully competent "better prepare themselves for adult roles and will select, and be selected for, opportunities that give them a head start" (1993, p. 21).
Drawing on extensive longitudinal archives from the Berkeley and Oakland samples at the Institute of Child Welfare, Clausen (1991b, 1993) demonstrated that planful competence in high school (age 15 to 18 years) had pervasive effects on functioning in later life. Planfulness significantly predicted marital stability, educational attainment for both males and females, occupational attainment and career stability for males, and life satisfaction in later adulthood. Satisfaction with marriage was often associated with adolescent planfulness among men and women, especially among men who were capable of interpersonal warmth. Men who were more planful earlier in life reported greater satisfaction with their careers, more job security, and better relationships with their coworkers.
Some research suggests that the effects of planfulness are conditioned by historical experience, an insight that joins the concepts of pathways and agency. Drawing on the Terman Sample of Gifted Children, Shanahan and his colleagues (1997) examined the lifetime educational achievement of two cohorts of men who grew up during the Great Depression. The older cohort, those born between 1900 and 1910, often were in college or had just begun their careers when the Great Depression hit. The younger cohort, those born between 1910 and 1920, typically attended college after the Depression and began their careers in the post-World War II economic boom. For the older cohort, it was hypothesized that adolescent planful competence would not predict adult educational attainment. Rather, very high levels of unemployment during the Depression would support a prolonged education for this cohort—through continuity in or return to school—regardless of their planfulness. In contrast, planful competence in adolescence was expected to predict adult educational attainment in the younger cohort, which was presented with practical choices involving employment opportunities and further education.
As expected, planfulness at age fourteen positively predicted educational attainment, but only for the men born between 1910 and 1920, who often finished school during the postwar economic boom. Planful competence did not predict educational attainment for men from the older cohort, who typically remained in school or returned to school after their nascent careers floundered. Thus, for the older cohort, the lack of economic opportunity precluded entry into the workplace and under these circumstances, personal agency did not predict level of schooling. In short, the Terman men's lives reflect "bounded agency," the active efforts of individuals within structured settings of opportunity.
ADOLESCENCE IN RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT
A historically sensitive inquiry into the sociology of adolescence reveals several prominent features of this life phase. First, although adolescence as a state of semiautonomy between childhood and adulthood has long been part of the Western life course, it has nevertheless been highly responsive to social, political, economic, and cultural forces. Indeed, adolescence acts like a "canary in the coal mine:" As successive generations of youth encounter adult society for the first time, their reactions tell us much about the desirability of social arrangements. These reactions have ranged from enthusiastic acceptance to large-scale revolt and have often led to the emergence of new social orders.
Second, the many "adolescences" revealed through historical time and place are both different and similar in significant ways. Many supposedly universalistic accounts of social and psychological development would not describe adolescent experiences and interpretive frames in the past (Mitterauer 1992). On the other hand, few, if any, aspects of the adolescent experience are without precedent. Statistics on adolescent sexual behavior are met with great alarm today, and yet alarm was already sounded in pre-Colonial times: Leaving England for America in the 1630s, the Puritans hoped to establish an "age-relations utopia" between young people and their elders, which had not been possible in the Old World because of the "licentiousness of youth" (Moran 1991; for the related problem of adolescent pregnancy, see Smith and Hindus 1975; Vinovskis 1988). Likewise, contemporary debates about whether adolescents should be allowed to engage in paid work echo exchanges over child labor laws a century ago (Zelizer 1985). Analogous observations could be made about drug abuse, violence in schools, gangs, and troubled urban youth with diminished prospects.
Yet each generation of adults insists that its adolescence is uniquely vulnerable to social change and the problems that come with it. Indeed, this orientation has spawned a large and often alarmist and contradictory literature about the American adolescent (see Graff 1995, especially Chap. 6). Although many strands of scientific evidence show that adolescence as a state of semiautonomy has lengthened over the past several decades, a torrent of books nonetheless warn of "the end of adolescence." And although many studies show that adolescence is not a period of sudden and pervasive distress, scientific journals devoted to adolescence are filled with contributions examining psychological disorder, substance use, antisocial behavior, sexually transmitted disease, delinquency, troubled relationships with parents, and poor academic performance. Denials of "storm and stress" frequently accompany implicit statements of "doom and gloom."
Unfortunately, these negative images run the risk of defining adolescence (Graff 1995). Studies and social commentaries that highlight the troubled nature of youth may alert the public to social problems in need of redress, but they may also create dominant cultural images that ultimately define what it means to be an adolescent in negative terms, breeding intergenerational mistrust and, among youth, alienation (Adelson 1986).
In this context of research and representation, sociology has much to contribute to an understanding of adolescence. What is needed are balanced accounts of their lived experiences and how these vary by social class, race, gender, and other indicators of inequality. These descriptions need to be situated in both place and time. Place refers to the many contexts of youth, encompassing families and neighborhoods, urban and rural distinctions, ideologies, modes of production, and national and international trends. Time refers to the history of youth, with its many continuities and discontinuities, but it also refers to the life course, how adolescence fits into the patterned sequence of life's phases. Through such efforts, sociologists can contribute to public discourse about youth and comprehend this discourse as being itself a product of social forces.
(see also: Adulthood; Juvenile Delinquency and Juvenile Crime; Juvenile Delinquency, Theories of; The Life Course)
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Michael J. Shanahan
views updated May 21 2018
Concepts of adolescence
Theories of adolescence
Adolescence is an era in the historical sense. A dictionary defines “era” as “a period extending from an epoch and characterized especially by a new order of things.” Here the epoch, defined as “the starting point of a new period, especially as marked by striking events,” is puberty, marked by striking biological events that signal the initiation of the sequence of biochemical, physiological, and physical transformations of child into adult. Whether during behavioral development there is a concomitant or analogous transitional period, set apart by distinctive psychological properties and processes, has been a major issue in developmental psychology. Around this proposition and its corollaries—identification of the psychological features and transitions, their antecedents and consequents, their specificity or generality, and the mode (gradual or saltatory) and tenor of their development—have centered the theoretical controversies and empirical problems of the psychology of adolescence.
Disciplines, too, have developmental phases, defined by significant events. Psychology emerged as a separate discipline about 1860 and was only 22 years old when child psychology made its appearance in Germany and comparative psychology in England, and the psychology of adolescence emerged as the first branch of psychology native to the United States (Hall 1882). Not until the 1890s, however, did Hall and others, primarily his students, begin to publish a series of papers on the interests, abilities, problems, and fantasies of adolescents. About the turn of the century Hall was working on a companion set of textbooks on childhood and adolescence. The text on adolescence actually appeared first, and with its publication the psychology of adolescence may be said to have entered adulthood. Furthermore, epitomized in the title—Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education (1904)—are the multidisciplinary affinities that continue to characterize the psychology of adolescence. The capacities, interests, attitudes, and roles of the young and the way they are influenced by the structure and training techniques of the family and other social institutions are of concern to a wide range of social scientists. As the individual becomes able to reproduce his kind and approaches the time when he will become the bearer, and perhaps molder, of his culture, the import of these factors grows ever more apparent. But no single discipline can encompass them; thus many sciences—biological and social, basic and applied—contribute to and draw upon developmental theories, methods, and data. So also do most domains of psychology, and these intradisciplinary affiliations are reflected in the range of behaviors with which Hall dealt: sensation, perception, motor skills, motivation, emotion, socialization, cognition, learning, and vocational training—all topics of current concern.
Hall’s ontogenic approach to the data and his phylogenetic theoretical structure served to establish the psychology of adolescence as a branch of developmental psychology. From this affiliation are derived its definitions, methods, and theories, for none of these are peculiar to the psychology of adolescence; rather, they are shared with all of developmental psychology.
Terminology “Adolescence” is derived from adolescens, the present participle of adolescere, to grow up or to grow from childhood to maturity. Developmental psychologists prefer this term because its etymology is most consistent with the physical and behavioral characteristics of this era. In contrast to the developmental significance of adolescence are the chronological implications of a number of synonyms in current usage among social scientists. For Gesell (Gesell et al. 1956) “youth” refers to the years from 10 to 16; to some it refers to biological adolescence and to others to a combination of late adolescence and young adulthood; and, as our historical survey will show, it has meant middle age or the entire interval from early childhood to old age. “Juvenile,” too, is applied to a wide range of ages. It has acquired further connotations in legal usage and in primate anthropology, where it refers to a stage between the infant and the adult or subadult. “Teen-ager” labels an age group, regardless of developmental status, and “junior or senior high-school age” an educational group of disparate chronological and developmental ages. All terms other than adolescence suggest status rather than change, product not process, an approach that is more descriptive than conceptual, and a more limited temporal and situational view toward antecedents and consequents of behavior.
Concepts of adolescence
For many thousands of years man has been aware of certain adolescent phenomena and of variations in human behavior with age. Aristotle, however, is usually cited as the first source of detailed records of adolescent development. He described voice changes in both sexes, breast development and menarche in the female, the appearance of pubic hair and seminal emissions in the male; he gave average ages at which these phenomena occurred and presented evidence for a period of adolescent sterility in the male. Aristotle is also sometimes credited with a psychological characterization of adolescence because he noticed a number of traits which in more recent times have been attributed to the adolescent in industrialized societies. But Aristotle’s characterization was only that of a tripartite age continuum—childhood, youth, and old age—and in his account the term “young” could have included any age from about seven to forty years. Nor did the Romans of the pre-Christian era clearly differentiate between infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. An infans was not only one who did not speak but also a child up to the age of seven; yet puerilis also meant childish. Puerilis and adolescens were often used synonymously and applied to young males without reference to any particular age; Octavianus at 19 was called puer and Caesar at about 38, adolescentulus.
Expanded divisions of the life span and more restricted definitions had evolved by the beginning of the fourth century; writers of the golden age of the Byzantine Empire refer to Constantine as the authority for some definitions that delimit six or seven age periods. The third age was called adolescence: during this age the person grows “to the size allotted to him by Nature.” Adolescence is followed by youth, the age of greatest strength (Ariès  1962, p. 21). These definitions are taken from a sixteenth-century French translation of a thirteenth-century Latin encyclopedia; it was noted that the translator had difficulties because the French language of the time had only three words to signify age periods—childhood, youth, and old age. The finer distinctions had been lost to popular speech during the Dark Ages and, despite being exhumed by thirteenth-century scholars, disappeared again for several centuries.
During the Dark Ages the child moved into the adult world between the ages of five and seven. This pattern persisted for many centuries among the lower classes. Ariès (1960) gives a fascinating account of factors that prompted or retarded the reappearance of contrasts, first between infancy and childhood and later between childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. For example, the establishment of schools for a larger proportion of the population helped to extend childhood but tended to obscure distinctions between child, adolescent, and young adult, because in the early medieval school neither attendance nor grade level was based on age. Indeed, after the sixteenth century discrimination was further reduced by adopting for all students, some of whom were over 20, a disciplinary method—the rod—originally reserved for the youngest pupils. A variety of synonyms for “child” or “youth” was used during the Middle Ages, but they all applied to a wide range of ages. A lowly person was a “child” regardless of his age. This usage continued into the seventeenth century, for one left childhood only by achieving superior economic or social position. Among the upper classes, however, dependency came to be primarily a function of physical ability, and the word “child” took on its modern connotations.
According to Ariès, a popular concept of adolescence began to take shape during the eighteenth century in “two characters—one literary, as represented by Cherubin, and the other social, the conscript.” Cherubin represented “the ambiguity of puberty” and stressed “the effeminate side of a boy just emerging from childhood; … it expressed a condition … the period of budding love.” In contrast, the character of the conscript stressed manly strength as the expression of the idea of adolescence.
Several reasons for the slow evolution of a truly developmental concept of the life span and the late recognition of adolescence may be deduced. First, the average life span was so short that the continuum of ages noted by scholars was not readily apparent to the general populace. Second, until the advent of a relatively high standard of living for a major segment of the population, the labor of all was needed. Fine distinctions between physical or mental abilities could not be afforded, and indeed, when complex skills were not required, they were not necessary. Third, the existence of quite rigid social and economic hierarchies made a large part of the population dependent upon the rich and noble minority. Dependency, whether physical, social, or economic, plays a prominent role even in current definitions of developmental status. The first two factors, at least, may also account for the lesser distinctions drawn between age groups in primitive societies in more recent times.
While laymen were rediscovering a concept of adolescence, biologists had returned to the ancient usage, adopting the term “adolescence” for the period between puberty and the termination of physical growth. In 1795 the first systematic study of an adolescent phenomenon appeared (Osiander 1795), antedating by about a century objective research on the behavior of adolescents. The volume and breadth of the literature grew, so that by the time Hall published his Adolescence he drew on more than sixty studies of physical growth alone, conducted in a number of different countries.
Puberty and reproduction. In the early studies, puberty sometimes meant the age of menarche in females and the age of the first seminal emission in males and sometimes the age of the first appearance of pubic hair in either sex. Termination of growth was equated with the end of growth in height. As more data became available, qualifications and refinements became necessary. Definitions of puberty are particularly difficult, and those given in most dictionaries—for example, “the period when sexual maturity is reached”—simply do not fit the facts. There is considerable evidence to indicate that nubility, the capacity to beget or bear offspring, may not be acquired until some time after menarche or first ejaculation. Furthermore, the first externally visible sign of sexual maturation is usually growth of the testes in the male and the beginning of breast development in the female, not the appearance of pubic hair. However, the order of appearance of secondary characteristics is not always the same. Some biologists prefer to consider pubescence as beginning when the levels of androgen and estrogen secretion start to rise (at about five to eight years). Defining adolescence as beginning at puberty is probably defensible if puberty means the first external sign of sexual maturation and if this development is interpreted as meaning that the complex series of processes involved in sexual maturation are already under way.
Termination of growth. It is also now clear that termination of growth in height should not be used as the sole criterion for the termination of adolescence. The anatomical and physiological changes are pervasive in quantity and quality; almost all tissues and organ systems are involved; and the length of the period of growth and change differs for different dimensions and functions. Because physical growth and changes in physiological processes arise from the hormonal changes producing reproductive maturation and are highly correlated with sexual development, a definition in which reproductive maturity is the primary referent is most satisfactory. One of the best current definitions is that of Ford and Beach: “Adolescence is the period extending from puberty to the attainment of full reproductive maturity. … Different parts of the reproductive system reach their maximal efficiency at different stages in the life cycle; and, strictly speaking, adolescence is not completed until all the structures and processes necessary to fertilization, conception, gestation, and lactation have become mature” (1951, pp. 171–172). This definition takes into account the fact that many physical structures and metabolic processes not directly classifiable as sexual affect reproductive maturity.
Theories of adolescence
To speak of theories of adolescence is misleading. No theory deals simply with adolescence. Each theoretical conception of adolescence is a part of a broader view of the developmental continuum, whether this be biological, psychological, or social. Some behavioral, developmental schema are an integral part of a theory of personality (for example, that of Freud) or of a theory of a certain class of behavior (for instance, Piaget’s cognitive theory). Others are derived from the constructs of a general theory of behavior, such as Lewin’s, but are not essential to the system. Furthermore, most of these parent formulations are closer to being descriptions or master plans than to being systems that admit of testable predications. However, convenience is served by retaining the conventional label of theory.
The following account is directed primarily toward tracing the origin and relationships of the more influential hypotheses and concepts about adolescence. Only the initial or most typical forms can be reviewed, and extremely abbreviated summaries of the theories from which they came will be given.
A year after Hall’s Adolescence appeared, Freud published his first essay on adolescence (1905). There is little to suggest that either man drew on the other, yet in addition to being the first theorists specifically to consider adolescence, they had many ideas in common. Both postulated an innate sequence of stages in which affective development is primary and much of behavior instinctually determined. Reproductive maturation gives rise to a certain discontinuity in development and to many psychological problems. Behaviorally, adolescence is a period of emotional upheaval, behavioral contradictions, and particular vulnerability to regression and psychopathology. Only one line of Hall’s massive two volumes can be interpreted as a definition of adolescence—he mentions the years from 14 to 24. His discussion indicates, however, an acceptance of the then current biological definition of adolescence as beginning at puberty and ending with the cessation of physical growth, and these ages fit the range of those landmarks at the time. It is possible to infer a more behavioral conception from Freud. Adolescence is initiated by puberty but presumably terminates with attainment of genital maturity in a psychological sense.
In Hall’s amplification of recapitulation theory—the doctrine that during ontogenesis man recapitulates the phylogeny of the species and the evolution of human society—adolescence corresponds to a stressful, transitional period in cultural evolution. Its last phase, paralleling the formation of civilized societies, is not reached by all. At adolescence, the rule of instinct and self-concern is broken and, given proper environmental circumstances, the individual becomes able to further the advance of civilization. Although several other theorists incorporate modifications of the concept, literal recapitulation theory was short-lived. Stripped of biogenetic theory and Victorian phraseology, however, Hall’s portrait of adolescence constitutes the major part of many current descriptions, and the core of some later theories lies in certain of his observations. His characterization of adolescence as a time of Sturm und Drang is always cited. Less often recognized are his observations on the shift of patterns of affectional attachment from same-sex peers to older members of the opposite sex and finally to opposite-sex age mates, the prevalence of hero worship, and the importance of peergroup affiliations for socialization. He saw a relationship between sexually based affectional patterns and developing capacities for logical thinking and abstraction and a reflection of heterosexual interests in recreational choices, dress, and the like.
Gesell—the maturation process
The subsequent character of adolescent psychology was also imprinted with Hall’s concern for the normative course of all aspects of behavior. This orientation is exemplified by the work of Arnold Gesell (Gesell et al. 1956). Gesell’s central concept is maturation—innate, universal processes of development modified by individual genetic inheritance. The influence of “acculturation” is acknowledged but not examined. Unique to Gesell are his year-by-year descriptions of classes of behavior, which carry stage analysis to its ultimate conclusion. Thus, he objects to speaking of adolescence as a whole and finds not general contradictions in behavior but yearly oscillations between positive and negative characteristics. The limits of adolescence are defined in physical terms, and innate processes bring about concomitant progress in reasoning ability and preferences in interpersonal relationships. Psychologically, the adolescent must come to terms with his assets and liabilities [seeGesell].
Freud’s libidinal genetic model places less emphasis on adolescence as a formative period than does Hall’s phylogenetic theory. Nevertheless, resolution of the psychosexual conflicts of adolescence, the last phase of the genital stage, are necessary for complete, healthy adult functioning. Puberty reactivates and intensifies both genital and pregenital impulses. If genital maturity is to be achieved, the individual must free himself of the heterosexual attachments appropriate to early stages and the homosexual attachments of latency and early pubescence. Altruistic relationships to the love object must substantially replace narcissism. In the need for the adolescent to become emotionally independent of his parents Freud saw the source of adolescent rebellion. Emotional instability, anxiety, moodiness, and aggressiveness stem from feelings of inadequacy to meet the conflicting demands of powerful motivational forces and the societal restrictions on their expression that by this time have been quite well internalized. To Freud belongs the credit for germinating two concepts that currently enjoy widespread, nonpartisan popularity. The first is the effect of bodily changes on the self-image, both through self-perception and the influence of social interactions. The second is the developmental task, foreshadowed in libidinal forces and attachments to be overcome. Stemming also from Freud is the substitution of the principle of the coexistence and integration of phases for a simple succession of stages.
The revisionists and separatists
Psychoanalytic theory diverged into two camps—the revisionists, who elaborated the classic system, and the separatists, who defected and promulgated their own theories.
Rank. Otto Rank, an early separatist, organized his stages around the development of the “will,” a creative, conscious force shaping the self. In his sequence, adolescence assumes importance because at puberty the continuing struggle to become independent is complicated by the need to resist one’s own physiological drives. Rank also posited that in seeking independence the adolescent may use two defense mechanisms—asceticism and promiscuity. This apposition is similar to Spranger’s “pure love” versus sexuality (1925), Bühler’s spiritual and sensual aspects of sexuality (1935), and Sullivan’s intimacy versus lust (1940–1945) [seeRank] .
Sullivan. Sullivan (1940–1945) is a more recent separatist and the most resolute in stage analysis. His interpersonal theory of psychiatry is usually classified with social-psychological or social learning theories, because anxiety acquired in social interactions replaces instinctive sources of motivation, and developmental stages characterized by particular types of personal interactions supplant the libidinal genetic model. The development of cognitive processes—ways of experiencing interactions with the environment—is included in his system. Biological maturation, in the form of capacities for perceiving and performing, underlies Sullivan’s developmental sequence, but, with the exception of Piaget, no one has gone so far as he in making definitions of stages independent of physical attributes. For Western societies (the pattern in others may vary), he describes seven stages of interpersonal relationships ([1940–1945] 1953, pp. 33–34). The third, or juvenile, era ends and preadolescence begins with “the eruption, due to maturation, of a need for an intimate relation with another person of comparable status.” To the juvenile stage are attributed capacities that others reserve to adolescence, for example, ability to think about and evaluate one’s typical interpersonal reactions, awareness of the conditions that promote freedom from anxiety, and awareness of the goals for which one is willing to delay immediate gratification. Similarly, where Freud held that adolescence is the time when altruism begins to replace narcissism, Sullivan found less selfish, more mutual relations arising during preadolescence. This brief but important period is usually terminated, and adolescence initiated, by “the eruption of genital sexuality and puberty, but psychologically or psychiatrically” by “the movement of strong interest from a person of one’s own sex to a person of the other sex.” Physiological manifestations of puberty are accompanied by lustful sensations, which develop into the “lust dynamism.” The heterosexual need is strong, but so also are needs for intimacy and security. Attempts to achieve a balance in the reduction of tensions arising from all three are the source of many adolescent conflicts. Until a pattern of behavior for satisfying the lust dynamism has been adopted, adolescence continues. Late adolescence encompasses a rather lengthy period of initiation into the range of adult roles, prerogatives, and obligations, the strengthening and equilibration of the self-system, and the broadening of symbolic capacities. Adulthood is achieved when one is able to form a love relationship in which “the other person is as significant or nearly as significant as one’s self” [seeSullivan].
Anna Freud. In extending ego psychology, Anna Freud (1936) gave more attention and importance to adolescence. At least with respect to this period, she used a stage framework already established (and still prevalent) among non-Freudian European developmental psychologists. This sequence consists of three major stages, each subdivided into three phases. The first phase of the last two stages is marked by negativism and a “loosening” and instability of psychic organization. Thus, prepubescence becomes the time of greatest emotional upheaval; at puberty the turmoil subsides. Anna Freud attributed the prepuberal disturbance to a rise in diffuse libidinal energy. Alleviation results from the focusing of impulses and the utilization of two defense mechanisms particularly characteristic of adolescence—asceticism (similar to Rank’s postulation) and intellectualization.
Erikson—identity. Of the Neo-Freudians drawing on variables from the social sciences, Erikson (1950) has detailed the developmental sequence most explicitly. His eight psychosocial crises in ego development cover the span from infancy through old age, the first five paralleling Freud’s libidinal crises. The series is universal, but each person works out individual solutions within those offered by the institutions of his culture and their representation through significant caretakers. How successfully each conflict is resolved depends upon ego strength developed during earlier crises and the meaningfulness of the reinforcements provided by the environmental context for the current one. Although earlier stages contribute to the formation of ego identity, it is the adolescent crisis that integrates the previous ones and is defined as a conflict of identity versus role diffusion. Marked physical changes and sexual awareness and the reactions of a larger group of significant persons to these threaten the continuity of self. The adolescent is called upon to create a constructive “I” consistent with his earlier self-concept and competencies and with the “me” seen by his culture and companions, of which he is certain and with which he is comfortable. The primary problem within an industrialized society is selecting a vocational identity; clear sexual identity is established later in adolescence. In this process, the adolescent attempts to maintain himself by plunging into the peer group and overidentifying with its heroes. Then he begins to fall in love. The relationship is not primarily sexual, unless the culture so requires. It serves rather to clarify identity through the projection and reflection of diffused images. During late adolescence and early adulthood conflicts center upon relationships that demand an abandonment of self.
Erikson points to loss of the clear and limited role definitions that are provided by autocracies and agrarian societies as the major source of identity problems in most freer and urbanized societies today. He contrasts particularly the difficulties, supports, and solutions of American and German adolescents. Among middle-class and upper-class Americans a long social adolescence provides a “psychosocial moratorium” in which to establish identity. A typical adolescent male with well-defined ego identity is basically at peace with himself. His greatest concerns are those of sexuality; ego restriction is his dominant defense mechanism, occasionally relieved by delinquencies. He is anti-intellectual and cannot, as can his German counterpart, become an uncompromising idealist. Rebellion and superego conflicts present fewer problems in the United States for a number of reasons—a heritage of contrasts and experience with individual revolution, diffusion of the father ideal, fraternal relationship with the father, early independence from the mother, democratic consideration of individual interests within the family, and focusing of conflicts on peers. German adolescence, on the other hand, is the prototype of “storm and stress.” The older rural and regional value systems have not yet been replaced with others that integrate societal ideals and educational methods and give meaning to the father’s behavior. Furthermore, institutionalized outlets, such as the W underschaft, are no longer available. The most common solution under these conditions is to rebel and then submit [seeIdentity, psychosocial].
Blos. Blos, another revisionist, refers to “the physical manifestations of sexual maturation” as puberty and to the “psychological processes of adaptation to the condition of pubescence” as adolescence (1962, p. 2). He has further delineated the phases of adolescence and their associated processes, capitalizing upon the work of Anna Freud and Erikson, among others. The psychological basis of these definitions is made clear by pointing out that an individual may remain preadolescent despite the progress of sexual maturation. Latency is defined by the “lack of new sexual aim … rather than the complete lack of sexual activity.” The adolescent phases have different major components and problems for males and females. For both sexes preadolescence brings a quantitative increase of instinctual forces and a resurgence of “all libidinal and aggressive modes of gratification which served during the early years,” accompanied by intractability and compensatory behavior. For boys, however, the phase is one of diffuse homosexual defense against castration anxiety. Among girls the primary problem is preoedipal attachment to the mother.
Early adolescence and adolescence proper bring qualitative changes. During early adolescence boys form idealized friendships. Same-sex friendships are also important for girls, but they tend toward “crushes” on members of either sex and greater preoccupation with questions of sexual identity. Adolescence proper is characterized by reactivation of oedipal conflicts, detachment from primary love objects, and heterosexual object choice. Mental organization becomes more complex, emotions deeper and more intense, and there is a sense of finality in choices. Narcissism and overestimation of capacities are common. Unique to this period is “tender love,” which later becomes fused with sexuality. Asceticism and intellectualization are seen as defenses of adolescence proper, not earlier phases. However, Bios states, as does Erikson, that these defenses are typical only of upper-class and middleclass European adolescents. American adolescents experience “conformism,” a compound of such defense mechanisms as identification, denial, isolation, and counterphobia. During adolescence proper hierarchical organization begins; pregenital satisfactions become subordinated in an initial role rather than maintaining a consummatory one. If this restructuring does not occur, ego development is delayed. “Adolescence proper comes to a close with the delineation of an idiosyncratic conflict and drive constellation, which during late adolescence is transformed into a unified and integrated system” (Bios 1962, p. 127; italics added). Late adolescence is a period of consolidation and decisive crisis—sexual identity is irreversibly established. A transitional phase—postadolescence—intervenes before adulthood, during which further integration occurs, even if adult occupational and familial roles have already been assumed.
Spranger—mental structures. Soon after Hall and Freud set forth their positions, Spranger introduced a third trend that has prevailed in European thinking about development to date—the study of “mental structures” (organization of psychological processes). Only recently, with a revival of interest in Piaget’s work, has this approach become familiar to American psychologists. They know the typological theories of adult personality in which some of this work is set, but not their developmental forms. Few, for example, are aware of Spranger’s textbook on adolescence (1925), although it has been through 24 editions and established Spranger as Hall’s counterpart, the European “father of adolescent psychology.” Spranger frequently mentions instincts, and both his theory of adult personality and his developmental theory contain more emphasis on innate than on environmental determinants; however, his adult typologies are based on values rather than somatotypes, and he finds physiological factors of no help in understanding behavior. He does recognize societal influences, stating that his formulations apply directly only to middle-class German males and predicting greater differences between urban and rural youth than between those in the lower and middle classes.
Spranger conceptualizes adolescence as a period during which the undifferentiated psychological structure of the child is reorganized through self-discovery, emergence of his own value hierarchy, and development of a life plan. Concern about the self leads to feelings of isolation, greater need for social interaction and approval, experimentation with identities (including hero-worship), and rebellion against societal and familial traditions. Choosing a vocation is only one aspect of the general expansion of time perspective and of activity directed toward the integration of a value system, all phases of which may temporarily involve exaggerated estimates of ability. In adolescence reality becomes separated from fantasy, self from the world, and sexuality from pure love. The conscious distinction and different objects of sexuality and pure love help in the definition of the ego, but fusion of these two aspects of sexuality, which develop independently during adolescence, must occur if sexual maturity is to be attained. Spranger proposed that the “storm and stress” mode was one of three possible types of adolescent development; the others are gradual, continuous change and self-initiated, active participation. This idea recurs among the constitutional typologists, who see the degree of adolescent disturbance as influenced by the basic personality type. Many of Spranger’s ideas have subsequently been widely adopted.
Piaget—cognitive structures. Piaget, an epistemologist who has concentrated on qualitative changes in cognitive structures, uses a biological model of organism—environment interaction; intelligence is a form of biological adaptation. Cognitive content, but not process, varies with the culture, and some individuals and societal groups never develop the most advanced intellective structures. Stages are regarded as abstractions, not entities, relevant only when the behavior in question has certain properties. Cognitive development does fit a stage format. Piaget distinguishes three major periods, each with a number of subdivisions, beginning with the infant’s undifferentiated world of reflexes and terminating, during adolescence, in a formal, logical system of combinatorial operations. With the exception of studies of moral judgment, none of Piaget’s research has involved personal and social behavior. On occasion, however, Piaget has discussed the relationship between cognitive and affective development. The latter is parallel to, and interdependent with, cognitive organization, another perspective on the same structural system. In particular (Inhelder & Piaget 1955), it is pointed out that the intellectual transformations of adolescence imply concomitant social transformations and a complete reorganization of the personality.
The adolescent becomes capable of hypotheticodeductive and inductive reasoning. He can conceptualize and operate not only upon present reality, but also upon abstract and remote possibilities. These abilities provide the intellectual framework for taking up adult roles, assimilating social values, and arriving at an individualized value system and life plan. Social interactions are no longer simply of a direct, interpersonal sort; they involve relationships to social institutions and ethical and political codes. Abstractions rather than persons now represent ideals and values. Even when he falls in love, the adolescent shows his inclination for theory by constructing a romance.
Neither the cognitive nor affective changes of adolescence are related to puberty. Neural maturation and experience underlie the former. The latter is initiated when the child begins to assume adult roles; thus adolescence is defined as a social transition. Instead of accepting adults as superior and dominant, the adolescent sees them as equals and sees the adult world as one he may enter and change. Whenever a new cognitive structure is evolving, thought is egocentric, i.e., subjective and undifferentiated. The adolescent tries as much to adapt the world to himself as the converse. His self-assertion, plans to reform society, and imitation of heroes do not include an understanding of the views of others. He fails to recognize that some adult activities are not yet possible for him. Such lack of differentiation necessarily produces conflicts and what appears to be deliberate rebellion. Experience within the peer group and in an occupation brings about the “decentering” prerequisite to objectivity and multiple perspective [seeDevelopmental psychology, article ona theory of development].
Remplein—a synthesis of structures. Where Piaget represents a specialization of interests in mental structures, Remplein (1949) coalesces a more general structural orientation with several theoretical forms prominent in European psychology: (1) “three stages with three phases” developmental theory, (2) personality theory based on constitutional typologies, and (3) stratification theory of personality (after World War II “layer” theories of personality became popular in Germany). Specifically, he adapted and combined Kroh’s developmental theory (1928), which includes a view of cognitive development much like Piaget’s and a description of personality changes, the developmental adaptations of Kretschmer’s constitutional typology devised by Conrad (1941) and Stratz (1903), and Lersch’s (1938) three-layer theory of personality. By adding a neuroanatomical substructure to the last he gives his amalgam an evolutionary flavor and provides a neural basis for a pattern of mental development ranging from reflex action and physiognomic perception to deduction and creativity. The psychological processes in the lowest layer, the vital-needs stratum, are associated with basic physiological functions and stem from the old brain. Attitudes, interests, and nonvital emotions come from the middle, or endothymic, stratum. For example, sex is a vital need; love is endothymic; the two are integrated and directed toward a mate during the last phase of adolescence. Self-control and cognition are neocortical functions associated with the upper, or personal, stratum. Intellectual and volitional control is acquired very gradually and is never complete: the lower strata retain some autonomy [seePsychology, article onConstitutional psychology; Kretschmer].
The pattern of personality development Remplein outlines is in large measure typical of German theories. Prepuberty is the last phase of the childhood stage. Just prior to puberty the formerly active, aggressive, capable, reality-oriented child becomes introverted. In the first phase of adolescence (the second negativistic phase), aggressiveness and activity are augmented, and desires for adventure and groups of companions appear. As sexual drives emerge and physical maturation begins, the self-image is disturbed, and “storm and stress” ensues. A person whose basic personality type is schizoid will be particularly disturbed because adolescence is a “schizoid” period. A cycloid personality, on the other hand, will balance the developmentally determined schizoid characteristics, and adolescent turmoil will be minimal. As the new and increased needs penetrate the personal stratum, where capacities for abstraction and logical thinking are continuing to develop, the adolescent becomes reflective and seeks autonomy and greater knowledge. The need for independence increases further during the second phase, fusing with more thoughtful planning, identity experimentation, and desire for self-improvement. This combination produces a re-evaluation, and perhaps rejection, of previously acquired attitudes and values. During the last phase the self-concept and value system are harmonized; heterosexual adjustments and relationships to persons and to society are established; goal-directed activity increases; and a philosophy of life is sought.
Having traced European psychological concepts of adolescence, we return to an advance in cultural anthropology that had a major impact on developmental theory. Both Hall and Freud were familiar with the anthropological data of their time. Hall, for example, devoted three chapters of his Adolescence to early cultures and to contemporary primitive cultures. But these data had not been collected with a view to relating culture and personality development. Late in the 1920s, Malinowski, Benedict, Margaret Mead and others set out in a more systematic fashion to bring anthropological methods to bear on this question. Their data forcefully challenged the assumptions of universality explicit or implicit in recapitulation and Freudian theory. A great range of practices in dealing with puberty were reported—prolonged, complicated puberal rites; brief, simple ceremonies; no recognition. In some groups, the ceremonies entirely missed the period for many initiates, because they were held only every four years. Adolescent rebellion, behavioral contradictions, and patterns of peer-group affiliations were not invariant. Adults had different expectations of the adolescent. In Samoa adolescents were expected to work well, be loyal to the family, and not to be presumptuous or troublesome; Hawaiian Chinese parents assume children will present fewer problems as they get older. Benedict has provided the only attempt to formalize the implications of these observations. She proposed that the apparent discontinuities in behavioral development arise from discontinuities in social conditions and expectancies and pointed to three particular dimensions in social roles and interpersonal relationships that produce behavioral disruptions—responsible versus nonresponsible status, dominance versus submission, and contrasted sex role (Benedict 1938, p. 143). Gradual induction into adult patterns is postulated to prevent psychological distress and behavioral disturbance. More recently the cultural anthropologists have moved away from their early position of extreme cultural relativism. Indeed, at times there seems to be an embarrassing eclecticism. Cross-cultural data—once used to deny innate maturational patterns and the psychoanalytic oedipal and latency stages and to establish group differences in personality—now are used as evidence of Gesell’s stages, Freud’s stages, and constitutional types. However, a healthy antidote had been introduced that is reflected in empirical research and almost all textbooks and contemporary theory in developmental psychology. In combination with a growing interest among sociologists in the effect of intracultural institutions on development, the anthropological data drew greater attention to subgroup differences within societies as well [seeAnthropology, especially the article oncultural anthropology; Culture].
Social learning theory
At about the same time that the anthropologists were producing their first data, learning theorists began to resist biological theories, largely on conjectural, theoretical grounds (Hollingworth 1928). Data have substantiated the validity of their resistance. Social learning theory actually combines reinforcement learning theory with psychoanalytic concepts and some of the insights of cultural anthropology and sociology. No one person can be taken as representative of this position, particularly in all its aspects. In general, social learning theorists have not been concerned with distinguishing stages. When they use labels for a group under study they tend to assume some biological definition of adolescence or else they simply use age or school-grade groups. Because learning is a continuous process, development is expected to be continuous unless societal expectations change. Those who concentrate on the reinforcement aspects of social learning observe how far the child or adolescent has progressed in learning a particular task in relation to the system of rewards and punishments that have been used, for instance, the parental childrearing practices.
Most of the research has centered on five areas of socialization—feeding, elimination, sex, aggression, and dependency—and the development of identification and self-concepts, particularly sexual identity. Three conceptualizations of the way in which identification develops are currently under study—the Freudian model of identification with a feared and powerful father, a learning theory model of imitation of a nurturant parent, and a sociological combination of these two, i.e., identification with a powerful parent who both rewards and punishes. Learning theorists, as do the Freudians, emphasize early learning, so the major proportion of research has been conducted with infants and young children. However, considerable attention has been given to adolescents in studies of aggression (Bandura & Walters 1959) and of the role of peer groups in the development of self-esteem and attitudes.
Other research within social learning theory has focused on analyzing what persons at various points in the developmental continuum are expected to learn. This approach has given rise to lists of developmental tasks, of which Havighurst’s is most frequently cited. His list is based on Western, complex cultures, but it is assumed that lists could be made for any culture or subgroup and that certain tasks, e.g., those with large biological components, will vary less from group to group. Among the adolescent’s tasks are accepting one’s physique and sex role, emotional independence from parents and other adults, choosing and preparing for a vocation, and preparing for marriage and parenthood (Havighurst  1951, pp. 30-55). [Seeaggression; Imitation; Learning, article onreinforcement; Learning theory; Self concept; Socialization.]
Lewin’s application of field theory to adolescence provides a model for predicting the data of the cultural anthropologists and for explaining the effect of physical changes on the self-image (1939). Lewin represented behavior as a function of the “life space,” which consists of the person within his “psychological environment” (the environment as he sees it). The life space is described by dimensions of reality and time perspective and the number, kind, and organization of its regions. There are individual, developmental, and cultural differences in these parameters. In general, the scope, differentiation, and hierarchical organization of the life space increase during development. When changes in the life space are rapid and thoroughgoing, the period is said to be one of transition. At least in Western societies, adolescence is such a period. The extent and kinds of behavior of the “storm and stress” variety are a function of the degree to which these three conditions prevail—(1) movement away from familiar territory (the child group), some of which is now blocked against return, to strange territory (the adult group), parts of which are not yet open; (2) marked expansion of time perspective under difficult circumstances, i.e., in regions about which one has little or contradictory information; and (3) bodily changes that render unfamiliar a once familiar region. The source of difficulties in the first condition is not the abruptness of the shift (as in puberal rites), but the clear separation between child and adult groups. An adolescent is in the position of a “marginal man,” who does not fully belong to either of two distinct groups. His behavior is similar to that of the person from a minority group who is “passing the line”—tense, unstable, contradictory (boisterous or shy, sensitive and aggressive), and intolerant. The second characteristic makes it difficult to formulate life plans and leads to a tendency to follow persons or groups that offer a structured value system.
Lack of differentiation and of cognitive structure typify all “locomotion” into unknown regions. Conditions (1) and (3) intensify these factors, and in conjunction with the greater impact of new regions during rapid changes, produce tension, instability, and uncertain behavior. Increased plasticity also accompanies transitions because the individual has no anchor in either old or new regions. Together with the lack of differentiation this characteristic facilitates the emergence of radicalism [seeField theory; Lewin].
How do the data of adolescence compare with these theories? How do those who are not committed to a particular theoretical viewpoint interpret the data? Limitations on references make it impossible to cite the original sources contributing to the composite empirical adolescent, but a broad and balanced sampling of the documentation can be found in Kuhlen (1952) and in Zubek and Solberg (1954). These texts present data and conclusions that have not been controverted by later evidence and provide the advantage of a developmental orientation. The developmental approach is essential, for aside from cultural bias, the major source of misconceptions about adolescence is failure to consider trends over the total developmental span. Attributes assigned to adolescence when only that group is assessed are often, in fact, more characteristic of children or adults or equally applicable to all ages.
Many theorists refer to the adolescent’s increased capacities for abstraction and logic, “theoretical world views,” expansion of time perspective, intellectualization, and greater differentiation of mental abilities. Relevant data cannot be obtained directly from performance curves, because standardized intelligence tests are constructed to yield a regular increase in mental age over a considerable chronological age span, and cognitive tasks of the type used by Piaget are not scored quantitatively. However, when absolute scaling techniques are applied to standardized tests, the resulting growth curve is steady and continuous, gradually decelerating during adolescence. Factor analyses do suggest greater differentiation of abilities among adolescents than among children, but, again, there is no indication of sudden changes. Examination of individual mental test curves and comparison of mean curves for the sexes and for groups of either sex maturing physically at different rates show no consistent inflections or relationship to puberty. Another sort of influence of rate of physical maturation is, however, suggested by research on the mode of expression of intellectual competency. Among early and late maturing boys of equal IQ, the former tend to achieve through conformity, the latter through independence (Jones 1965). Piaget asserts that certain experiences affect the level or timing of acquisition of cognitive structures, e.g., that entering a vocation promotes “decentering,” but research designed to test such inferences is not available.
The effects of biological adolescence are seen most clearly in physical development—strength as well as size and shape— and in sexual behaviors, broadly defined. Acceleration of growth begins later for strength than for height and other physical dimensions, and in males marked increments continue longer, but the timing of muscular development is highly correlated with rate of physiological maturing. A considerable body of data on the psychological and social correlates of maturation rate has accumulated. Adults see the physiologically advanced as socially more mature than their slower maturing chronological age-mates and are willing to grant them greater autonomy and responsibility (Barker et al. 1946). Physiological maturity is positively related to status within the peer group, to self-concepts, and to affectionate feelings and lack of rebelliousness toward parents (Eichorn 1963; Jones 1965). Recent analyses point to strength and general physiological maturity as more important than sheer size (Jones 1965). The findings with respect to self-concepts and attitudes toward parents have been cross-validated in part in Italy as well as in the United States (Mussen & Bouter-line-Young 1964). Motor skills in general improve with age, but their relationship to physical maturity is less definitive. Moreover, adolescent awkwardness, a characteristic mentioned by many writers, is not supported by objective measurement. The most plausible explanation for instances of assumed lack of coordination—and other than anecdotal evidence on this point is lacking—is social discomfort and inexperience.
Cross-culturally, increasing heterosexual interest—expressed directly or indirectly—is the most distinctive characteristic of adolescence. In the United States the trend, as represented, for example, by concern for personal appearance, ability to make a good impression, sexual morality, continues through the twenties. None of the techniques devised by restrictive societies has succeeded in completely eliminating intercourse among adolescents (Ford & Beach 1951). Even in those cultures that allow sex play and copulation among the young, pubescence brings a more directed, intense quality to the behavior and is accompanied by interest in adornment, acquisition of skills valued in marriage, and whatever behaviors the society links with mature sexuality. In calm, permissive Samoa, the girls “flutter” and become self-conscious (Mead 1928). One of the earliest relationships to be documented in the United States was that between physical maturation and maturity of interests, particularly those involving culturally patterned heterosexuality. The shifts are not abrupt, nor would they be predicted to be. The hormonal and physical changes are not abrupt; some of the interests and activities included in scales of maturity of interests are culturally appropriate over a wide age range, e.g., fishing, for males; and well-established habits are extinguished gradually. Nevertheless, the curves for interests and behaviors tied to heterosexuality, such as dancing and dress, rise more steeply during adolescence than those for many other attitudes and performances. Some observers have speculated that youngsters might take up these behaviors under social pressure, without concomitant physical maturation or real involvement. The few studies that speak to this question (e.g., More 1955) indicate that extremely late maturers do not. Some less markedly slow in physical development do go through the motions, but psychological assessment shows that emotional investment is absent, and often the social overtures are not treated as meaningful by peers.
Vocational and economic concerns
Among industrialized societies, increasing preoccupation with economic or vocational concerns, particularly in males, looms next in prominence in the data on adolescence. Again, the pattern persists well into adulthood. Reports from less complex cultures are not sufficiently detailed to permit comparative statements. Graded contributions to the economy according to age or size are more common, but in many groups, puberal ceremonies signal not complete adult status, but the initiation of a more systematic training in adult economic and civic roles.
Emotional development and personal maturity
The anthropological data on the “storm and stress” aspects of adolescence have already been touched upon. Within the United States, the evidence for such phenomena ranges from negative to equivocal, as do many of the data bearing on the assumed sources, such as discontinuities in responsibility and autonomy (Barker & Wright 1954; Bandura & Walters 1959). Put very baldly, without qualifications for sex, class, or caste, the average American adolescent is not anxious, emotionally unstable, unhappy, aggressive, or rebellious. Fears and worries decrease with age and become less concrete and more socially oriented. In this process, the adolescent is intermediate between the child and the adult. Only a small proportion of adolescents report symptoms of anxiety and emotionality, and across the span from 15 years to old age, adolescents have the lowest index of emotionality. By teacher and parent report and observations in school, adolescents show fewer behavior problems than younger children. Late childhood or prepubescence, rather than adolescence, are reported asperiods of increase in behavioral problems. Incidence of crime and mental illness rises gradually from early childhood through young adulthood; delinquency rates then drop, while mental illness rates continue to increase. Furthermore, a large proportion of those who become delinquent or disturbed during adolescence began showing symptoms much earlier. Elderly adults rate adolescence second only to young adulthood as the period of greatest happiness, and the majority of adolescents state they are happy most of the time. Both overt and fantasy aggression decrease with age. Socially directed aggression and internalized aggression (depression) increase. The latter appears particularly during early adulthood. The few studies that report greater aggressive fantasy during puberty are characterized by methodological errors, such as failure to obtain data on younger subjects and inadequate knowledge of the subjects’ maturity status. Attachments to peers appear early in the United States, but relations with parents improve with age, and the peer group never outweighs the parents for the majority of adolescents. Parental values are more often chosen over those peers if the two are opposed. Between infancy and adolescence the sources of parent-child conflict do, however, change [seePersonality].
Data on a few specific behaviors frequently mentioned in theories are also available. Crushes occur with high frequency among girls. Diary-keeping (frequently mentioned in psychoanalytic discussions) is also a female activity, but at peak incidence only about one-third of samples of girls are so engaged. Daydreaming becomes common during adolescence and is another behavior for which the frequency continues to increase into young adulthood, staying high until about age thirty. Hero-worship—if contemporary “glamorous adults” are included in the definition—is a characteristic of childhood trailing into early adolescence. True hero-worship may be more common in other Western nations, for instance, Germany.
With certain exceptions, theorists have not been active in producing evidence for their hypotheses, particularly with respect to adolescence. The reasons are several. Many of the formulations are essentially unverifiable. The proponents of theories have not, in the main, been interested in development or adolescence per se, but rather in personality, therapy, cognition, or the like. Finally, the observations that many seek to account for are drawn from small, atypical samples. On the other hand, the developmentalists, who have collected most of the data, have tended to be atheoretical. Textbooks on adolescence, which reflect this orientation almost entirely, typically contain summaries of large numbers of empirical studies and only cursory references to theory. The greatest deficiency in the body of empirical data is information needed to link theory to data—definitive studies of the variables influencing the emergence or extinction of interests, attitudes, emotions, and behaviors. Certain relationships to biological maturation are reasonably well-documented, but comparable and qualifying evidence for other parameters is markedly lacking. Those interested in interpersonal and societal variables have not capitalized on methods used in the longer established biological tradition. For example, feelings of independence, extent of rebellion, or self-concepts have not been compared among adolescents completely dependent on parents, partially employed, and fully employed. Multiple-factor designs, permitting assessment of the interaction between physiological, intellectual, emotional, and social variables, are extremely rare. Anthropological data now available do not permit separation of variables such as responsibility and dominance, nor the extraction of their influence from the total cultural context.
Harbingers of rapprochement are appearing from both sides. If one looks beyond the particular terminologies and disciplinary frames of reference, represented in the numerous conceptual views of the developmental continuum and of adolescence in particular, communalities and lines of cleavage emerge that narrow the task of verification. Current textbooks and review volumes are beginning to reflect some integration of data collection and theory and greater ingenuity in the use of both experimental and correlational designs.
Dorothy H. Eichorn
[See alsoDevelopmental psychology. Other relevant material may be found inAging; Delinquency, articles onPsychological aspectsandDelinquent gangs; Identity, Psychosocial; Infancy; Llfe cycle; and in the biography ofHall.]
AriÈs, Philippe (1960) 1962 Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. New York: Knopf. → First published as L’enfant et la vie familiale sous I’ancien regime.
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Barker, Roger g.; and Wright, Herbert f. 1954 Midwest and Its Children. Evanston, lll.: Row.
Barker, Roger g. et al. (1946) 1953 Adjustment to Physical Handicap and Illness. 2d ed. New York: Social Science Research Council.
Benedict, Ruth 1938 Continuities and Discontinuities in Cultural Conditioning. Psychiatry 1:161-167.
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Ford, Clellan s.; and Beach, Frank a. 1951 Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper.
Freud, Anna (1936) 1957 The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. New York: International Universities Press. → First published as Das Ich und die Abwehrmechanismen.
Freud, Sigmund (1905) 1953 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Volume 7, pages 123-245 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. New York: Macmillan; London: Hogarth. → First published as Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie.
Gesell, Arnold; Ilg, Frances l.; and AMES, Louis B. 1956 Youth: The Years From Ten to Sixteen. New York: Harper.
Gottlieb, David; and Ramsey, Charles 1964 The American Adolescent. Homewood, III.: Dorsey. → Sociological considerations.
Hall, Calvin s.; and Lindzey, Gardner 1957 Theories of Personality. New York: Wiley; London: Chapman.
Hall, G. Stanley 1882 The Moral and Religious Training of Children. Princeton Review New Series 9: 26-48.
Hall, G. Stanley 1904 Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. 2 vols. New York: Appleton.
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views updated May 17 2018
Although the term "adolescence" has existed for centuries to describe (in various and contradictory ways) a period of life between childhood and adulthood, the modern conception of adolescence—as a time of increasing freedom, rebellion, stress, change, confrontation, experimentation, and tempestuous emotions—began (at least for the middle class) in America shortly after the Civil War. In fact some historians have suggested that adolescence is essentially an American phenomenon, linked most clearly to the still-developing (and perhaps fundamentally adolescent) nation. Certainly economic and social changes in postbellum America led many in the reunited nation to think of themselves as struggling against conventions of the past and their own conflicting desires, as members of an adolescent country long out of the childhood of the new Republic, jaded by recent experiences and uncertain about the future.
After 1865 many young people began moving out of primarily agrarian family situations, where they worked alongside their parents and remained at home until they married and started their own families, and into school, where they began to associate for the first time with large numbers of their age group. Also, changing notions of success in America placed value on different qualities from those that were prized in the early part of the century. A relatively clear sense of entitlement or place in society was rapidly being replaced by an ethos of individual achievement, which was seen as being advanced through personal restraint and denial of impulse. Consequently adolescents who challenged the authority of their parents, teachers, or employers were seen as difficult and perhaps dangerous.
Perhaps more important, adolescents after the mid-nineteenth century had less of a role as productive (i.e., income generating) citizens. No longer working on the family farm and being replaced by waves of adult immigrants in manufacturing jobs, America's youth were becoming increasingly marginalized. Not surprisingly, as adolescents were needed less to fuel the economy, they were seen as more of a threat to society, a threat that must be managed. One response was social institutions, like the Boy Scouts and public high schools, which functioned to keep young people occupied and out of trouble. The result, however, of this benevolent isolation, at least for middle-class adolescents who did not need to contribute financially to their families, was that they became an increasingly alienated (and often idle) subgroup of society.
WORKING CLASS, IMMIGRANT, AFRICAN AMERICAN, AND NATIVE AMERICAN ADOLESCENTS
In many ways adolescence can be seen as a distinctly middle-class phenomenon, as the luxuries of extended schooling and relatively benign conflicts with authority were not routinely available to children of the working poor. Young people from the working and immigrant classes had little economic choice but to follow their parents into usually underpaid and dehumanizing factory jobs, which often put them at odds with the values and practices of their traditional families. These working children expected more freedom and demanded more respect than their traditional, authoritarian parents were willing to give them. The children of former slaves had to grow up with little practical support from their parents, who were struggling themselves to survive their new freedom, and Native American children were forced by economic and political necessity to assimilate into white, Christian culture.
For the working poor and immigrant families, where young adults were expected to work to help support the family, conflicts arose as previously more sheltered adolescents were exposed to behaviors and values in conflict with those of their families. For example, many young women at the turn of the century who consistently violated the standards of their homes—arguing with their parents, staying out late, engaging in sexual activity—were reported to police and even committed to reformatories. In New York State in particular, an 1896 law resulted in "wayward girls" (most often accused of sexual indiscretions) being sent to correctional institutions like the New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills. The standard sentence was three years, and the results of such reformations were decidedly mixed, although the message to young women was quite clear—be good or be imprisoned.
Children of former slaves found that education and economics were often at odds, as families struggled to educate their children and still secure the necessary income from their work. The difficulties the Freedmen's Bureau (established in 1865) had with indentured child laborers is a case in point. The law provided that children could be indentured until the age of twenty-one if parents agreed, died, or could not support them. However, many white landowners took advantage of these desperate families and indentured even very young children (making them de facto slaves until their majority) without their parents' permission. When parents challenged the indentures, the courts wavered between supporting the often destitute parents and the often abusive white landowners.
As African American parents tried to secure the freedoms guaranteed by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, faced lynching and other violence, and tried to make a living through factory work, domestic service, or sharecropping, their children began their education. One historian reports that while only a small number of blacks were literate at the end of the Civil War, the majority of all African Americans could read and write by the turn of the twentieth century. Booker T. Washington (1865–1915) recounts these all-too-common difficulties and his particular determination to overcome them in Up from Slavery (1901). Although he was born a slave, Washington worked to educate himself, attended Hampton Institute in Virginia, and in 1881 founded Tuskeegee Institute, where students learned both academic and vocational skills. Other schools, such as the one for girls founded by Nannie Helen Burroughs in the District of Columbia in 1909, soon followed.
Native American children and adolescents struggled with survival after they were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and struggled also with the loss of their identity as they were routed into Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. The first Indian school, and perhaps the best known and most representative, was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1879–1918), which was established in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, by the former U.S. Calvary officer Richard Henry Pratt to facilitate the assimilation of native children and train them for life as U.S. citizens. Pratt had been in charge of Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, and Caddo warriors who had been relocated to a Florida prison camp, and he asked those men to send their children to his new school, which they eventually agreed to do.
Once at school, the process of assimilation began with cutting the students' hair, which frequently resulted in much unhappiness. Students wore uniforms (the boys) or Victorian dresses (the girls); all children wore shoes (not moccasins) and were forbidden to speak their native languages. As was the case at Tuskeegee, students were trained in academic and vocational subjects, but they also studied art and music as well. In the thirty-nine years of its existence, more than ten thousand students were enrolled at Carlisle. Many found the process of being taken from their homes and immersed in white culture painful and confusing. For example, in American Indian Stories (1921), Zitkala-Ša (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin), later a teacher at Carlisle, poignantly and eloquently describes her experiences at an Indian school in Illinois. Zitkala-Ša tells of her homesickness and confusion with the unfamiliar language and customs, the cutting of her hair (which in her mind designated her as a coward), the beatings, and finally, her eventual alienation from her own culture. For these adolescents, taken from their homes and forced to adopt completely new and contradictory ways, adolescence was a particularly difficult and painful process of separation and loss.
INFLUENCE OF G. STANLEY HALL
G. Stanley Hall's Adolescence: Its Psychology, and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education (1904) is justly credited with creating the twentieth century's image of the adolescent. This massive two-volume work (1,373 pages) used Darwinian and Lamarckian evolutionary theories to call attention to the importance of the adolescent period in the development of the human species. According to Hall, in adolescence ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, with the history of the development of the species playing itself out in the development of the individual. Hall defined adolescence as a period of rebirth analogous to the development of the nation from a "primitive" beginning through a period of upheaval to a "civilized" adult nation. By influencing adolescent development, he said, civilization could be advanced.
In practice what this meant was that adolescence came to be treated as a period of psychological and intellectual stasis during which the individual prepares for adult life. Therefore more emphasis was placed on physical and less on intellectual development, particularly the rote learning of childhood. In terms of moral development, parents and educators used this period to gently guide (and not force) adolescents to make moral choices, recognizing the growing complexity of the adolescent moral sense. (This approach has much in common with John Dewey's Progressivist, constructivist ideas about public education.)
Although much of the science behind Hall's theories of adolescent development has since been discredited, vestiges of his attention to adolescence remain. The contemporary sense of adolescence as an important stage of transition from the protected (and relatively simple) world of childhood to the responsibilities of adulthood has its origins in Hall's theories. Also, the concern about the relationship of youth culture to the culture as a whole can be seen as an important part of Hall's legacy.
LITERARY REPRESENTATIONS OF ADOLESCENCE
The bildungsroman, or novel of adolescent moral education, has existed at least since Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1796). American writers in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century explored the genre as well, discussing not only education and acculturation but also social, psychological, and sexual development and the adventures and dangers of growing up. Written primarily for adults, although certainly read by adolescents, some works of this period treating white (usually male and middle-class) adolescence include Edward Eggleston'sThe Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871), E. W. Howe's The Story of a Country Town (1883), Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Henry James's Daisy Miller (1879) and What Maisie Knew (1897), and Edith Wharton's Summer (1917).
Twain (1835–1910) sets the standard for the coming-of-age book in America. The artistry of his novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer rises far above most other "bad boy" novels of the period. However, it too asserts, as do most novels of this sort, that middle-class white boys, while they may briefly behave in savage and sometimes even dangerous ways, will eventually (as Hall predicted) mature into productive and staid members of the community. Twain's short pieces on good and bad boys and girls, such as "The Christmas Fireside," "Advice for Good Little Girls/Boys," and "The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper," continue this tradition of showing that youthful high jinks are a necessary part of childhood and may in fact be a prerequisite for later success.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn offers an even more complex view of adolescence. In a story that has become familiar to most American schoolchildren, the novel takes Huck from being the abused son of a drunkard to a runaway to a free spirit who is willing to risk his soul and his freedom to help his friend Jim, a slave, escape captivity. Although the novel has been faulted for its racism, its sexism, and its problematic ending, as a provocative and entertaining story of male adolescent development it has had few rivals. Although the novel does provide a hero who may be more readily accepted and appreciated by young men than young women, Huckleberry Finn offers a model of adolescent self-determination that has influenced all subsequent adolescent fiction and probably many young adult lives.
James's (1843–1916) and Wharton's (1862–1937) novels focus on the awakening—both sexual and social—of female adolescents. Wharton's Summer features Charity Royall, a young woman who, after being "rescued" by a prominent local lawyer from a life of poverty and deprivation, dreams away her time working in a local library. Roused from her lethargy by Lucius Harney, Charity starts a romance with him and becomes pregnant. After Harney rejects her to marry someone of his social and intellectual class, Charity runs away from her lawyer guardian to try to find her parents. Eventually Charity decides to marry her guardian, who agrees to care for her and the baby. A story of sexual awakening and emotional development, Summer shows the consequences of one particular kind of adolescent rebellion and provides a morality tale for young women: stay within the bounds of approved sexuality or you may find yourself forced into a marriage of convenience.
Younger than Charity, Maisie in James's What Maisie Knew is the pawn in the struggle between her careless and selfish divorced parents. In this novel Maisie's parents trade her between them, threatening to withhold (or sometimes to send) her at inconvenient times. The parents both remarry (the father to Maisie's beloved governess), and the much younger stepparents dote on Maisie. Maisie's biological father and mother fight with each other, argue with their new spouses, and seek other lovers during their second marriages, while Maisie tries to figure out what in the world is going on. Eventually the two stepparents fall in love with each other, and Maisie, who thinks she has brought them together, is initially thrilled, because her surrogate parents are much nicer than her biological ones.
At the end of the novel, though, Maisie realizes that her stepparents (who have not yet divorced her natural parents) have put her in a troubling moral position, and she decides to reject them all and take up life with her new governess, a long-suffering widow. The child Maisie thus proves herself to be ultimately more insightful and moral than the adult characters, even if she is not always as quick as they are to notice the subtleties of relationships. James's position on the life of the developing adolescent appears to be that adults are frequently selfish and mysterious and their young charges are often at their mercy, even though the young can come to determine their own lives. Although she is unable to control much of what happens to her initially, finally Maisie is able to make morally correct choices, showing that she knows quite a great deal.
Daisy Miller (in James's novel of the same name), however, is another story. Trailed across Europe by her precocious younger brother and her completely ineffectual mother, Daisy seems unable (or perhaps unwilling) to acknowledge that there might need to be constraints on the behavior of a young, unmarried woman. In spite of the well-intentioned advice given her by Frederick Winterbourne (whose interest is likely more than avuncular) and sharper reprimands by others in the American expatriate community, Daisy continues to go about unchaperoned with various men, eventually settling on an Italian dandy of uncertain pedigree. Winterbourne, who at first champions Daisy, eventually turns his back on her; nevertheless, he is saddened by her death of "Roman fever," officially the result of a late evening in the Coliseum but metaphorically punishment for her rash behavior. In this novel, it appears, independence from social convention (at least for young women of the leisure classes) can lead only to death.
Louisa May Alcott's (1832–1888) Little Women (1868–1869) and Horatio Alger's (1832–1899) Ragged Dick (1868) represent other aspects of emerging American adolescent life and provide interesting commentary on gender stereotypes in the late nineteenth century. Little Women shows the various ways in which girls make the transformation into wives and mothers, whereas Ragged Dick forms the template for the adolescent American Dream. These novels, unlike those by James and Wharton, were directed toward a young readership and thus spoke more directly to their concerns.
Alger's novel, more entertaining than subsequent generations have given it credit for, features "Ragged Dick," who is transformed in the course of the novel from a bootblack living on the streets and sleeping in straw to Richard Hunter, Esquire, with a job in a counting room, a trusted friend, and prospects for the future. Dick achieves all of this through hard work, a cheerful countenance, and an inbred sense (coming from who knows where) of right and wrong. Dick is willing to lie, fight, smoke, and gamble, but he stubbornly refuses to steal and always keeps his promises. The message was satisfying to the emerging American middle class, which wanted to believe that urban children and youth were poor because of their own shiftlessness and dishonesty, but it also set a standard for (male) adolescent achievement. In Dick's world (and he is merely the first of many Alger novels in the same vein), success is possible with hard work, cheerful stoicism, frugality, and a little bit of luck.
Little Women, on the other hand, celebrates the virtues of home life and domesticity while at the same time offering a variety of possibilities for young women. Certainly marriage and children is one avenue open to the March girls, but at least for a time Jo manages to make her own living and support herself by her writing. The eventual marriages in the novel are various as well: from the moral domesticity (but long separations) of Marmee and Father, to the child-centered home of Meg, to the romantic marriage of Amy and Laurie, and finally to the working relationship of Jo and Professor Bhaer. Like Ragged Dick, Little Women praises hard work and sacrifice, but its emphasis on home and hearth provided young women with clearly domestic role models.
The experiences of working-class, immigrant, and African American adolescents are treated in several different ways in the literature of the period. Works of interest in this area include Stephen Crane's Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1893), Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods (1902), Willa Cather's O Pioneers! (1913) and My Ántonia (1918), and Theodore Dreiser's "Old Rogaum and His Theresa" (1918).
Crane's (1871–1900) and Dreiser's (1871–1945) stories have much in common: both treat young women who run into conflicts with their families and are turned out of the house for what their parents consider to be their immoral behavior. The final outcome for each girl is very different, however. Maggie is thrown out by her drunken mother and takes up with a man who first "ruins" and then abandons her. She turns to prostitution and eventually dies, at which point her unrepentant mother finally agrees to "forgive" her. Theresa's traditional German immigrant father locks her out for violating his curfew, but he repents and frantically searches for her. Theresa is returned with virtue (and stubbornness) intact, but the reader recognizes just how close to disaster she was. Both stories accurately depict the reality of life for working-class women: without a secure home (and income) the only alternative is prostitution, followed quickly by illness and death. They also chronicle the in-between state of female adolescence, when girls are perched between adult independence (which in these cases may be dangerous) and childish subservience to the family.
Dunbar's (1872–1906) novel tells the story of the African American Hamilton family, the father of which is falsely accused of theft and imprisoned. The family moves to New York, where the daughter and son go astray—the daughter becoming a stage singer and the son a drunk, a womanizer, and eventually a murderer. The lesson of this novel seems to be that young people, especially those belonging to disfranchised minorities, are safer in the bucolic (if racist) South, carefully guarded by a watchful family. Much like the girls in Dreiser's and Crane's stories, Dunbar's young people go from being set loose in the city to disillusionment and immorality.
Cather (1873–1947) tells a more positive story of Nebraska's Norwegian and Bohemian immigrants, who succeed as a result of hard work and determination. The two young women in her novels, Alexandra Bergson in O, Pioneers! and Ántonia Shimerda in My Ántonia, grow from girls on the brink of financial ruin into independent women with families and prosperous farms, but their material achievements come at a price. Alexandra has to assume the financial and managerial role in the family after the death of her father, sacrificing a romantic life until late in the novel, and Ántonia, whose father also dies early in her life, works the family farm like a man, becoming (at least in the narrator Jim Burden's opinion) coarse and hardened in the process. For these two girls adolescent development is mostly a process of subduing individual desires to the necessities of the land. Still, these girls (and the women they become) are portrayed as compelling figures of power, energy, and self-determination. Clearly adolescence is less dangerous for young people on the frontier than it is for their urban counterparts.
During the last part of the nineteenth century a wide variety of books explicitly for adolescents began to be published which would continue into the twentieth century and contribute to the evolving definition of adolescence. Harry Castlemon's Frank, the Young Naturalist (1864), Martha Finley's Elsie Dinsmore (1867), Thomas Bailey Aldrich's The Story of a Bad Boy (1870), Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did (1872), and Oliver Optic's The Boat Club (1885) are some of the best known.
In two novels directed at young women, one can see divergent representations of female adolescence. The eponymous heroine of Elsie Dinsmore, a self-sacrificing adolescent girl like Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin and countless other sentimental novels, was probably as well known at the time as Huckleberry Finn. Highly religious and endlessly persecuted by her unsympathetic family, Elsie exhibits an unyielding piety that finally wins over her father. What Katy Did gives readers perhaps one of the first glimpses of an independent, active young woman. Katy is funny and energetic, engaging in schoolhouse pranks and planning to do (not just be or have) something in her later life. An accident causes Katy to change from tomboy to invalid and the emotional center of the home, but her confidence and spirit resemble that of later twentieth-century heroines of young adult fiction, like those of Katherine Paterson, Judy Blume, Mildred Taylor, Cynthia Voigt, Karen Cushman, and Francesca Lia Block.
Adding to the field of young adult novels were the hundreds of books produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a group of ghostwriters organized by the writer and publisher Edward Stratemeyer (1862–1930) around the turn of the century. These series books, mostly adventure and mystery, included Tom Swift (published from 1910 to 1941) and Ruth Fielding (1913 to 1934) and later the Hardy Boys (from 1926) and Nancy Drew (from 1930). At least 100 million copies of 600 titles have been published over the years. Sinclair Lewis even wrote a novel in this vein, although not for the syndicate, called Hike and the Aeroplane (1912). These series books tend to support stereotypes of boys as adventurers and primary actors, but both Nancy Drew and Ruth Fielding gave generations of girls characters who were brave, curious, and self-determined.
The message of much of the literature about adolescents at this time is that while young adults can make a stab at independence, ultimately they must succumb to adult authority. The books for young adults, however, offer a more hopeful picture. Ragged Dick rises by his own hand and with only a little adult intervention; Nancy Drew has only the most benign of parental influences in her widowed father; Hike can pilot an airplane back and forth across the continent, rescuing maidens, subduing rebels, and saving shipwreck victims, with the full support (but not the interference) of the adults in his life; and Katy can make plans to do something with her life. Not surprisingly, the adult novels about adolescence suggested the submission of adolescents to adult authority; the young adult novels for adolescents, on the other hand, hinted at something more subversive, and perhaps more modern.
See alsoAdventures of Huckleberry Finn; Children's Literature; Daisy Miller; Maggie, A Girl of the Streets; My Ántonia
Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. 1868–1869. Edited by Valerie Alderson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Aldrich, Thomas Bailey. The Story of a Bad Boy. 1870. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927.
Alger, Horatio, Jr. Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York. 1868. New York: Signet, 1990.
Castlemon, Harry [Charles Austin Fosdick]. Frank, the Young Naturalist. 1864. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates, 1892.
Cather, Willa. My Ántonia. 1918. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! 1913. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Coolidge, Susan [Sarah Chauncy Woolsey]. What Katy Did. 1872. London: Collins, 1955.
Crane, Stephen. Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (A Story of New York). 1893. Edited by Kevin J. Hayes. New York: Bedford, 1999.
Dunbar, Paul Laurence. The Sport of the Gods. 1902. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1902.
Eggleston, Edward. The Hoosier Schoolmaster. 1871. New York: Hart, 1976.
Finley, Martha [Martha Farquharson]. Elsie Dinsmore. 1867. New York: Arno Press, 1974.
Howe, E. W. The Story of a Country Town. 1883. Edited by Claude M. Simpson. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961.
James, Henry. Daisy Miller. 1879. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906.
James, Henry. What Maisie Knew. 1897. New York: Scribners, 1908.
Lewis, Sinclair. Hike and the Aeroplane. 1912. Hawley, Pa.: Yale Books, 1999.
Optic, Oliver [William Taylor Adams]. The Boat Club. 1855. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1882.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1885. Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: Bedford, 1995.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. 1876. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1903.
Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1901.
Zitkala-Ša [Gertrude Simmons Bonnin]. American Indian Stories. Washington, D.C.: Hayworth, 1921.
African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship. Library of Congress exhibit. Available at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aointro.html.
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Ashford, Richard K. "Tomboys and Saints: Girls' Stories of the Late Nineteenth Century." School Library Journal 26 (January 1980): 23–28.
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Hall, G. Stanley. Adolescence: Its Psychology, and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton, 1904.
Handlin, Mary F., and Oscar Handlin. Facing Life: Youth and the Family in American History. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
Hawes, Joseph M., and N. Ray Hiner, eds. Growing Up in America: Children in Historical Perspective. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.
Goodman, Madeline, and John Modell. "Historical Perspectives." In At the Threshold: The Developing Adolescent, edited by Glen R. Elliott and S. Shirley Feldman, pp. 93–122. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Kidd, Kenneth B. Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Tale. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
Riis, Jacob A. The Children of the Poor. New York: Scribners, 1892.
Sanger, William W. The History of Prostitution: Its Extent, Causes, and Effects throughout the World. New York: Harper, 1858.
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Caren J. Town
views updated May 14 2018
In the study of child development , adolescence refers to the second decade of the life span, roughly from ages 10 to 20. The word adolescence is Latin in origin, derived from the verb adolescere, which means "to grow into adulthood." In all societies, adolescence is a time of growing up, of moving from the immaturity of childhood into the maturity of adulthood. Population projections indicate
that the percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 14 and 17 will peak around the year 2005.
There is no single event or boundary line that denotes the end of childhood or the beginning of adolescence. Rather, experts think of the passage from childhood into and through adolescence as composed of a set of transitions that unfold gradually and that touch upon many aspects of the individual's behavior, development, and relationships. These transitions are biological, cognitive, social, and emotional.
The biological transition of adolescence, or puberty , is perhaps the most salient sign that adolescence has begun. Technically, puberty refers to the period during which an individual becomes capable of sexual reproduction. More broadly speaking, however, puberty is used as a collective term to refer to all the physical changes that occur in the growing girl or boy as the individual passes from childhood into adulthood.
The timing of physical maturation varies widely. In the United States today, menarche, the first menstrual period, typically occurs around age 12, although some youngsters start puberty when they are only eight or nine, others when they are well into their teens. The duration of puberty also varies greatly: eighteen months to six years in girls and two to five years in boys.
The physical changes of puberty are triggered by hormones , chemical substances in the body that act on specific organs and tissues. In boys a major change is the increased production of testosterone, a male sex hormone, while girls experience increased production of the female hormone estrogen. In both sexes, a rise in growth hormone produces the adolescent growth spurt, the pronounced increase in height and weight that marks the first half of puberty.
Perhaps the most dramatic changes of puberty involve sexuality . Internally, through the development of primary sexual characteristics, adolescents become capable of sexual reproduction. Externally, as secondary sexual characteristics appear, girls and boys begin to look like mature women and men. In boys primary and secondary sexual characteristics usually emerge in a predictable order, with rapid growth of the testes and scrotum, accompanied by the appearance of pubic hair. About a year later, when the growth spurt begins, the penis also grows larger, and pubic hair becomes coarser, thicker, and darker. Later still comes the growth of facial and body hair, and a gradual lowering of the voice. Around mid-adolescence internal changes begin making a boy capable of producing and ejaculating sperm.
In girls, sexual characteristics develop in a less regular sequence. Usually, the first sign of puberty is a slight elevation of the breasts, but sometimes this is preceded by the appearance of pubic hair. Pubic hair changes from sparse and downy to denser and coarser. Concurrent with these changes is further breast development. In teenage girls, internal sexual changes include maturation of the uterus, vagina, and other parts of the reproductive system. Menarche, the first menstrual period, happens relatively late, not at the start of puberty as many people believe. Regular ovulation and the ability to carry a baby to full term usually follow menarche by several years.
For many years, psychologists believed that puberty was stressful for young people. We now know that any difficulties associated with adjusting to puberty are minimized if adolescents know what changes to expect and have positive attitudes toward them. Although the immediate impact of puberty on the adolescent's self-image and mood may be very modest, the timing of physical maturation does affect the teen's social and emotional development in important ways. Early-maturing boys tend to be more popular, to have more positive self-conceptions, and to be more self-assured than their later-maturing peers, whereas early-maturing girls may feel awkward and self-conscious.
A second element of the passage through adolescence is a cognitive transition. Compared to children, adolescents think in ways that are more advanced, more efficient, and generally more complex. This can be seen in five ways.
First, during adolescence individuals become better able than children to think about what is possible, instead of limiting their thought to what is real. Whereas children's thinking is oriented to the here and now—that is, to things and events that they can observe directly, adolescents are able to consider what they observe against a backdrop of what is possible—they can think hypothetically.
Second, during the passage into adolescence, individuals become better able to think about abstract ideas. For example, adolescents find it easier than children to comprehend the sorts of higher-order, abstract logic inherent in puns, proverbs, metaphors, and analogies. The adolescent's greater facility with abstract thinking also permits the application of advanced reasoning and logical processes to social and ideological matters. This is clearly seen in the adolescent's increased facility and interest in thinking about interpersonal relationships, politics, philosophy, religion, and morality—topics that involve such abstract concepts as friendship , faith, democracy, fairness, and honesty.
Third, during adolescence individuals begin thinking more often about the process of thinking itself, or metacognition. As a result, adolescents may display increased introspection and self-consciousness. Although improvements in metacognitive abilities provide important intellectual advantages, one potentially negative byproduct of these advances is the tendency for adolescents to develop a sort of egocentrism, or intense preoccupation with the self. Acute adolescent egocentrism sometimes leads teenagers to believe that others are constantly watching and evaluating them, much as an audience glues its attention to an actor on a stage. Psychologists refer to this as the imaginary audience.
A fourth change in cognition is that thinking tends to become multidimensional, rather than limited to a single issue. Whereas children tend to think about things one aspect at a time, adolescents can see things through more complicated lenses. Adolescents describe themselves and others in more differentiated and complicated terms and find it easier to look at problems from multiple perspectives. Being able to understand that people's personalities are not one-sided, or that social situations can have different interpretations, depending on one's point of view, permits the adolescent to have far more sophisticated—and complicated—relationships with other people.
Finally, adolescents are more likely than children to see things as relative, rather than absolute. Children tend to see things in absolute terms—in black and white. Adolescents, in contrast, tend to see things as relative. They are more likely to question others' assertions and less likely to accept "facts" as absolute truths. This increase in relativism can be particularly exasperating to parents, who may feel that their adolescent children question everything just for the sake of argument. Difficulties often arise, for example, when adolescents begin seeing their parents' values as excessively relative.
In addition to being a time of biological and cognitive change, adolescence is also a period of emotional transition and, in particular, changes in the way individuals view themselves and in their capacity to function independently.
During adolescence, important shifts occur in the way individuals think about and characterize themselves—that is, in their self-conceptions. As individuals mature intellectually and undergo the sorts of cognitive changes described earlier, they come to perceive themselves in more sophisticated and differentiated ways. Compared with children, who tend to describe themselves in relatively simple, concrete terms, adolescents are more likely to employ complex, abstract, and psychological self-characterizations. As individuals' self-conceptions become more abstract and as they become more able to see themselves in psychological terms, they become more interested in understanding their own personalities and why they behave the way they do.
Conventional wisdom holds that adolescents have low self-esteem —that they are more insecure and self-critical than children or adults—but most research indicates otherwise. Although teenagers' feelings about themselves may fluctuate, especially during early adolescence, their self-esteem remains fairly stable from about age 13 on. If anything, self-esteem increases over the course of middle and late adolescence. Most researchers today believe that self-esteem is multidimensional, and that young people evaluate themselves along several different dimensions. As a consequence, it is possible for an adolescent to have high self-esteem when it comes to his academic abilities, low self-esteem when it comes to athletics, and moderate self-esteem when it comes to his physical appearance.
One theorist whose work has been very influential on our understanding of adolescents' self-conceptions is Erik Erikson , who theorized that the establishment of a coherent sense of identity is the chief psychosocial task of adolescence. Erikson believed that the complications inherent
in identity development in modern society have created the need for a psychosocial moratorium—a time-out during adolescence from the sorts of excessive responsibilities and obligations that might restrict the young person's pursuit of self-discovery. During the psychosocial moratorium, the adolescent can experiment with different roles and identities, in a context that permits and encourages this sort of exploration. The experimentation involves trying on different personalities and ways of behaving. Sometimes, parents describe their teenage children as going through "phases." Much of this behavior is actually experimentation with roles and personalities.
For most adolescents, establishing a sense of autonomy, or independence, is as important a part of the emotional transition out of childhood as is establishing a sense of identity. During adolescence, there is a movement away from the dependency typical of childhood toward the autonomy typical of adulthood. One can see this in several ways.
First, older adolescents do not generally rush to their parents whenever they are upset, worried, or in need of assistance. Second, they do not see their parents as all knowing or all-powerful. Third, adolescents often have a great deal of emotional energy wrapped up in relationships outside the family ; in fact, they may feel more attached to a boyfriend or a girlfriend than to their parents. And finally, older adolescents are able to see and interact with their parents as people—not just as their parents. Many parents find, for example, that they can confide in their adolescent children, something that was not possible when their children were younger, or that their adolescent children can easily sympathize with them when they have had a hard day at work.
Some theorists have suggested that the development of independence be looked at in terms of the adolescent's developing sense of individuation. The process of individuation, which begins during infancy and continues well into late adolescence, involves a gradual, progressive sharpening of one's sense of self as autonomous, as competent, and as separate from one's parents. Individuation, therefore, has a great deal to do with the development of a sense of identity, in that it involves changes in how we come to see and feel about ourselves.
The process of individuation does not necessarily involve stress and internal turmoil. Rather, individuation entails relinquishing childish dependencies on parents in favor of more mature, more responsible, and less dependent relationships. Adolescents who have been successful in establishing a sense of individuation can accept responsibility for their choices and actions instead of looking to their parents to do it for them.
Being independent means more than merely feeling independent, of course. It also means being able to make your own decisions and to select a sensible course of action by yourself. This is an especially important capability in contemporary society, where many adolescents are forced to become independent decision makers at an early age. In general, researchers find that decision-making abilities improve over the course of the adolescent years, with gains continuing well into the later years of high school.
Many parents wonder about the susceptibility of adolescents to peer pressure . In general, studies that contrast parent and peer influences indicate that in some situations, peers' opinions are more influential, while in others, parents' are more influential. Specifically, adolescents are more likely to conform to their peers' opinions when it comes to short-term, day-to-day, and social matters—styles of dress, tastes in music, and choices among leisure activities. This is particularly true during junior high school and the early years of high school. When it comes to long-term questions concerning educational or occupational plans, however, or values, religious beliefs, and ethical issues, teenagers are influenced in a major way by their parents.
Susceptibility to the influence of parents and peers changes with development. In general, during childhood, boys and girls are highly oriented toward their parents and less so toward their peers; peer pressure during the early elementary school years is not especially strong. As they approach adolescence, however, children become somewhat less oriented toward their parents and more oriented toward their peers, and peer pressure begins to escalate. During early adolescence, conformity to parents continues to decline and conformity to peers and peer pressure continues to rise. It is not until middle adolescence, then, that genuine behavioral independence emerges, when conformity to parents as well as peers declines.
Accompanying the biological, cognitive, and emotional transitions of adolescence are important changes in the adolescent's social relationships, or the social transition of adolescence. Developmentalists have spent considerable time charting the changes that take place with friends and with family members as the individual moves through the adolescent years.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the social transition into adolescence is the increase in the amount of time individuals spend with their peers. Although relations with agemates exist well before adolescence, during the teenage years they change in significance and structure. Four specific developments stand out.
First, there is a sharp increase during adolescence in the sheer amount of time individuals spend with their peers and in the relative time they spend in the company of peers versus adults. In the United States, well over half of the typical adolescent's waking hours are spent with peers, as opposed to only 15% with adults—including parents. Second, during adolescence, peer groups function much more often without adult supervision than they do during childhood. Third, during adolescence increasingly more contact with peers is with opposite-sex friends.
Finally, whereas children's peer relationships are limited mainly to pairs of friends and relatively small groups—three or four children at a time, for example— adolescence marks the emergence of larger groups of peers, or crowds. Crowds are large collectives of similarly stereotyped individuals who may or may not spend much time together. In contemporary American high schools, typical crowds are "jocks," "brains," "nerds," "populars," "druggies," and so on. In contrast to cliques , crowds are not settings for adolescents' intimate interactions or friendships, but, instead, serve to locate the adolescent (to himself and to others) within the social structure of the school. As well, the crowds themselves tend to form a sort of social hierarchy or map of the school, and different crowds are seen as having different degrees of status or importance.
The importance of peers during early adolescence coincides with changes in individuals' needs for intimacy. As children begin to share secrets with their friends, a new sense of loyalty and commitment grows, a belief that friends can trust each other. During adolescence, the search for intimacy intensifies, and self-disclosure between best friends becomes an important pastime. Teenagers, especially girls, spend hours discussing their innermost thoughts and feelings, trying to understand one another. The discovery that they tend to think and feel the same as someone else becomes another important basis of friendship.
One of the most important social transitions that takes place in adolescence concerns the emergence of sexual and romantic relationships. In contemporary society, most young people begin dating sometime during early adolescence.
Dating during adolescence can mean a variety of different things, from group activities that bring males and females together (without much actual contact between the sexes); to group dates, in which a group of boys and girls go out jointly (and spend part of the time as couples and part of the time in large groups); to casual dating as couples; and to serious involvement with a steady boyfriend or girlfriend. More adolescents have experience in mixed-sex group activities like parties or dances than dating, and more have experience in dating than in having a serious boyfriend or girlfriend.
Most adolescents' first experience with sex falls into the category of "autoerotic behavior"—sexual behavior that is experienced alone. The most common autoerotic activities reported by adolescents are erotic fantasies and masturbation. By the time most adolescents have reached high school, they have had some experience with sex in the context of a relationship. About half of all American teenagers have had sexual intercourse by the time of high school graduation.
Estimates of the prevalence of sexual intercourse among American adolescents vary considerably from study to study, depending on the nature of the sample surveyed and the year and region in which the study was undertaken. Although regional and ethnic variations make it difficult to generalize about the "average" age at which American adolescents initiate sexual intercourse, national surveys of young people indicate that more adolescents are sexually active at an earlier age today than in the recent past.
For many years, researchers studied the psychological and social characteristics of adolescents who engaged in premarital sex, assuming that sexually active teenagers were more troubled than their peers. This view has been replaced as sexual activity has become more prevalent. Indeed, several recent studies show that sexual activity during adolescence is decidedly not associated with psychological disturbance.
Although it is incorrect to characterize adolescence as a time when the family ceases to be important, or as a time of inherent and inevitable family conflict, early adolescence is a period of significant change and reorganization in family relationships. In most families, there is a movement during adolescence from patterns of influence and interaction that are asymmetrical and unequal to ones in which parents and their adolescent children are on a more equal footing. Family relationships change most around the time of puberty, with increasing conflict between adolescents and their parents—especially between adolescents and their mothers—and closeness between adolescents and their parents diminishing somewhat. Changes in the ways adolescents view family rules and regulations, especially, may contribute to increased disagreement between them and their parents.
Although puberty seems to distance adolescents from their parents, it is not associated with familial "storm and stress," however. Family conflict during this stage is more likely to take the form of bickering over day-to-day issues than outright fighting. Similarly, the diminished closeness is more likely to be manifested in increased privacy on the part of the adolescent and diminished physical affection between teenagers and parents, rather than any serious loss of love or respect between parents and children. Research suggests that this distancing is temporary, though, and that family relationships may become less conflicted and more intimate during late adolescence.
Generally speaking, most young people are able to negotiate the biological, cognitive, emotional, and social transitions of adolescence successfully. Although the mass media bombard us with images of troubled youth, systematic research indicates that the vast majority of individuals move from childhood into and through adolescence without serious difficulty.
Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.
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Steinberg, L., and A. Levine. You and Your Adolescent: A Parent's Guide for Ages 10 to 20. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.
views updated May 21 2018
Sometimes referred to as teenage years, youth, or puberty , adolescence is the transitional period between childhood and maturity, occurring roughly between the ages of 10 and 20.
The word adolescence is Latin in origin, derived from the verb adolescere, which means "to grow into adulthood." Adolescence is a time of moving from the immaturity of childhood into the maturity of adulthood. There is no single event or boundary line that denotes the end of childhood or the beginning of adolescence. Rather, experts think of the passage from childhood into and through adolescence as composed of a set of transitions that unfold gradually and that touch upon many aspects of the individual's behavior, development, and relationships. These transitions are biological, cognitive, social, and emotional.
The biological transition of adolescence, or puberty, is perhaps the most observable sign that adolescence has begun. Technically, puberty refers to the period during which an individual becomes capable of sexual reproduction. More broadly speaking, however, puberty is used as a collective term to refer to all the physical changes that occur in the growing girl or boy as the individual passes from childhood into adulthood.
The timing of physical maturation varies widely. In the United States, menarche (onset of menstruation ) typically occurs around age 12, although some youngsters start puberty when they are only eight or nine, others when they are well into their teens. The duration of puberty also varies greatly: 18 months to six years in girls and two to five years in boys.
The physical changes of puberty are triggered by hormones, chemical substances in the body that act on specific organs and tissues. In boys a major change incurred during puberty is the increased production of testosterone, a male sex hormone, while girls experience increased production of the female hormone estrogen. In both sexes, a rise in growth hormone produces the adolescent growth spurt, the pronounced increase in height and weight that marks the first half of puberty.
Perhaps the most dramatic changes of puberty involve sexuality. Internally, through the development of primary sexual characteristics, adolescents become capable of sexual reproduction. Externally, as secondary sexual characteristics appear, girls and boys begin to look like mature women and men. In boys primary and secondary sexual characteristics usually emerge in a predictable order, with rapid growth of the testes and scrotum, accompanied by the appearance of pubic hair. About a year later, when the growth spurt begins, the penis also grows larger, and pubic hair becomes coarser, thicker, and darker. Later still comes the growth of facial and body hair, and a gradual lowering of the voice. Around mid-adolescence internal changes begin making a boy capable of producing and ejaculating sperm.
In girls, sexual characteristics develop in a less regular sequence. Usually, the first sign of puberty is a slight elevation of the breasts, but sometimes this is preceded by the appearance of pubic hair. Pubic hair changes from sparse and downy to denser and coarser. Concurrent with these changes is further breast development . In teenage girls, internal sexual changes include maturation of the uterus, vagina, and other parts of the reproductive system. Menarche, the first menstrual period, happens relatively late in puberty. Regular ovulation and the ability to carry a baby to full term usually follow menarche by several years.
A second element of the passage through adolescence is a cognitive transition. Compared to children, adolescents think in ways that are more advanced, more efficient, and generally more complex. This is evident in five distinct areas of cognition.
First, during adolescence individuals become better able than children to think about what is possible, instead of limiting their thought to what is real. Whereas children's thinking is oriented to the here and now (i.e., to things and events that they can observe directly), adolescents are able to consider what they observe against a backdrop of what is possible—they can think hypothetically.
Second, during the passage into adolescence, individuals become better able to think about abstract ideas. For example, adolescents find it easier than children to comprehend the sorts of higher-order, abstract logic inherent in puns, proverbs, metaphors, and analogies. The adolescent's greater facility with abstract thinking also permits the application of advanced reasoning and logical processes to social and ideological matters. This is clearly seen in the adolescent's increased facility and interest in thinking about interpersonal relationships, politics, philosophy, religion, and morality—topics that involve such abstract concepts as friendship, faith, democracy, fairness, and honesty.
Third, during adolescence individuals begin thinking more often about the process of thinking itself, or metacognition. As a result, adolescents may display increased introspection and self-consciousness. Although improvements in metacognitive abilities provide important intellectual advantages, one potentially negative byproduct of these advances is the tendency for adolescents to develop a sort of egocentrism, or intense preoccupation with the self. Acute adolescent egocentrism sometimes leads teenagers to believe that others are constantly watching and evaluating them. Psychologists refer to this as the imaginary audience.
A fourth change in cognition is that thinking tends to become multidimensional, rather than limited to a single issue. Whereas children tend to think about things one aspect at a time, adolescents describe themselves and others in more differentiated and complicated terms and find it easier to look at problems from multiple perspectives. Being able to understand that people's personalities are not one-sided, or that social situations can have different interpretations, depending on one's point of view, permits the adolescent to have far more sophisticated and complicated relationships with other people.
Finally, adolescents are more likely than children to see things as relative, rather than absolute. They are more likely to question others' assertions and less likely to accept "facts" as absolute truths. This increase in relativism can be particularly exasperating to parents, who may feel that their adolescent children question everything just for the sake of argument.
Adolescence is also a period of emotional transition, marked by changes in the way individuals view themselves and in their capacity to function independently. As adolescents mature intellectually and undergo cognitive changes, they come to perceive themselves in more sophisticated and differentiated ways. Compared with children, who tend to describe themselves in relatively simple, concrete terms, adolescents are more likely to employ complex, abstract, and psychological self-characterizations. As individuals' self-conceptions become more abstract and as they become more able to see themselves in psychological terms, they become more interested in understanding their own personalities and why they behave the way they do.
For most adolescents, establishing a sense of autonomy, or independence, is as important a part of the emotional transition out of childhood as is establishing a sense of identity. During adolescence, there is a movement away from the dependency typical of childhood toward the autonomy typical of adulthood. For example, older adolescents do not generally rush to their parents whenever they are upset, worried, or in need of assistance. They do not see their parents as all-knowing or all-powerful, and often have a great deal of emotional energy wrapped up in relationships outside the family . In addition, older adolescents are able to see and interact with their parents as people, not just as their parents. Many parents find, for example, that they can confide in their adolescent children, something that was not possible when their children were younger, or that their adolescent children can easily sympathize with them when they have had a hard day at work.
Being independent, however, means more than merely feeling independent. It also means being able to make decisions and to select a sensible course of action. This is an especially important capability in contemporary society, where many adolescents are forced to become independent decision makers at an early age. In general, researchers find that decision-making abilities improve over the course of the adolescent years, with gains continuing well into the later years of high school.
Many parents wonder about the susceptibility of adolescents to peer pressure . In general, studies that contrast parent and peer influences indicate that in some situations, peers' opinions are more influential, while in others, parents' are more influential. Specifically, adolescents are more likely to conform to their peers' opinions when it comes to short-term, day-to-day, and social matters—styles of dress, tastes in music, and choices among leisure activities. This is particularly true during junior high school and the early years of high school. When it comes to long-term questions concerning educational or occupational plans, however, or values, religious beliefs, and ethical issues, teenagers are influenced in a major way by their parents.
Susceptibility to the influence of parents and peers changes during adolescence. In general, during childhood, boys and girls are highly oriented toward their parents and less so toward their peers; peer pressure during the early elementary school years is not especially strong. As they approach adolescence, however, children become somewhat less oriented toward their parents and more oriented toward their peers, and peer pressure begins to escalate. During early adolescence, conformity to parents continues to decline and conformity to peers and peer pressure continues to rise. It is not until middle adolescence that genuine behavioral independence emerges, when conformity to parents as well as peers declines.
Accompanying the biological, cognitive, and emotional transitions of adolescence are important changes in the adolescent's social relationships. Developmentalists have spent considerable time charting the changes that take place with friends and with family members as the individual moves through the adolescent years.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the social transition into adolescence is the increase in the amount of time individuals spend with their peers. Although relations with age-mates exist well before adolescence, during the teenage years they change in significance and structure. For example, there is a sharp increase during adolescence in the sheer amount of time individuals spend with their peers and in the relative time they spend in the company of peers versus adults. In the United States, well over half of the typical adolescent's waking hours are spent with peers, as opposed to only 15 percent with adults, including parents. Second, during adolescence, peer groups function much more often without adult supervision than they do during childhood, and more often involve friends of the opposite sex.
Finally, whereas children's peer relationships are limited mainly to pairs of friends and relatively small groups—three or four children at a time, for example—adolescence marks the emergence of larger groups of peers, or crowds. Crowds are large collectives of similarly stereotyped individuals who may or may not spend much time together. In contemporary American high schools, typical crowds are "jocks," "brains," "nerds," "populars," "druggies," and so on. In contrast to cliques, crowds are not settings for adolescents' intimate interactions or friendships, but instead serve to locate the adolescent (to himself and to others) within the social structure of the school. As well, the crowds themselves tend to form a sort of social hierarchy or map of the school, and different crowds are seen as having different degrees of status or importance.
The importance of peers during early adolescence coincides with changes in individuals' needs for intimacy. As children begin to share secrets with their friends, loyalty and commitment develop. During adolescence, the search for intimacy intensifies, and self-disclosure between best friends becomes an important pastime. Teenagers, especially girls, spend a good deal of time discussing their innermost thoughts and feelings, trying to understand one another. The discovery that they tend to think and feel the same as someone else becomes another important basis of friendship.
One of the most important social transitions that takes place in adolescence concerns the emergence of sexual and romantic relationships. In contemporary society, most young people begin dating sometime during early adolescence. Dating during adolescence can mean a variety of different things, from group activities that bring males and females together (without much actual contact between the sexes); to group dates, in which a group of boys and girls go out jointly (and spend part of the time as couples and part of the time in large groups); to casual dating as couples; and to serious involvement with a steady boyfriend or girlfriend. More adolescents have experience in mixed-sex group activities like parties or dances than dating, and more have experience in dating than in having a serious boyfriend or girlfriend.
Most adolescents' first experience with sex falls into the category of "autoerotic behavior," sexual behavior that is experienced alone. The most common autoerotic activities reported by adolescents are erotic fantasies and masturbation . By the time most adolescents are in high school, they have had some experience with sexual behaviors in the context of a relationship. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), a self-reported survey of a national representative sample of high school students in grades nine to 12, indicated that in 2003, 46.7 percent of the students reported having had sex. By grade level, the rates were 32.8 percent for ninth grade, 44.1 percent for tenth grade, 53.2 percent for eleventh grade, and 61.6 percent for twelfth grade.
Generally speaking, most young people are able to negotiate the biological, cognitive, emotional, and social transitions of adolescence successfully. Some adolescents, however, are at risk of developing certain problems, such as:
Many parents dread the onset of adolescence, fearing that their child will become hostile and rebellious and begin to reject his or family. Although it is incorrect to characterize adolescence as a time when the family ceases to be important, or as a time of inherent and inevitable family conflict, adolescence is a period of significant change and reorganization in family relationships. Family relationships change most around the time of puberty, with increasing conflict and decreasing closeness occurring in many parent-adolescent relationships. Changes in the ways adolescents view family rules and regulations may contribute to increased disagreement between them and their parents. Family conflict during this stage is more likely to take the form of bickering over day-to-day issues than outright fighting. Similarly, the diminished closeness is more likely to be manifested in increased privacy on the part of the adolescent and diminished physical affection between teenagers and parents, rather than any serious loss of love or respect between parents and children. Research suggests that this distancing is temporary, and that family relationships may become less conflicted and more intimate during late adolescence.
When to call the doctor
Although changes—biologically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially—are to be expected during adolescence, certain inappropriate behaviors, drastic changes in personality or physical appearance, or abnormal sexual development may warrant a phone call to a physician or counselor. These include:
Anorexia nervosa —An eating disorder marked by an unrealistic fear of weight gain, self-starvation, and distortion of body image. It most commonly occurs in adolescent females.
Bulimia nervosa —An eating disorder characterized by binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behavior, such as vomiting, misusing laxatives, or excessive exercise.
Hormone —A chemical messenger secreted by a gland or organ and released into the bloodstream. It travels via the bloodstream to distant cells where it exerts an effect.
Menarche —The first menstrual cycle in a girl's life.
Metacognition —Awareness of the process of cognition.
See also Puberty.
Steinberg, L. Adolescence, 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
Blondell, Richard D., Michael B. Foster, and Kamlesh C. Dave. "Disorders of Puberty." American Family Physician 60 (July 1999): 209-24.
Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: United States, 2003." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 53, no. SS-2 (May 21, 2004): 12-20.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 3615 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016-3007. (202) 966-7300. Web site: <www.aacap.org>.
Society for Research on Adolescence, 3131 S. State St., Suite 302, Ann Arbor, MI 48108-1623. Web site: <www.s-ra.org>.
Paulu, Nancy. "Helping Your Child through Adolescence." U.S. Department of Education. August 2002 [cited December 31, 2004]. Available online at: <www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/adolescence/index.html>.
Rutherford, Kim. "A Parent's Guide to Surviving Adolescence." KidsHealth. June 2002 [cited December 31, 2004]. Available online at: <kidshealth.org/parent/growth/growing/adolescence.html>.
Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D. Stephanie Dionne Sherk
views updated May 29 2018
Many people imagine an adolescent as being a gangly, awkward, and troublesome individual. Researchers shared this view until quite recently. This period of life (generally considered to run from age ten to age twenty-five) was seen as a time of "storm and stress." But what is adolescent development really like? Clearly it is a time of great change on many levels. Probably most dramatic are the biological changes associated with puberty. These changes include dramatic shifts in the shape of the body, increases in hormones, and changes in brain architecture. These biological shifts are directly linked to changes in sexual interest, cognitive capacities, and physical capacities. There are also major social changes associated with the school-linked transitions and with changes in the roles adolescents are expected to play by all those around them. Finally, there are major psychological changes linked to increasing social and cognitive maturity. In fact, very few developmental periods are characterized by so many changes at so many different levels. With rapid change comes a heightened potential for both positive and negative outcomes. And, although most individuals pass through this developmental period without excessively high levels of "storm and stress, " a substantial number of individuals do experience some difficulties.
Adolescence is also a time when individuals make many choices and engage in a wide range of behaviors likely to influence the rest of their lives. For example, adolescents pick which high school courses to take, which after-school activities to participate in, and which peer groups to join. They begin to make future educational and occupational plans and to implement these plans through secondary school course work and out-of-school vocational and volunteer activity choices. Finally, some experiment with quite problematic behaviors such as drug and alcohol consumption and unprotected sexual intercourse. Most of these youth do not suffer long-term consequences for this experimentation, although a few do. Understanding what distinguishes between these two groups is one of the key research issues related to development during adolescence.
Grand Theories of Adolescent Development
Erik Erikson, a German-born American psychoanalyst, proposed the most comprehensive theoretical analysis of development during adolescence as part of his more general theoretical analysis of human development across the life span. He hypothesized that developing a sense of mastery, a sense of identity, and a sense of intimacy were the key challenges for this period of life. He also stressed that these challenges are played out in an increasingly complex set of social contexts and in both cultural and historical settings. Optimal resolution of these challenges depends on the psychosocial, physical, and cognitive assets of the individual and the developmental appropriateness of the social contexts encountered by the individual across all of the years of adolescence.
Others have expanded these challenges to include autonomy, sexuality, intimacy, achievement, and identity. In many cultural groups, these challenges translate into more specific tasks, including (1) changing the nature of the relationship between youth and their parents so that the youth can take on a more "mature" role in the social fabric of their community (in white American culture this change often takes the form of greater independence from parents and greater decision-making power over one's own current and future behaviors; in other cultures this change can take the form of greater responsibility for family support and increased participation in community decision making); (2) exploring changing social-sexual roles and identities; (3) transforming peer relationships into deeper friendships and intimate partnerships; (4) exploring personal and social identities; (5) focusing some of this identity work on making future life plans; and (6) participating in a series of experiences and choices that facilitate future economic independence or interdependence.
Biological Changes Associated with Puberty
As a result of the activation of the hormones controlling pubertal development, early adolescents undergo a growth spurt, develop primary and secondary sex characteristics, become fertile, and experience increased sexual drive. There is also some evidence that the hormonal changes are linked to behaviors such as aggression, sexuality, and mood swings. These relations are quite weak, however, and are often overridden by social experiences.
In general, pubertal changes begin twelve to eighteen months earlier for girls than for boys. As a result, anyone working with youth in grade six will immediately notice a major difference in the physical maturity between girls and boys. Many girls at this age look and act like fully mature young women, while most of the males still look and act like boys. The impact of these differences on the development of young men and women will vary by cultural group depending on cultural beliefs and norms, such as appropriate roles for physically mature individuals, appropriate heterosexual activities, and ideals related to female and male beauty.
There are also major individual differences in pubertal development within each sex. Some children begin their pubertal changes earlier than others. The impact of these differences depends on the cultural beliefs and norms that relate to the meaning of early maturation for both girls and boys. For example, among white populations, early maturation tends to be advantageous for boys, particularly with respect to their participation in sports activities and their social standing in school. By contrast, early maturation can be problematic for white girls, because the kinds of physical changes girls experience with puberty (such as weight gain) are not highly valued among many white American groups who value the slim, androgynous female body characteristic of white fashion models. In a 1987 study, Roberta Simmons and Dale Blyth found that early maturing white females had lower self-esteem and more difficulty adjusting to school transitions, particularly the transition from elementary to junior high school, than later maturing white females, white males, and both early and later maturing African-American females. Similarly, in a 1990 study in Sweden, Håkan Stattin and David Magnusson found that early maturing girls obtained less education and married earlier than their later maturing peers, because they were more likely to join older peer groups and date older males. In turn, these girls were more likely to drop out of school and get married, perhaps because school achievement was not valued by their peer social network while early entry into the job market and early marriage was. Early maturation does not have these kinds of effects in all cultural groups. For example, African-American females in the United States do not evidence these patterns.
Directly linked to the biological changes associated with puberty are the changes in both body architecture and emotions related to sexuality. Puberty is all about the emergence of sexuality. The physical changes of puberty both increase the individual's own interest in sex and turn the individual into a sexual object in other people's eyes. Both of these changes can have a profound impact on development. Sexual behavior increases dramatically during early to middle adolescence. With these increases go increases in pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Both the frequency of these behaviors and the long-term consequences of these behaviors differ across cultural groups.
Changes in Cognition
Adolescence is accompanied by an increasing ability to think abstractly, consider the hypothetical as well as the real, engage in more sophisticated and elaborate information processing strategies, consider multiple dimensions of a problem at once, and reflect on one's self and on complicated problems. There is also a steady increase in learning strategies, in knowledge of a variety of different topics and subject areas, in the ability to apply knowledge to new learning situations, and in the awareness of one's strengths and weaknesses as a learner. With practice these new cognitive skills can help adolescents become more efficient, sophisticated learners, ready to cope with relatively advanced topics in many different subject areas.
These kinds of cognitive changes also affect individuals' self-concepts, thoughts about their future, and understanding of others. Many theorists have suggested that the adolescent years are a time of change in children's self-concepts, as they consider what possibilities are available to them and try to come to a deeper understanding of themselves in the social and cultural contexts in which they live. In a culture that stresses personal choice in life planning, these concerns and interests also set the stage for personal and social identity formation focused on life planning issues such as those linked to educational, occupational, recreational, and marital choices. Finally, as adolescents become more interested in understanding the psychological characteristics of others, friendships become based more on perceived similarities in these characteristics.
Social Changes Associated with Adolescence in Western Industrialized Countries
There are also major social changes associated with adolescence. Since these vary more across cultures than the biological and cognitive changes just discussed, the following social changes are common in Western industrialized countries.
Friendships and Peer Groups
Probably the most controversial changes during adolescence are those linked to peer relationships. One major change in this arena is the general increase in peer focus and involvement in peer-related social sports, and other extracurricular activities. Many adolescents attach great importance to the activities they do with their peers—substantially more importance than they attach to academic activities and to activities with family members. Further, early adolescents' confidence in their physical appearance and social acceptance is a more important predictor of self-esteem than confidence in their cognitive/academic competence.
In part because of the importance of social acceptance during adolescence, friendship networks during this period often are organized into relatively rigid cliques that differ in social status within school and community settings. The existence of these cliques reflects adolescents' need to establish a sense of identity; belonging to a group is one way to solve the problem of "who I am." Also, in part because of the importance of social acceptance, children's conformity to their peers peaks during early adolescence. Much has been written about how this peer conformity creates problems for adolescents, and about how "good" children are often corrupted by the negative influences of peers, particularly by adolescent gangs. More often than not, however, adolescents agree more with their parents' views on "major" issues such as morality, politics, religion, and the importance of education. Peers have more influence on such things as dress and clothing styles, music, and activity choice. In addition, adolescents tend to socialize with peers who hold similar views as their parents on the major issues listed above.
Changes in Family Relations
Although the extent of actual disruption in parent-adolescent relations is not as great as one might expect given stereotypes about this period of life. There is little question that parent-child relations do change during adolescence. As adolescents become physically mature they often seek more independence and autonomy and may begin to question family rules and roles, leading to conflicts particularly around such issues as dress and appearance, chores, and dating. Despite these conflicts over day-to-day issues, parents and adolescents agree more than they disagree regarding core values linked to education, politics, and spirituality. Nonetheless, parents and adolescents do interact with each other less frequently than they did in middle childhood. Some researchers have argued that this distancing in parent-adolescent relations has great functional value for adolescents, in that it fosters their individuation from their parents, allows them to try more things on their own, and develops their own competencies and confidence in their abilities. But it is important to bear in mind that, in most families, this distancing takes place in the context of continuing close emotional relationships. And in many cultural groups, adolescents play an increasingly central role in family life and family maintenance.
In most Western countries, adolescents experience at least one major school transition (e.g., the transition into high school) and often two major school transitions (e.g., an additional transition into either middle or junior high school). Several scholars and policymakers have argued that these school transitions are linked to negative changes in the functioning of many adolescents, particularly in the realm of academic achievement. For example, a number of researchers have concluded that the junior high school transition contributes to declines in interest in school, intrinsic motivation, self-concepts/self-perceptions, and confidence in one's intellectual abilities. Drawing upon person-environment fit theory, Jacquelynne Eccles and her colleagues proposed that the negative motivational and behavioral changes associated with these school transitions stem from many junior and senior high schools not providing appropriate educational environments for youth in early and middle adolescence. According to person-environment theory, individuals' behavior, motivation, and mental health are influenced by the fit between the characteristics individuals bring to their social environments and the characteristics of these social environments. Individuals are not likely to do very well, or be very motivated, if they are in social environments that do not fit their psychological needs. If the social environments in the typical junior and senior high schools do not fit very well with the psychological needs of adolescents, then person-environment fit theory predicts a decline in the motivation, interest, performance, and behavior of adolescents as they move into this environment.
Evidence from a variety of sources supports this hypothesis. Both of these school transitions usually involve the following types of contextual changes: (1) a shift from a smaller school to a larger school; (2) a shift to a more bureaucratic social system; (3) a shift to a more controlling social system; (4) a shift to a more heterogeneous social system; (5) a shift to a social context with less personal contact with adults and less opportunity to be engaged in school activities and responsible school roles; (6) a shift to a more rigid, socially comparative grading system; and (7) a shift to a more lock-step curriculum tracking system. Along with these changes, evidence from more micro-classroom-based studies suggests that the teachers in junior and senior high school feel less able to teach all of their students the more challenging academic material and are more likely to use exclusionary and harsh discipline strategies that can effectively drive low achieving and problematic students away from school. Work in a variety of areas has documented the impact on motivation of such changes in classroom and school environments.
See also:DEVELOPMENTAL NORMS; MILESTONES OF DEVELOPMENT
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Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the Twenty-First Century. New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1989.
Collins, W. Andrew. "Parent-Child Relationships in the Transition to Adolescence: Continuity and Change in Interaction, Affect, and Cognition." In Raymond Montemayor, Gerald Adams, and Thomas Gullotta eds., From Childhood to Adolescence: A Transitional Period? Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1990.
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views updated May 11 2018
ADOLESCENCE. Adolescence emerged as a concept in the 1890s, when psychologists began investigating the abilities, behaviors, problems, and attitudes of young people between the onset of puberty and marriage. G. Stanley Hall, a pioneer in the study of children and their learning processes, is credited with giving adolescence its first full definition in his text Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education, published in 1904. Hall thought that the stresses and misbehavior of young people were normal to their particular time of life, because he believed human development recapitulated that of human society. For Hall, just as the human race had evolved from "savagery" to "civilization," so too did each individual develop from a primitive to an advanced condition. Adolescence corresponded to, or recapitulated, the period of prehistory when upheaval characterized society and logical thinking began to replace instinct.
A year after Hall's book appeared, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud published an essay in which he identified adolescence as a period of emotional upheaval, inconsistent behavior, and vulnerability to deviant and criminal activity caused by psychosexual conflicts. For the past century, the qualities of anxiety and awkwardness resulting from physiological development and sexual awareness that Hall and Freud emphasized have pervaded popular as well as scientific definitions of adolescence.
Puberty had been a subject of medical and psychological discussion for centuries, but social, economic, and biological changes in late-nineteenth-century Western society focused new attention on the status and roles of young people. The development of industrial capitalism reduced the participation of children in the workforce, while advances in nutrition and the control of disease lowered the age of sexual maturation. As a result, individuals were isolated for a more extended period in a state of semidependency between childhood and adulthood. In the United States, as well as in Europe, researchers and writers in various fields began using the term "adolescence" to apply to the particular era of life when a new order of events and behavior occurred, thereby making it a formal biological, psychological, and even legal category. Terms such as "youth" and, later, "teenager" were used synonymously but less precisely to describe the status of individuals in adolescence. Because adolescence occurred when persons were presumably preparing to enter adult roles in family, work, and community, their needs and guidance assumed increasing importance. Consequently, educators, social workers, and psychologists constructed theories and institutions geared toward influencing the process of growing up.
Rise of a Youth Peer Culture
The age consciousness of American society that intensified in the early twentieth century sharpened the distinctiveness of adolescence. By the 1920s, especially, the age grading and the nearly universal experience of schooling pressed children into peer groups, creating lifestyles and institutions that were not only separate from but also occasionally in opposition to adult power. Compulsory attendance laws, which kept children in school until they were fourteen or older, had a strong impact in the United States, where by 1930 nearly half of all youths aged fourteen to twenty were high school students. Enrollment of rural youths and African Americans remained relatively low (only one-sixth of American blacks attended high school in the 1920s). But large proportions of immigrants and native-born whites of foreign parents attended high school. Educational reformers developed curricula to prepare young people for adult life, and an expanding set of extracurricular organizations and activities, such as clubs, dances, and sports, heightened the socialization of youths in peer groups. As a result, secondary school and adolescence became increasingly coincident.
As high school attendance became more common (in 1928 two-thirds of white and 40 percent of nonwhite children had completed at least one year of high school), increasing numbers of adolescents spent more time with peers than with family. This extended time away from parents, combined with new commercial entertainments such as dance halls, amusement parks, and movies, helped create a unique youth culture. Ironically—though perhaps understandably—the spread of this culture caused conflict with adults, who fretted over adolescents' independence in dress, sexual behavior, and other characteristics that eluded adult supervision. The practice of dating, which by the 1920s had replaced adult-supervised forms of courtship and which was linked to both high school and new commercial amusements, was just one obvious new type of independent adolescent behavior.
Adults expressed concern over the supposed problems of adolescents, particularly their awakening sexuality and penchant for getting into trouble. Indeed, in the adult mind, sexuality stood at the center of adolescence. Male youths especially were seen as having appetites and temptations that lured them into masturbation and homosexuality. Young women's sexuality could allegedly lead to promiscuity and prostitution. As a result, according to psychologists and physicians in the 1920s, adolescence was a time of life that necessitated control, not only by the self but also by parents, doctors, educators, social workers, and the police. Moreover, they believed that peer association—sometimes in street gangs—in combination with the stresses and rebelliousness natural to adolescence, contributed to the rise of juvenile delinquency; in this conception, adolescence made every girl and boy a potential delinquent. Thus, juvenile courts, reform schools, and other "child-saving" institutions were created to remedy the problems that adolescents allegedly experienced and caused.
Adolescence in the Depression and World War II
During the depression years of the 1930s, the potential for intergenerational conflict increased as the scarcity of jobs and low pay for those who were employed thwarted young people's personal ambitions and delayed their ability to attain adult independence. Economic pressures forced many young people to stay in school longer than had been the case in previous generations. By 1940, 49 percent of American youths were graduating from high school, up from 30 percent in 1930. Although adolescents in the 1930s had less disposable income than those in the 1920s, they still influenced popular culture with their tastes in music, dance, and movies.
The expanding economy during World War II brought three million youths between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, about one-third of the people in this age category, into full or part-time employment by 1945. The incomes that adolescents earned helped support a renewed youth culture, one that idolized musical stars such as Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra and created new clothing styles such as that of the bobby-soxer. Their roles in the national economy and mass culture complicated the status of adolescents, trapping them between the personal independence that war responsibilities provided them and the dependence on family and adult restrictions that the larger society still imposed on them.
Postwar Teen Culture
After the war, the proportion of adolescents in the population in Western countries temporarily declined. Children reaching teen years just after World War II had been born during the depression, when a brief fall in the birth rate resulted in a smaller cohort of people reaching adolescence. Furthermore, a marriage boom followed the war, drastically reducing the age at which young people were entering wedlock; in the United States, the median age at marriage for women declined from twenty-three to twenty-one. By 1960, 40 percent of American nineteen-year-olds were already married.
The marriage boom soon translated into the baby boom, which eventually combined with material prosperity to foster a more extensive teen culture. By 1960, the first cohort of baby boomers was reaching teen age, and goods such as soft drinks, clothing, cars, sports equipment, recorded music, magazines, and toiletries, all heavily and specifically promoted by advertisers to young people with expanding personal incomes, comprised a flourishing youth market that soon spread overseas. At the same time, radio, television, movies, and mass-market publications directed much of their content to this segment of the population. Marketing experts utilized longstanding theories about the insecurities of adolescence, along with surveys that showed adolescents tending toward conformist attitudes, to sell goods that catered to teenagers' desires to dress, buy, and act like their peers.
As in earlier years, parents and other adults fretted over children who they believed were maturing too rapidly, as adolescents began manifesting independent behavior in their tastes and buying habits. Even before the baby boomers entered their teen years, social scientists, educators, and government officials were reaching a near-panic state over premarital pregnancy and juvenile delinquency. The U.S. rate of premarital pregnancy among white women aged fifteen to nineteen doubled from under 10 percent in the 1940s to 19 percent in the 1950s. The rock-and-roll generation signified a type of rebellion that often included antisocial behavior that in turn garnered heavy media attention. Newspapers eagerly publicized gang wars and other sensational cases of juvenile crime, and police departments created juvenile units to deal with a presumed teenage crime wave.
While many of the postwar trends in adolescence, especially their influence on the consumer economy, continued past the twentieth century, by the late 1960s and early 1970s new attitudes about gender equality and birth control, stimulated in part by increased access to automobiles and generally higher material well-being, helped fashion new sexual values among adolescents. Increasingly, peer groups in high schools and colleges (in 1970, three-fourths of Americans were graduating from high school and one-third were enrolled in college) replaced dating with informal, mixed-gender "going out" and "parties." In addition, looser attitudes toward marriage, for which a date was seen as a first step, and greater acceptance (among adults as well as youths) of nonmarital sex, arose among adolescents and heightened concern over society's ability to control adolescents' sexual behavior.
By 1976, U.S. surveys showed that nearly one-fourth of sixteen-year-old white females and one-half of sixteen-year-old black females had had premarital intercourse; there were also nearly twenty-five illegitimate births for every thousand white females aged fifteen to nineteen and more than ninety such births for black females in that age group. By 1990, 55 percent of women aged fifteen to nineteen had experienced intercourse. Although this figure declined to slightly below half by century's end, the seeming sexual abandon practiced by many young people prompted some analysts to conclude that marriage was losing its special meaning. A sharp rise in average age of marriage, for men from twenty-three to over twenty-six and for women from twenty-one to over twenty-three between 1970 and 1990, reinforced such a conclusion.
In the 1960s a well-publicized and vocal minority of youths began to infuse adolescence with a new brand of political consciousness that seemed to widen the "generation gap." Much of the youth activism flourished on college campuses but enough of it filtered down to high schools that educators and other public authorities faced challenges they had not previously encountered. The civil rights movement and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy caused American teenagers to question the values of adult society, but the Vietnam War ignited them. Although the majority of youths did not oppose the war, a number of them participated in protests that upset traditional assumptions about the nonpolitical quality of high school life. In 1969, the Supreme Court declared in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School System that the right of free speech applied to high school students who wished to wear black armbands in protest of the war.
After the Vietnam War ended, the alienation of adolescents from society—as well as, in adolescent minds, the alienation of society from adolescents—seemed to intensify rather than abate. Anger over the deployment of nuclear weapons and dangers to the ecosystem worldwide sparked student protests on both sides of the Atlantic. Moreover, a spreading drug culture, the attraction by teens to the intentionally provocative lyrics of punk rock and rap music, the rise of body art and piercing, the increase in single-(and no-) parent households, and the high number of families with two parents employed and out of the home for most of the day all further elevated the power of adolescent peer associations.
Juvenile crime continued to capture attention, as surveys in the 1980s estimated that between 12 and 18 percent of American males and 3 to 4 percent of females had been arrested prior to age twenty-one. To the frustration of public officials, crime-prevention programs ranging from incarceration to aversion to job placement and counseling failed to stem teen violence and recidivism.
As identity politics pervaded adult society, youths also sought havens within groups that expressed themselves through some behavioral or visual (although only occasionally ideological) manner. American high school populations contained dizzying varieties of identity groups such as "Goths," "jocks," "nerds," "Jesus freaks," "preppies," "druggies," and many more. All the while, commercial interests in the new global economy, from sneaker and sportswear manufacturers to music producers and snack-food makers, stayed hot on the teenage trail.
Questions about Adolescence as a Universal Concept
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, multiple models of American adolescence brought into question whether or not the historical concept had as much uniformity as some twentieth-century experts implied it had. Certainly almost all adolescents, regardless of race or class, undergo similar biological changes, though characteristics such as the age of menarche have shifted over time. But the social and psychological parameters appeared to have become increasingly complex and diverse. Although the most common images of adolescents set them inside the youth-oriented consumer culture of clothes, music, and movies, the darker side of growing up had captured increasing attention. Poverty, sexual abuse, substance abuse, learning disabilities, depression, eating disorders, and violence had come to characterize youthful experiences as much as the qualities of fun-and freedom-seeking depicted by the media and marketers. Popular theory still accepted that almost all adolescents confront similar psychological challenges of stress and anxiety, but the processes involved in growing up display complexities that confound attempts to characterize them. A continuing rise in age at marriage, which approached the late twenties for males and mid-twenties for females, made family formation less of an end point for adolescence, and the assumption by preteens of qualities and habits once exclusive to teenagers challenged the cultural definition of the age at which adolescence begins. The trend of young people assuming adult sexual, family, social, and economic behavior—and their attendant problems—blurred many of the qualities that previously gave adolescence its distinctiveness.
Aries, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood. New York: Knopf, 1962.
Bailey, Beth L. From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
Chudacoff, Howard P. How Old Are You?: Age Consciousness in American Culture. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.
Coleman, James S. The Adolescent Society. New York: Free Press, 1961.
Fass, Paul F., and Mary Ann Mason, eds. Childhood in America. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
Graff, Harvey J., ed. Growing Up in America: Historical Experiences. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1987.
Hine, Thomas. The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager. New York: Avon Books, 1999.
Jones, Kathleen W. Taming the Troublesome Child: American Families, Child Guidance, and the Limits of Psychiatric Authority. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Kett, Joseph F. Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America, 1790 to the Present. New York: Basic Books, 1977.
Modell, John. Into One's Own: From Youth to Adulthood in the United States, 1920–1975. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
See alsoChildhood ; Juvenile Courts ; Sexuality .
views updated May 21 2018
In psychoanalysis, adolescence is a developmental stage, a key moment during which three transformations occur: the disengagement from parental ties that have been interiorized since infancy; the sexual impulse discovering object love under the primacy of genital and orgasmic organizations; and identification, the impetus for topographic readjustment and the affirmation of identity and subjectivity. These transformations begin with the onset of adolescence, concluding when infantile sexual activity has reached its final form. Adolescence is, therefore, a completion of the process of ego maturation. It is characterized by the conflict that these transformations bring about and the ensuing crisis resulting from the wish for adult sexual activity and the fear of giving up infantile pleasure.
There is little discussion of the concept of adolescence in Freud's own writing. However, the term "puberty" is frequently found. More than two hundred and fifty references to the concept have been found in his work, even outside of the Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Referring to the Standard Edition, the majority of entries catalogued for the word "adolescence" are found in the Studies on Hysteria (1895d) and half of them are by Joseph Breuer. However, the references do not fully take into account linguistic issues and the associated problems of translation. For example, in the majority of French translations of Freud's work, there is frequent reference to the term "adolescence."
Although adolescents appear among the first cases of clinical psychoanalysis, such as that of Katharina, who was eighteen at the time, and especially that of Dora, most references to the role of puberty from the perspective of development appear in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d). In Some Reflections on Schoolboy Psychology, (1914f), a text that is often mentioned in connection with adolescence, the problem of growing up is presented by Freud as an extension of the oedipal complex. The schoolboys see their teachers as substitute parents. They transfer to them the ambivalence of the feelings they once had for their father. From this point of view, adolescence works toward a separation from the father.
Although adolescence in Freud and in subsequent psychoanalytic thought is often presented as an infantile screen-memory, that is, as the formation of a compromise between the repressed elements of infantile sexuality and the defenses typical of adolescence, it is also, through the theory of deferred action, an opportunity for new psychic activity, a kind of rebirth in which the past can only be understood in light of the present. Human history is understood in terms of its past, but its past is illuminated in terms of its present, and, in the case of adolescence, in terms of the traumatic present.
In fact, psychoanalysts have always had, whether manifestly or latently, a bipolar idea of adolescence. First, as the occasion of two instinctual currents through which the adolescent, burdened by the re-emergence of infantile impulses on the one hand and the discovery of orgasm (arising in adolescence) on the other, must confront oedipal conflicts, the now realizable threat of incest, and the parricidal and matricidal feelings as condensations in fantasy of the aggression associated with all growth: "growing up is by nature an aggressive act" (Donald Winnicott). Second, as an expression of the bipolarity of the ties between impulse and defense (Anna Freud), between identification and identity (Evelyne Kestemberg), between object libido and narcissistic libido (Philippe Jeammet), and between the "pubertary," which reflects the powerful sensual current that no longer recognizes its goals, and "adolescens," which reflects the category of the ideal (Philippe Gutton). This leads contemporary psychoanalysts to consider that the capacity of the psychic apparatus to perform the work of binding can be seen as a fundamental indicator of the fact that the process of adolescence has been harmoniously completed. Dreams and action represent the creative activities of this capacity (François Ladame) whereas unbinding (Raymond Cahn) is the source of serious psychic pathology. The enigmatic discrepancy between the bipolarity of the impulse and the transformational object (Alain Braconnier) constantly underlies the analysis of transference and counter-transference during adolescence.
There are other theorizations as well: Adolescence as a "crisis" (Pierre Mâle, Evelyne Kestemberg) or breakdown (Moses Laufer), as an impasse in the process of development, that is, in the integration of the sexualized body into the psychic apparatus. These approaches reveal the difficulties and resistances the subject experiences in giving up the forms of libidinal satisfaction in which his infantile body was engaged, difficulties and resistances that are manifest in the transference through the representation and acting out of the "central masturbation fantasy."
Although it is no longer psychoanalytically possible to consider adolescence in terms of a traditional genetic psychoanalytic psychology, that is, as the final stage of development that makes it possible to access an adult stage, it is still difficult to provide a comprehensive interpretation centered on any given aspect of adolescence. The psychic impact of puberty determines the remodeling of identification, the expression of fantasies, and self and object representations. The psychic impacts of the social and the cultural determine the alterations of these same intrapsychic elements, as well as presenting psychoanalysts with the problem of addressing the contradiction between a focus on external objects versus a focus on internal objects. From the point of view of psychoanalytic practice, the attention given to mental functioning, and to affects in particular, enables psychoanalysts to understand many of the disturbances found in adolescence in a way that broadens and extends the notion of crisis or the process of individuation, as well as their relationship to anxiety and, especially, depression. The concepts of "depressive threat" and "self-sabotage" help describe, clinically and theoretically, the process of change specific to the adolescent, whose pathology reveals the failures and avatars that are so magnificently exemplified in our culture through the heroic figures of Narcissus, Oedipus, Hamlet and Ophelia, Electra and Orestes, and, of course, Romeo and Juliet.
See also: Acting out/acting in; Adolescent crisis; Anorexia nervosa; Blos, Peter; Bulimia; Fairbairn, William Ronald Dodds; "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" (Dora/Ida Bauer); Genital love; Identification; Identity; Infantile schizophrenia; Mâle, Pierre; Puberty; Screen memory; Self-representation; Silberstein, Eduard; Suicidal behavior; Transgression; Young Girl's Diary, A .
Blos, Peter. (1987). L'insoumission au père ou l'effort adolescent pour être masculin. Adolescence, 6 (21), 19-31.
Cahn, Raymond. (1998). L'Adolescent dans la psychanalyse: l'aventure de la subjectivation. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 130-243.
Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.
Jeammet, Philippe. (1994). Adolescence et processus de changement. In D. Widlöcher (Ed.) Traité de psychopathologie (pp. 687-726). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Laufer, Moses. (1989). Adolescence et rupture du développement: une perspective psychanalytique, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Blos, Peter. (1962). On adolescence. a psychoanalytic interpretation, New York: The Free Press of Glencoe.
——. (1979). The adolescent passage: developmental issues, New York: International Universities Press.
Emde, Robert. (1985). From adolescence to midlife: remodeling the structure of adult development. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 33 (S), 59-112.
Esman, Aaron. (ed.) (1975). The psychology of adolescence, essential readings, New York: International Universities Press.
Hauser, Stuart T. and Smith, Henry F. (1991). The development and experience of affect in adolescence. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 39 (S), 131-168.
Novick, Kerry Kelly and Novick, Jack. (1994). Postoedipal transformations: latency, adolescence, pathogenesis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42,143-170.
Sarnoff, Charles. (1987). Psychotherapeutic strategies in late latency through early adolescence, Northvale, NJ: Aronson.
views updated May 29 2018
adolescence The term may be applied to the emotional and behavioural states supposedly associated with becoming adult; the phase in the life-cycle before the physical changes associated with puberty are socially recognized; or the transition in status from childhood to adulthood.
Typically, in modern industrial societies, young people are sexually mature well before society acknowledges them as adults in other respects; and, because of education and training, they remain dependent on parents and guardians. Consequently, adolescence has been seen as a time of peak emotional turbulence (see J. C. Coleman , The Nature of Adolescence, 1980). Although few sociologists would dismiss the idea that physical change may of itself bring about behavioural change, or that young people do face a tension between sexual and social maturity, the value of the term adolescence is questionable. Comparisons with even the recent past show that children frequently had to become adults as soon as they could do useful work.
Anthropologists too describe numerous examples (especially in age-set societies) where the transition to adulthood is abrupt, marked by clear rites of passage, and relatively free from alleged adolescent problems. Surveys and other field studies in the industrialized West itself have cast doubt on the ideas that adolescence is typically any more stressful than any other stage in life or that the majority of teenagers are rebellious. The treatment of adolescence as a social problem may say more about the stereotypes of youth in the adult world and indicate a moral panic about youth culture (a critique along these lines will be found in Frank Coffield et al. , Growing Up at the Margins, 1986)
. For an overview of the literature see Patricia Noller and and Victor Callan , The Adolescent in the Family (1991).
views updated May 18 2018
adolescence The period in human development that occurs during the teenage years, between the end of childhood and the start of adulthood, and is characterized by various physical and emotional changes associated with development of the reproductive system. It starts at puberty, when the reproductive organs begin to function, and is marked by the start of menstruation (see menstrual cycle) in females and the appearance of the secondary sexual characteristics in both sexes. In males the secondary sexual characteristics are controlled by the hormone testosterone and include deepening of the voice due to larynx enlargement, the appearance of facial and pubic hair, rapid growth of the skeleton and muscle, and an increase in sebaceous gland secretions. In females the secondary sexual characteristics are controlled by oestrogens and include growth of the breasts, broadening of the pelvis, redistribution of fat in the body, and appearance of pubic hair.
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