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.
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.
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.]
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"Adolescence." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045000023.html
Sometimes referred to as teenage years, youth, or puberty, adolescence covers the period from roughly age 10 to 20 in a child's development.
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.
Feldman, S., and G. Elliott, eds. At the Threshold: The Developing Adolescent. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.
Steinberg, L. Adolescence. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
Steinberg, L., and A. Levine. You and Your Adolescent: A Parent's Guide for Ages 10 to 20. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.
Steinberg, Laurence. "Adolescence." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406000022.html
Steinberg, Laurence. "Adolescence." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2001. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406000022.html
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:
- eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa , bulimia, or obesity
- drug or alcohol use
- depression or suicidal ideation
- violent behavior
- anxiety, stress, or sleep disorders
- unsafe sexual activities
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:
- extreme changes in weight (loss or gain) or excessive dieting
- sleep disturbances
- social withdrawal or loss of interest in activities
- sudden personality changes
- signs of alcohol or drug use
- talk or threats of suicide
- violent or aggressive behavior
- atypical (early or late) onset of puberty; in girls, failure to menstruate by the age of 16
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
Steinberg, Laurence; Sherk, Stephanie. "Adolescence." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. 2006. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3447200022.html
Steinberg, Laurence; Sherk, Stephanie. "Adolescence." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. 2006. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3447200022.html
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.
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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.
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——. (1979). The adolescent passage: developmental issues, New York: International Universities Press.
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adolescence, time of life from onset of puberty to full adulthood. The exact period of adolescence, which varies from person to person, falls approximately between the ages 12 and 20 and encompasses both physiological and psychological changes. Physiological changes lead to sexual maturity and usually occur during the first several years of the period. This process of physical changes is known as puberty, and it generally takes place in girls between the ages of 8 and 14, and boys between the ages of 9 and 16. In puberty, the pituitary gland increases its production of gonadotropins, which in turn stimulate the production of predominantly estrogen in girls, and predominantly testosterone in boys. Estrogen and testosterone are responsible for breast development, hair growth on the face and body, and deepening voice. These physical changes signal a range of psychological changes, which manifest themselves throughout adolescence, varying significantly from person to person and from one culture to another. Psychological changes generally include questioning of identity and achievement of an appropriate sex role; movement toward personal independence; and social changes in which, for a time, the most important factor is peer group relations. Adolescence in Western societies tends to be a period of rebellion against adult authority figures, often parents or school officials, in the search for personal identity. Many psychologists regard adolescence as a byproduct of social pressures specific to given societies, not as a unique period of biological turmoil. In fact, the classification of a period of life as
is a relatively recent development in many Western societies, one that is not recognized as a distinct phase of life in many other cultures.
See T. Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager (1999).
"adolescence." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-adolesce.html
"adolescence." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-adolesce.html
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)
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"adolescence." A Dictionary of Biology. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O6-adolescence.html
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See development and growth; menarche; puberty.
COLIN BLAKEMORE and SHELIA JENNETT. "adolescence." The Oxford Companion to the Body. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O128-adolescence.html
COLIN BLAKEMORE and SHELIA JENNETT. "adolescence." The Oxford Companion to the Body. 2001. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O128-adolescence.html
ad·o·les·cent / ˌadlˈesənt/ • adj. (of a young person) in the process of developing from a child into an adult. ∎ relating to or characteristic of this process: his adolescent years adolescent problems. • n. an adolescent boy or girl.
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T. F. HOAD. "adolescent." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O27-adolescent.html
—adolescent n., adj.
"adolescence." A Dictionary of Nursing. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O62-adolescence.html
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- Seventeen novel of young love. [Am. Lit.: Booth Tarkington Seventeen in Magill I, 882]
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