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6.1: Adolescence in Our Society

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    • Explain how adolescence developed as a distinct stage of the life cycle in the States United.
    • Identify and explain the five characteristics of adolescence.

    Universal Generalizations

    • Adolescence is not a universal concept.
    • Most values and norms are learned during childhood.
    • Peer groups are important influence on adolescence.
    • Most teenagers often develop their values and personal identity.

    Guiding Questions

    • What challenges did teenagers face 20 years ago? 30 years ago?
    • How would your life be different if all Americans were considered adults at the age of 13?
    • How does adolescence differ from childhood?
    • Which of the characteristics of adolescence presents the greatest challenge for teenagers today?

    Adolescence in Society

    In many preindustrial societies, young people go directly from childhood to adulthood after taking part in particular rites of passage. Adolescence is not universal. The concept of adolescence is a relatively new concept as a life stage.

    The relationships adolescents have with their peers, family, and members of their social sphere play a vital role in their development. Adolescence is a crucial period in social development, as adolescents can be easily swayed by their close relationships. The extreme influence peers can have over an individual makes these relationships particularly important to personal development. Peers begin to help the adolescent understand the existence, formation, and specification of personalities. Research shows there are four main types of relationships that influence an adolescent: parents, peers, community, and society.


    When children go through puberty, there is often a significant increase in parent-child conflict and a less cohesive familial bond . Arguments often concern new issues of control, such as curfew, acceptable clothing, and right to privacy. Parent-adolescent disagreement also increases as friends demonstrate a greater impact on the child. This is especially true when new influences on the adolescent are in opposition to parents' values. Social media now plays a role in parent-adolescent disagreement, as the advent of the internet has now become a complex place for children to navigate.

    Growth and development of adolescenceGrowth and development of adolescence
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The parent-child relationship. When children go through puberty, there is often a significant increase in parent-child conflict, and a less cohesive familial bond.

    While adolescents strive for freedoms, the unknowns can be frightening for parents. Although conflicts between children and parents increase during adolescence, they are often related to relatively minor issues. Regarding more important life issues, many adolescents will still share the same attitudes and values as their parents. Adolescents who have a good relationship with their parents are less likely to engage in various risk behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, fighting, and/or unprotected sex.


    High quality friendships may enhance a child's development regardless of the characteristics of those friends. As children begin to gain bonds with various people, they start to form friendships, which can be beneficial to development. Strong peer groups are especially important during adolescence when parental supervision decreases and interaction with peers increases. Adolescents associate with friends of the opposite sex much more than in childhood, and tend to identify with larger groups of peers based on shared characteristics.

    Peer groups offer members the opportunity to develop social skills such as empathy, sharing, and leadership. Peer groups, or cliques, can have positive influences on an individual, such as academic motivation and performance. They can also have negative influences via peer pressure, such as encouraging drug use, drinking, vandalism, stealing, or other risky behavior. Susceptibility to peer pressure increases during early adolescence.

    While peers may facilitate positive social development for one another, they may also hinder it. Emotional reactions to problems and emotional instability have been linked with physical aggression among peers. Both physical and relational aggression are linked to a vast number of enduring psychological difficulties, including depression.

    On a larger scale, adolescents often associate with crowds, or groups of individuals who share common interests or activities. Often, crowd identities may be the basis for stereotyping young people, such as "jocks" or "nerds. " In large, multi-ethnic high schools, there are often ethnically-determined crowds as well. While crowds are influential during early and middle adolescence, they lose influence during high school as students begin to identify more individually.

    Growth and development of adolescenceGrowth and development of adolescence
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Peer relationships

    Community and Society

    There are certain characteristics of adolescent development that are more rooted in culture than in human biology or cognitive structures. Culture is learned and socially shared, and it affects all aspects of an individual's life. Social responsibilities, sexual expression, and belief system development, for instance, are all likely to vary based on culture. Furthermore, many distinguishing characteristics of an individual (such as dress, employment, recreation, and language) are all products of youth culture. Culture, in this case, is not synonymous with nation or ethnicity.


    Culture is learned and socially shared, and it affects all aspects of an individual's life. Social responsibilities, sexual expression, and belief system development, for instance, are all things that are likely to vary by culture.

    Differences between families in the distribution of financial responsibilities or provision of allowance may reflect various social background circumstances and intrafamilial processes. These are further influenced by cultural norms and values. The amount of time adolescents spend on work and leisure activities varies greatly by culture as a result of cultural variations.

    Growth and development of adolescence
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Adolescent activity


    Anticipatory socialization is the process by which non-group-members adopt the values and standards of groups that they aspire to join, so as to ease their entry into the group and help them interact appropriately once they have been accepted. It involves changing one's attitudes and behaviors in preparation for a shift in one's role. Practices commonly associated with anticipatory socialization include grooming, play-acting, training, and rehearsing. Examples of anticipatory socialization include law school students learning how to behave like lawyers, older people preparing for retirement, and Mormon boys getting ready to become missionaries.

    Anticipatory socialization was first defined by sociologist Robert K. Merton. It has its origins in a 1949 study of the United States military which found that privates who modeled their attitudes and behaviors on those of officers were more likely to be promoted than those who did not.

    For further information on the characteristics of adolescence:

    5 Characteristics of Adolescence:

    The Adolescent and Society:

    The Effect of Social Media on Teens:

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