Adolescents: Who are they?
Adolescence* (from a Latin word meaning “to grow up”) is a transitional stage between childhood and adulthood. In some ways adolescents resemble the children they were, yet the many changes they undergo during this stage ensure that they will be different from children in many respects. Similarly, we see glimpses of the adults the adolescents will come, but more often we observe that they don’t behave like adults. As adolescents mature, we see fewer resemblances to children and more similarities to adults.
Adolescents’ psychology is the study of physical, cognitive, personality, and social development in individuals beginning at puberty (the attainment of the capacity to reproduce) and continuing until the assumption of adult responsibilities in society. Typically, these changes occur between the ages of 13 and 22.
Chronological age by itself, however, isn’t necessarily a valid index of the onset or termination of adolescence. For example, some 14 year olds may not have reached puberty, while others may have done so several years earlier. Similarly, some 18 year olds may be supporting themselves and living in their own homes (and therefore are considered adults), while others may still be in school and financially and emotionally dependent on their parents (and therefore are adolescents).
Because this period spans a number of years, it is often divided into sub stages. For our purposes we will use the term early adolescence to describe individuals of junior high school age or 12 to 14 years, middle adolescence to describe those of high school age or 14 to 17, and late adolescence to describe those of college age or 17 to 22. While this division into sub-stages has useful, practical applications, it is important to remember that it is an over-implication. It is based on educational level (chronology) rather than on developmental criteria (puberty or identity, for example), and educational level and developmental status aren’t necessarily synonymous.
Developmental Tasks of Adolescence
Adolescents can also be identified by the level of development they are have reached in the capabilities and skills needed to function effectively as adults. These developmental tasks include achieving a sense of identity, attaining emotional and financial independence from parents, relating effectively with peers, becoming a sexual person, and choosing and preparing for an occupation.
Compared to children, adolescents are physically more mature, are more skilled and sophisticated in cognitive abilities, have more complex and integrated personalities, and have more effective social skills. These developmental changes mean that adolescents are capable of taking a more active role in their own development than are children.
Current issues in adolescent psychology
Defining the Boundaries of Adolescence
In western cultures adolescence has traditionally been viewed as synonymous with the teenage years. Recently, however, it is has been acknowledged that adolescence spans a wider age range, and it is now often described as beginning earlier, and lasting longer than the teens.
During the past 150 years the average age of onset of puberty has dropped. Moreover, pressures on preteens from preteens from parents, the media, and peers to grow up sooner and faster have increased (Elkind, 1981). For example, note the recent television advertisements which depict boys and girls (especially) in designer clothing and sexy poses. Even though most 11- and 12- year olds haven’t reached puberty, some are pushed toward and, in fact, do imitate adolescent behavior.
Adolescence has been extended at the other end as increasing numbers of youth continue their education beyond high school and postpone the assumption of adult responsibilities. Kenneth Keniston (1970) has suggested that the fact that postindustrial society demands higher levels of educational attainment of its citizens has produced a new...