Chapter 1

Who Are Adolescents?

Defining Adolescence: To be complete, a definition of adolescence must consider biological, psychological and sociological changes. A biological definition emphasizes the events of puberty that transform the bodies of children into those of sexually and physically mature adults. A psychological definition distinguishes adolescence in terms of the developmental tasks to be accomplished, each of which relates to the central task of achieving a personal identity. A sociological definition defines adolescents in terms of their status within society, specifically, as a transitional period between childhood and adulthood.
Key Terms: adolescence, traditional cultures, developing countries, individualistic cultures, collectivistic cultures, globalization, puberty, developmental tasks, compulsory education laws, child labor laws, system of juvenile justice

Perspectives on Adolescence

A Constructive Perspective: A constructive perspective assumes that reality is not a given, that we each construct our own reality, actively interpreting experiences and reacting to them on the basis of our interpretation.
Key Terms: constructive perspective

A Contextual Perspective: From a contextual perspective we see that development is influenced by the daily settings, or contexts, of adolescents’ lives—by where they spend their time and who they spend it with. It is not so much the actual, physical contexts that affect development, though, as it is how adolescents perceive these contexts, that leaves its developmental footprint. Bronfenbrenner describes these contexts as a set of five overlapping spheres of influence, each of which can affect conditions in another sphere.
Key Terms: contextual perspective, microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, chronosystem

The Many Faces of Adolescents

Sex and Gender: Few differences are more important to adolescents, from either their perspective or that of their society, than those associated with being male or female. Both sex differences, which are biologically based, and gender differences, which are socially determined, influence adolescent development.
Key Terms: gender, sex differences, gender differences, gender stereotypes

Culture, Ethnicity, and Race: Today’s adolescents are growing up in an ethnically diverse society. The strength of their identification as a member of a particular ethnic group depends on the extent to which they share the cultural values and attitudes of the group, feel they belong to the group, and experience being a member of a minority.
Key Terms: ethnicity, culture, ethnic identity, minority

Early Adolescence, Late Adolescence, and Emerging Adulthood: Adolescence can be distinguished by three stages, each with markedly different developmental issues and experiences. Early adolescence is ushered in by the onset of puberty and the changes that transform the body of a child into that of an adult. In late adolescence, the focus shifts to discovering themselves and achieving mutuality and intimacy in their relationships. The emerging adulthood stage finds them in continued exploration of the direction their life may take with respect to traditional adult commitments—marriage, children, and occupation.
Key Terms: early adolescence, late adolescence, emerging adulthood

Who Am I? A Question of Identity: Erik Erikson identified the central and most pressing question of adolescence as a search for personal identity. Adolescents are aware that they are not the children they once were, but they are equally sure they are not the adults they see around them. So who are they? Answers become organized around the developmental tasks confronting them.
Key Terms: identity

A Historical Look at Adolescence

A Time Before Childhood?: Neil Postman suggests that childhood became a recognizably distinct stage in life in the 15th century as a by-product of the printing press. What that innovation really created was adulthood—where adults came to be defined as those who could read the newly minted documents and books, and children were defined as those who could not.

The Creation of Adolescence: Similarly, industrialization in the mid-19th century prompted the emergence of adolescence from childhood, where several social conditions required the prolongation of childhood. The industrialized society demanded new skills and larger numbers of workers, prompting a population shift to the cities. With large numbers of youth of the same age concentrated in urban settings, it became possible to have separate classes and schools for youths of different ages, and a noticeable new age group was born.

Emerging Adulthood: Social conditions have contributed to the period in life known as emerging adulthood. Jeffrey Arnett notes that emerging adulthood is found primarily in industrial and postindustrial cultures in which individuals typically continue their education beyond high school to prepare for a profession.

Adolescents in a Changing Society

Although adolescents make up only 14% of the U.S. population, they are a visible group, perhaps because they highlight some of the ways in which our society is changing. By the year 2020, 45% of adolescents in the United States will belong to an ethnic minority, and many will be multiracial, with one or both of their parents having parents of different ethnic backgrounds.

Poverty: Family characteristics are changing as well, with more youth living in single-parent families and, with this, more experiencing economic hardship. Approximately 35% of adolescents live in low-income families, and another 15% live below the poverty line.
Key Terms: low-income families, poor families

Adolescents Within the Life Span

The life span perspective enables us to see continuities in the issues that arise at different points in life. Developmental issues that come up in adolescence can be traced back to childhood and followed into adulthood. Issues of autonomy and competence, for example, are immensely important to adolescents, but they are also significant issues facing two other age groups: the elderly and toddlers.
Key Terms: life span perspective