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Adolescence as a stage of life course

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3113 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This essay will discuss about adolescence as a stage of life course. It will first of all give the definition of adolescent. Utilising the lenses of Psychological, biological and sociological l theories, the essay will examine adolescent in its different facets and the impact on the adolescent. The essay will also demonstrate why adolescence is socially constructed. It will then explore how identities are formed in the process. The essay will look at the confusion in role that adolescents are facing in society. The essay will also discuss about the dynamic of the adolescents relationship with their family members, with their peers and with society as a whole. The essay will underline the importance of having the knowledge and insight of adolescence and the implication for social work practice.

“Adolescence or in Latin adolescere” means to grow into maturity”. The Evidences that marque this period are a considerable physiological as well as psychological changes. It is also defined as a time of significant changes; biologically, psychologically and social.

These changes have consequently a massive impact on the adolescent`s social insertion. Considering adolescence as a process of growing up, it covers a life span between puberty and maturity. These two adjectives are what determinate the legal age of majority.

According to universal definition, the beginning of adolescence is clearly defined by the appearance of the signs of puberty. These signs are triggered by hormones stimulation in the brain. These signs are internal as well as external.

This transitional stage is the bridge that connects childhood and adulthood. Therefore teenagers are neither children nor adults.

These changes have an impact on their relationships with both parents and peers. It also influences adolescents’ roles in society. The difficulties that are experienced by adolescents are also the confusion of identity.by definition, identity is “a sense of self that develops as the child differentiates from parents and family and takes a place in society”. This refers to the sense that adolescents have of who they are and also of what is most important about them.

According to Erickson (1963) psychosocial theory, the adolescence life stage covers the period to 13 to 19 years old. He described this stage as “fidelity” where about the adolescent is experiencing psychosocial crisis. He described the crisis that characterise adolescence as identity versus role confusion.

The psychosocial crisis is ` being the identity crisis versus the role confusion. The adolescent will raise concern about his appearance, his position and his role within society. During The transition from childhood to adulthood, the adolescent will also evaluate the role he will be playing in the grown-ups world. The combination of identity and roles for the adolescent is considered according to Hall (1904), as a “time of storm and stress”. The signs that forecast the storm and stress are mental disorder and challenging behaviour such as delinquency, mood swinging, withdrawal…

These changes within the adolescent`s life can also be voice breaking, experience sex arousal, gender-role identity increasing autonomy and responsibilities.

Erickson (1963) was in favour that it is natural for human being to “pass through a genetically determined sequence of psychosocial stages”.

Surely the adolescent will experience role confusion, confused ideas and feelings regarding specific ways in which he will fit into society. This experience will be underpinned by a spectrum of behaviour associated with certain activities such as getting closer to particular individual or enjoying doing specific things.

The adolescent is hungry for more freedom; consequently parents have to reconsider their attitudes regarding their relationship with the adolescent.

Erickson (1963) insisted that “only when the adolescent is secured and confident in his own identity, he then can take risks involved in genuine social and sexual intimacy of a lasting kind”. He stressed that during the adolescence life stage, the individual will eventually achieve a sense of identity regarding whom he is and where his life is heading to. A successful negotiation of the adolescence passage could prepare the adolescent for adult life by providing him with a sense of identity or in other words the adolescent will gain a sense of ego identity. Also the other facet of adolescent`s life is in later stages of adolescence the individual develops a sense of sexual identity. Erickson stressed that during adolescence, the blending of rapid growth, hormonal changes and a increasing awareness of adult tasks ahead pauses the question of “the sameness and continuity”.

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However, the problem in adolescence is the difficulty to establish a meaningful sense of personal identity. Evidence showed that emotional arousals are very intense and volatile during adolescence. The only possible escape route from this trap is risk-taking behaviour. Consequently the adolescent will be confronted by life-determined important question”? “Who am I” and who will I be”? The emergence of adult personality, is linked to the ability to choose and being faithful to commitments in role playing within society. He went on by stressing that” the adolescent who fails to link identity and role will experience hardship and confusion in his lifespan”. He insisted that life stages are punctuated by hardship and crisis. Life will always press demands upon individual, but the adolescent must be able to solve problem in order to successfully make transition between life stages.

Hendry and Kloep (1999) were in favour to Erickson`s Psychosocial theory as they stressed that” young people, as they grow up, find themselves in the trap of having to respond more and more to society`s demand in a responsible and adult way while being treated as immature and not capable of holding clear opinions on a wide range of social matters”. This view demonstrates the difficulty for adolescent to behave like one. He is wanted to respond like an adult, but in the adult`s world he is considered as a child, therefore he is not able to get involve into serious discussions about society`s matters.

But it is important to stress that adolescence is determined by an interconnection between physical and psychological development. During this period, new cognitive skills occur. The adolescent is able to reflect upon hypothetical event such as the concept of self and others. This would reshape the relationship between the adolescent and his family member and also with his peers. It important to stress that the quest for identity and the changing nature of relationship are considered as the specific traits of this period.

James Marcia (1993), a writer who worked on Erickson`s life stage found four distinct kinds of “identity status” within adolescence. First of all he mentioned the “identity diffusion” which is characterised by the lack of commitment and indecision about serious life matters. The second identity status is “the identity foreclosure”. This one is the status of preliminary commitment and value commitment. It is characterised by the acceptance of other values. In other words, the adolescent is does not question or rebel against adults authorities.

The third element that James Marcia (1993) found is” the moratorium”. He argued that the moratorium is a “state of intense identity crisis”. This crisis is defined by active interest to great decisions and exploration of opportunities for the future, but not yet concludes in a hard engagement. He went on by concluding that the moratorium status is and “uncomfortable” situation, because the adolescent may be tempted to avoid by going for the foreclosure. The last observation he made was the discovery of the “identity achievement”. The individual have overcome the crisis that he was experiencing and has finally decided engage in a concrete commitment.

As Erickson would claim, this individual has “successfully negotiated the challenge of this stage of life”.

Piaget`s (1952) work helps understanding the quantitative changes in how the adolescents think about their world. He claimed that adolescence is when children reach the stage of “formal operation”. He argued that at this stage, children are capable of solving problem as adults. According to his theory; Adolescence is the period when young people gain considerable new changes in their thinking abilities. We all agree that greater maturity emerges in capacities of reasoning and problem-solving. In the case of adolescence, it seems to be a qualitative move in thinking toward the ability to maintain different views simultaneously, considering knowledge and values as more linked than during childhood, and exploring more options and possibilities in their decision-making. On the other hand, these capacities of seeing situation from different perspective enable the adolescent to reflect upon the quality of his relationship with others and how he is treated.

However, the probability of the good use of these new capacities depends on the experience, expertise and environmental demands.

For Freud psychosexual theory, adolescence is regarded as the final stage of psychosexual development. Adolescence is directly linked to a considerable change in a sexual attitude. The adolescent seems to be directed toward the opposite sex in order to find a partner.

Bowlby regarded adolescence as a stage which attachments to parents-figures are loosened. The adolescent will form new adult attachement.

Bandura`s social learning stressed that “most of human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling: from observing others, one forms an ideas of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action”.

This theory demonstrates that human behaviour is a continuous reciprocal intervention between cognitive, behavioural and environmental influence.

In respect of the adolescent`s identity and role, the social learning theory explains that adolescent copies his behaviour from what he has been taught. Also the quality of this relationship with others will depend on the codes received from them and from the environment.

Maslow (1970) Humanistic approach in terms of the adolescence stage tends toward the self-actualisation aspect. As the adolescent is preparing to get into adult world, it is important to understand certain prerequisites attached to his status. Self-actualisation is the fact that one make full use of one`s talent and capacities. But in order to understand the full meaning of what constitutes” full use”, one must have a conception of the goal of growth and development. But yet like Rogers, Maslow believed that healthy people would start to show certain traits of self-actualisation characteristics.

Aristotle (4th century B.C/1941 translation) comes in support of the social learning approach. He regarded that human being is an organic whole. His biological development has an impact on his psychological development.

He stresses that young people that experience adolescence are emotionally unstable.

Furthermore, Plato and Aristotle argued that those adolescents are impulsive. They are predisposed to excess. This attitude can be explained by the biological and psychological changes that they are going through. But, they marked that the end of this seismic period is punctuates by the development of a sense of self-control. Aristotle recognised that the most important trait of adolescence “was the ability to choose”. But this ability to choose is conditioned by various humanistic stages.

Baker (1990) insists that although adolescence is a time of major change, many adolescents will experience it without major difficulty.

Giving that adolescence spreads over a number of years, it involves important aspects such as social, emotional, cognitive and physical changes. In order to develop better understanding of this life stage, adolescence is divided into three sub-stages.

The early adolescence (12-14) is the year where most of the physical changes appear. These changes are also followed by changes in relationships with peers and parents.

The middle adolescence (14-16): at this stage, again variations occur. The most noticeable change is the increasing hunger for independence. But also some the adolescent are preparing for adult occupation and/or going into further education. Again, some of them experience late physical changes such as the appearance of spurts, voice breaking… Some of them exceptionally enter adult roles directly from middle adolescence.

Late adolescence (17-19) is the time of progressive preparation for adulthood.

As one would notice that the key features for adolescent are most of the time seen to be “establishing a secure sense of who they are as they prepare for adult roles.”

It`s also about weaving more interdependent relationships with families. It is reaching physical adult maturity. And finally, it is constructing relationships with peers.

Berger (1966) “society not only controls our movements, but shapes our identity, our thought and our emotions”.

The structures of society become the structures of our own consciousness.

Society does not stop at the surface of our skins. Society penetrates us as much as it envelops us.”

Human being is a sociable individual. His development and his identity are shaped by his ability of building up a relationship with others and with his environment.

Talcott (1954), a functionalist argued that age differences are the forces that drive the overall functioning of the social system. He insisted that differences in social roles are associated with age groups in order to ensure the smooth running of the society itself. According to Talcott Parsons (1954) a functionalist, differences in the roles associated with age groups were very important for the good functioning of society. Talcott (1954) stressed that adolescence is a time when children start to express independence from their parents.

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Concerning the adolescence, Talcott (1954) believed that it the time when children start to develop independence from their parents. In the industrial society it is important that adolescents detached themselves from their parents in order to allow party, parents and adolescents to freely move to where work can be found. This independence from their parents shifts the loyalty that adolescents have for their parents to their peers and / or partners. Talcott (1954) went on by stressing that adolescents in their quest for independence are most of the time involve in a sort of rebellion. Also adolescents in their quest of who they are, put lot of accents on their image and on their independence. Though, it understood that the transition towards adult roles may not always be a smooth one, it helps the emergence of independent individuals within families units who well adapt to respond to the needs of industrial societies.

Other authors would support that adolescence is by definition partly biology but also psychological transition, which is differently seen in different societies, at a different epoch. As far as they were concerned, in non-industrial countries where children were involved in the same activity as their parents, adolescence was a brief transition from childhood to adulthood. This brief transition was however marked by a cultural ceremony. For example, The Bar Mitzvah in the Jewish culture celebrates the transition for boys.

However one understood that in western society, there is not a precise date to mark adolescence but it does mention a relatively prolong period in which “young people are biologically adult but legally children”. Nevertheless it is clear that the biological change is chares by every society.

The explanation of the rebellious attitude of adolescents toward their parents could be due to the fact that the individual would like to resemble to the parents. They want to have the same authority and freedom as their parents.

On the other hand, conformity in rule biding in

Order, deviance and control are some of the basic realities in society. Order in society is the fact that individual can act and interact without major interruption. The definition of social order is the conformity to social norms and rules. Deviance occurs generally when rules are broken. Adolescent’s anti-social behaviour can be seen as a form of deviance. The main formal way to control adolescent’s deviance includes the police, the court, the prison, probation system and also the social worker.

Durkheim ( ) a functionalist, insisted that order is important for the simple reason that it maintains the social equilibrium .Surely order is important for social life. However no-one have said that it is morally good of bad. It is how order is given which constitutes the major issues.

Most authors recognised that adolescence is a transition stage which involves establishing a new identity. However, as individual experience things differently, one can stress that adolescence is not necessary a time of stress and bad behaviour. Other people have experienced a smooth transition from childhood to adolescence.




Ref: jann gumbiner (2003),Adolescent assessment

Ref : Kate Wilson, Gillian Ruch ,Mark Lymbery, Andrew Cooper (2008), Social work (an introduction to contemporary practice), Pearson Education Limited.

Ref : Richard Gross (2009) psychology the science of mind and behaviour, Hodder Arnold, 5th edition

Ref: William E. Glassman(1995), approaches to psychology, open university press, 2nd edition.

Ref : Haralambros and Holborn (2008), Sociology, Themes and Perspectives, Collins, seven edition

Ref : Chris Beckett (2002), Human Growth and Development, Sage Publication Ltd, first edition.

Mike O`Donnell (1997), Introduction to sociology, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, Fourth edition


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