Overview, Historical Background and Theoretical Perspectives

 Overview and Background

Adolescence is a developmental transition between childhood and adulthood. It is the period from puberty until full adult status has been attained.  In our society, adolescence is a luxury.  It is reported that the real reason there is the developmental period of adolescence was to delay young people from going into the workforce, due to the scarcity of jobs. There are also varying views on the actual time line of adolescence-especially about when it ends.  Typically, we view adolescence beginning at puberty and ending at 18 or 21 years.  Others suggest that there is a period of late adolescence that extends well into what is now known as the period of young adulthood.

 G. Stanley Hall's Biogenetic Psychology of Adolescence

 G. Stanley Hall  (1844-1924), was the first psychologist to advance a psychology of adolescence in its own right and to use scientific methods to study them.  He defined this period to begin at puberty at about 12 or 13 years, and end late, between 22 years to 25 years of age.  Hall also described adolescence as a period of Sturm und Drang," -- storm and stress."  In German literature, the period of  sturm und drang includes the works of Schiller and the early writings of Goethe.  It is a literary movement full of idealism, commitment to a goal, revolution against the old, expression of personal feelings, passion and suffering.  Hall saw an analogy between the objectives of this group of young writers at the turn of the eighteenth century and the psychological characteristics of adolescence.  

According to Hall's analogy and expansion of Darwin's concept of biological "evolution." into a  psychological theory of recapitulation, adolescence corresponds to a time when the human race was in a turbulent transitional stage. (Muuss, 1975, pp.33-35) In this theory, Hall stated that the experiential history of the human species had become part of the genetic structure of each individual.  The law of recapitulation claimed that the individual organism, during its development passes through states that correspond to those that occurred during the history of mankind. To sum up, the individual relives the development of the human race from early animal like primitivism, through a period of savagery, to the more recent civilized ways of life that characterize maturity. (Muuss, 1975, p. 33)  Therefore, Hall described adolescence as a new birth, "for the higher and more completely human traits are now born" (Hall, 1916, xiii).

Hall describes this particular aspect of adolescent development (storm and stress) in detail in a chapter of his book on adolescence --"Feelings and Psychic Evolution."  He saw the emotional life of the adolescent as an oscillation between contradictory tendencies.  Energy, exaltation, and supernatural activity are followed by indifference, lethargy, and loathing.  Exuberant gaiety, laughter, and euphoria make place for dysphoria. depressive gloom, and melancholy.  Egoism, vanity, and conceit are just as characteristic of this period of life as are abasement, humiliation, and bashfulness. Hall believed that adolescent characteristics contained both the remnants of an uninhibited childish selfishness and an increasing idealistic altruism. The qualities of goodness and virtue are never so pure, but never again does temptation preoccupy the adolescent's thinking. Hall described the adolescenct as wanting solitude and seclusion, while he finds himself entangled in crushes and friendships.  Never again does the peer group have such a strong influence over the person.  The adolescent also moves between the exhibition of several personality traits including exquisite sensitivity and tenderness at some points in time to callousness and cruelty at other times.  The display of apathy and inertia also vacillate with enthusiastic curiosity, along with the urge to discover and explore. According to Hall, during this stage of development, there also is a yearning for idols and authority that does not exclude a revolutionary radicalism directed against any kind of authority.

In late adolescence, according to Hall, the individual recapitulates the state of the beginning of modern civilization.  This stage corresponds to the end of the developmental process: maturity.  Hall's genetic psychology did not see the human being as the final and finished product of the developmental process; it allowed for indefinite further development (Muuss, 1975, p.35-36).

 Sigmund Freud and the Psychoanalytic Theory of Adolescent Development

Freud paid relatively little attention to adolescent development only to discuss it in terms of psychosexual development. He shared a common idea with that of Hall's evolutionary theory : that the period of adolescence could be seen as phylogenetic. Freud did maintain that the individual goes through the earlier experiences of mankind in his psychosexual development.  According to Freud and psychoanalytic theory, the stages of psychosexual development are genetically determined and are relatively independent of environmental factors (Muuss, 1975, p.38). Freud believed that adolescence was a universal phenomenon and included behavioral, social and emotional changes; not to mention the relationships between the physiological and  psychological changes, and the influences on the self-image. He also stated that the physiological changes are related to emotional changes, especially an increase in negative emotions, such as moodiness, anxiety, loathing, tension and other forms of adolescent behavior.

 Anna Freud's Theory of Adolescent Defense Mechanism

Anna Freud assigns greater importance to puberty as a critical factor in character formation.  She also places much emphasis on the relationship between the id, the ego and the superego.  She believes that the physiological process of sexual maturation, beginning with the functioning of the sexual glands,  plays a critical role in influencing the psychological realm. This interaction results in the instinctual reawakening of the libidinal forces, which, in turn, can bring about psychological disequilibrium.  The painfully established balance between ego and id during the latency period is disturbed by puberty, and internal conflict results.  Thus, one aspect of puberty, the puberty conflict, is the endeavor to regain equilibrium (Muuss, 1975, p.43).

Anna Freud dealt mainly with deviant or pathological development and paid very little attention to normal sexual adjustment.  She described obstacles to normal development: 1) the id overriding the ego - in which she says no trace will be left of the previous character of the individual and entrance into adult life will be marked by a riot of uninhibited gratification of instincts (A. Freud, 1948, p. 163); and, 2) the ego may be victorious over the id and confine it to a limited area, constantly checked by numerous defense mechanisms.

Among the many defense mechanisms the ego can use, Freud considered two as typical of pubescence:  asceticism and intellectualization.  Asceticism is due to a generalized mistrust of all instinctual wishes.  This mistrust goes far beyond sexuality and includes eating, sleeping, and dressing habits.  The increase in intellectual interests and the change from concrete to abstract interests are accounted for in terms of a defense mechanism against the libido. This naturally brings about a crippling of the instinctual tendencies in adult life, and again the situation is "permanently injurious to the individual" (A. Freud, 1948, p.164).

Anna Freud believes the factors involved in adolescent conflict are:

The strength of the id impulse, which is determined by physiological and endocrinological processes during pubescence.

The ego's ability to cope with or to yield to the instinctual forces.  This in turn depends on the character training and superego development of the child during the latency period.

The effectiveness and nature of the defense mechanism at the disposal of the ego.

 Otto Rank's Emphasis on the Adolescent Need for Independence

Otto Rank (1884-1939), a follower of the psychoanalytic school had been completely under the influence of Freudian realism" (Rank, 1945,p.209). He then later developed his own theory and began to challenge Freud's notions.

Rank saw human nature not as repressed and neurotic, but as creative and  productive. He criticized Freud's emphasis on the unconscious as a storehouse for past experiences and impulses.  Rank pointed out that the past is of importance only to the degree that it acts in the present to influence behavior.  He also places less emphasis on instinctual forces and instinctual behavior.  He believed that Freud actually neglected the role of the ego and gave value to it only as a repressive force.  Rank wanted to restore the balance of power in the psychic realm (Muuss, 1975, p.47).

Rank stated that there must be an examination of the place that adolescent development has in this psychoanalytic theory based on consciousness and "will."  Sexuality is no longer the strongest determining factor in the developmental process. It has found its counterpart in "will," which can to some degree, control sexuality.  It is during the shift from childhood to adolescence that a crucial aspect of personailty development occurs - the change from dependence to independence (Muuss, 1975, p.47).

During the latency period, the "will" grows stronger, more independent, and expands to the point where it turns against any authority not of its own choosing.  The actual origin of the "will" goes further back into the oedipal situation.  It is here that the individual will encounters a social will, represented by parents and expressed in a moral code centuries old (Muuss, 1975, p 47).

In early adolescence, the individual undergoes a basic change in attitude; he begins to oppose dependency, including both the rule of external environmental factors (parents, teachers, the law, and so on) and the rule of internal cravings, the newly awakening instinctual urges.  Establishing volitional independence, which society values and requires, becomes an important but difficult developmental task for the adolescent. This newly developed need for independence and the struggle for the attainment of independence lie at the root of many adolescent personal relationships and their complications.  Rank sees no necessity for external sexual restrictions and inhibitions, since the struggle is one in which the individual's will strives for independence against domination by biological needs. (Muuss, 1975, p.48).

 Erik Erikson's Theory of Identity Development

The core concept of Erikson's theory is the acquisition of an ego-identity, and the identity crisis is the most essential characteristic of adolescence.  Although a person's identity is established in ways that differ from culture to culture, the accomplishment of this developmental task has a common element in all cultures.  In order to acquire a strong and healthy ego-identity the child must receive consistent and meaningful recognition of his achievements and accomplishments (Muuss, 1975, p.55).

Adolescence is described by Erikson as the period during which the individual must establish a sense of personal identity and avoid the dangers of role diffusion and identity confusion (Erikson, 1950). The implication is that the individual has to make an assessment of his or her assets and liabilities and how they want to use them. Adolescents must answer questions for themselves  about where they came from, who they are, and what they will become. Identity, or a sense of sameness and continuity, must be searched for.  Identity is not given to the individual by society, nor does it appear as a maturational phenomenon; it must be acquired through sustained individual efforts. Unwillingness to work on one's own identity formation carries with it the danger of role diffusion, which may result in alienation and a lasting sense of isolation and confusion.  The virtue to be developed is fidelity.  Adhering to one's values contributes to a stable identity.

The search for an identity involves the production of a meaningful self-concept in which past, present, and future are linked together.  Consequently, the task is more difficult in a historical period in which the past has lost the anchorage of family and community tradition, the present is characterized by social change, and the future has become less predictable. According to Erikson, in a period of rapid social change, the older generation is no longer able to provide adequate role models for the younger generation.  Even if the older generation can provide adequate role models, adolescents may reject them as inappropriate for their situation.  Therefore, Erikson believes that the importance of the peer group cannot be overemphasized.  Peers help adolescents find answers to the question "Who Am I?" as they depend on social feedback as to what others feel and how they react to the individual.  Therefore, adolescents "are sometimes morbidly, often curiously, preoccupied with what they appear to be in the eyes of others as compared with what they feel they are and with the question of how to connect to earlier cultivated roles and skills with the ideal prototypes of the day" (Erikson, 1959, p.89).

Pubescence, according to Erikson, is characterized by rapidity of body growth, genital maturity, and sexual awareness.  Because the latter two aspects are qualitatively quite different from those experienced in earlier years, an element of discontinuity with previous development occurs during early adolescence. Youth is confronted with a "physiological revolution" within himself that threatens his body image and interferes with the formation of an identity.  Erikson maintains that the study of identity has become more important than the study of sexuality was in Freud's time (Muuss, 1975, p.65).

Of great concern for many adolescents is the need to settle the question of vocational identity. During the initial attempts to establish a vocational identity some role diffusion frequently exists.  Adolescents at this stage hold glamorized and idealized conceptions of their vocational goals, and it is not uncommon that goal aspirations are higher than the individual's ability warrants.  Frequently, vocational goal models are chosen that are attainable for only a few: movie heroes, rock musicians, athletic champions, car racers, astronauts, and other glamorized "heroes." In the process the adolescent over identifies with and idolizes his heroes to the extent that he yields his own identity and presumes he has theirs.  At this point, according to Erikson, a youth rarely identifies with his own parents; they often rebel against their dominance, their value system, and their intrusion into their private life, since they must separate their identity from that of their family. The adolescent must assert their autonomy in order to reach maturity (Muuss, 1975, p.66).

The search for a personal identity also includes the formation of a personal ideology or a philosophy of life that can serve to orient the individual. Such a perspective aids in making choices and guiding behavior. A personal identity influences the adolescent for the rest of their life. If the adolescent bows out and adopts someone else' identity or ideology, it is often less satisfactory than developing their own. The adopted ideology rarely becomes personal and can lead to foreclosure in adolescent development.

The positive outcome of the identity crisis is dependent on the young person's willingness to accept his past and establish continuity with their previous experiences.  The adolescent must find an answer to the question: "Who Am I?" Other questions that must be answered include: "Where am I going?" "Who am I to become?"  There must be a commitment to a system of values - religious beliefs, vocational goals, a philosophy of life, and an acceptance of one's sexuality. Only through the achievement of these aspects of ego-identity can it be possible for the adolescent  to move into "adult maturity," achieve intimacy of sexual and affectional love, establish deep friendships, and achieve personal self-abandon without fear of loss of ego-identity (Muuss, 1975, p.66).

If the adolescent fails in his search for an identity, he will experience self-doubt, role diffusion, and role confusion; and the adolescent may indulge in self-destructive one-sided preoccupation or activity.  Such an adolescent may continue to be morbidly preoccupied with what others think of them, or may withdraw and no longer care about themselves and others. This leads to ego diffusion, personality confusion and can be found in the delinquent and in psychotic personality disorganization.  In its most severe cases, according to Erikson, identity diffusion can lead to suicide or suicide attempts. Once the personal identity is established, then the adolescent can move on to find intimacy or isolation in interpersonal relationships (Muuss, 1975, p.67).

 James Marcia's Extension of Erikson's Concept: Identity Status

Marcia defines identity as " an internal, self-constructed, dynamic organization of drives, abilities, beliefs and individual history."  According to Marcia, the criteria for the attainment of a mature identity are based on two essential variables: crisis and commitment.  "Crisis refers to times during adolescence when the individual seems to be actively involved in choosing among alternative occupations and beliefs." "Commitment refers to the degree of personal investment the individual expresses in an occupation or belief" (Marcia, 1967, p. 119).

Marcia interviewed students ages 18 to 22 years about their occupational choices, religious and political beliefs, and values --all central aspects of identity.  He classified students into 4 categories of identity status based on: 1) whether they had gone through an "identity crisis" as described by Erikson, and 2) the degree to which they were now committed to an occupational choice and to a set of values and beliefs.

The four categories of identity statuses as defined by Marcia are as follows:

Identity diffused or identity confused. Individuals who had not yet experienced an identity crisis, nor made any commitment to a vocation or set of beliefs.

Foreclosure. Individuals who have not experienced crisis, but has made commitments, however, these commitments are not the result of his own searching and exploring, but they are handed to him, ready-made, by others, frequently his parents.

Moratorium.  Individuals who are in an acute state of crisis.  They are exploring and actively searching for alternatives, and struggling to find their identity; but have not yet made any commitment or have only developed very temporary kinds of commitment.

Identity Achieved.  Individuals who have experienced crises but have resolved them on their own terms, and as a result of the resolution of the crisis had made a personal commitment to an occupation, a religious belief, a personal value system; and, has resolved their attitude toward sexuality.

Most adolescents seem to progress toward a status of identity achieved.  Identity achievement  is rarest among early adolescents.  It is more frequent among older high school students, college students and young adults.

During junior and senior high school, identity diffusion and identity foreclosure are the most common.  Few differences are found between males and females on measures of identity.

The adolescent moratorium is defined as a developmental period during which commitments have not yet been made or are rather exploratory and tentative. However, there are many crises and many unresolved questions.  There is an active struggle to find an answer, explore, search, experiment, try out different roles, and play the field.  It is in this sense that the moratorium is considered the adolescent issue par excellence. According to Marcia, about 30 percent of today's college students are in this stage.  The need for a moratorium is reflected in the motives for volunteering for the Peace Corps and may be one of the reasons for the past existence of the hippie cultures, according to some social scientists (Muuss, 1975, p.77).

Interestingly, some social scientists believe that schools may be encouraging foreclosure, since they demand conformity to the way things are and submission to authority rather than aiding the adolescent in his search for a  unique individuality and a personal identity. Many have maintained that schools require adolescents to submit and suppress their creativity, individuality, and identity to the demands of the skill-and knowledge-oriented curriculum in order to succeed (Muuss, 1975, p.81).

According to Muuss, (1970), some of the adolescent difficulties in Western society may be better understood if one considers the adolescent as the" marginal man who stands in a psychological no-man's land without clear understanding of what is expected of him, struggling to attain adult status " (p.113).  The adolescent struggle to attain an identity and achieve adult status can be a frustrating experience, and society, educational institutions, and teachers may well ponder how they can make this experience more meaningful.

 Eduard Spranger's Geisteswissenschaftliche Theory of Adolescence

Eduard Spranger (1882-1963) is late professor of psychology at the University of Berlin. Geisteswissenschaft is translated as "cultural science" or "historical humanities."  Allport translates it as "mental science." Spranger used the synonym "philosophy of culture." (Muuss, 1975, p.85).

According to Spranger, the himself does not fully experience the meaning of his own development.  Many of the phenomena of consciousness have a purposeful meaning only if one learns to understand them as developmental phenomena.  Adolescence is not only the transition period from childhood to physiological maturity, but - more important - it is the age during which the relatively undifferentiated mental structure of the child reaches full maturity.  During adolescence a more definite and lasting hierarchy of values is established.  According to him, the "dominant value direction" of the individual is the profound determiner of personality (Spranger, 1928).

Spranger describes three developmental patterns:

The first pattern described by Spranger is experienced as a form of rebirth in which the individual sees himself as another person when he reaches maturity.  Like G. Stanley Hall, Spranger believes that this is a period of storm, stress, strain, and crisis, and results in basic personality change. It has much in common with a religious conversion, also emphasized by Hall.

The second pattern is a slow, continuous growth process and a gradual acquisition of the cultural values and ideas held in the society, without a basic personality change.

The third pattern is a growth process in which the individual actively participates. The youth consciously improves himself and contributes to his own development, overcoming obstacles and crises by his own energetic and goal-directed efforts.  This pattern is characterized by self-control and self-discipline, which Spranger related to a personality type that is striving for power (Muuss, 1975, p.88).

It is reported that Spranger is one of the few psychologist who directs most of his work to the period of adolescence. It is believed that he saw adolescence as a specific developmental period that has unique characteristics different from childhood and adulthood.

 Cultural Anthropology and Adolescence:  Margaret Mead

There are several studies by cultural anthropologists that shed light on adolescent development.  The contributions of one great anthropologist, Margaret Mead, gave us much insight into perspectives on adolescent development in a cultural context. Mead wrote 2 books that relevant to a discussion of adolescence:  Coming of Age in Samoa (1950) and Growing Up in New Guinea (1953).  The first book is devoted entirely to the adolescent period.

Coming of Age in Samoa is an empirical field study; it uses anthropological methodology, but does not contain an explicitly stated theory of adolescent development.  But, Ruth Benedict in "Continuities and Discontinuities in Cultural Conditioning" (1954), provides an explicit theory of development from a cultural anthropological point of view which she relates directly to Mead's study of adolescence in Samoa.  It is from these theoretical writings that a systematic statement about the importance of cultural factors in the developmental process was summated.  "Cultural relativism" - a term more appropriate to the earlier than later writings of Mead - contributes new and important ideas to the understanding of the phenomenon of adolescence.  It emphasizes the importance of social institutions and cultural factors in human development and describes the rituals of pubescence as well as adolescent experiences in primitive societies.

Mead maintains that the major task facing adolescents today is the search for a meaningful identity.  This task is immeasurably more difficult in a modern democratic society than in a primitive society.  The behavior and values of parents no longer constitute models, since they are outmoded as compared with the models provided by the mass media. Furthermore, the adolescent in the process of freeing the self from dependency on parents is not only unresponsive, but frequently antagonistic to their value system.  Since the adolescent has been taught to evaluate his behavior against that of his age-mates, he now discards his parents' value system and exchanges it for the standard of his peers.  Rapidity of social change, exposure to various secular and religious value systems, and modern technology make the world appear to the adolescent too complex, too relativistic, too unpredictable, and too ambiguous to provide him with a stable frame of reference (Muuss, 1975, p.111).

In the past, there was a period which both Erikson and Mead called a "psychological moratorium," an "as if" period during which youth could tentatively experiment without being asked to show " success" and without final emotional, economic, or social consequences.  The loss of such a period of uncommitted experimentation, during which youth can find itself makes it difficult to establish ego-identity.  As a substitute, for psychological identity, youth utilizes peer group symbols to establish a semi-identity of deprived and/or semi criminal groups. According to Mead, even education has become functional and "success" oriented. Consequently, the goals and values of adolescents are directed toward success, security, immediate gratification of desires, conformity, and social acceptance with little room for experimentation, idealism, utopianism, and personal martyrdom. Mead states that "failure to adopt our educational and social system...may be held responsible for some of the sense of self-alienation, search for negative identities, and so forth, characteristic of this present group of young people" (Mead, 1961, p.49, as cited in Muuss, 1975, p.111).

Mead does advocate greater freedom for the adolescent and less conformity to family, peer and community expectations to allow the adolescent to realize his creative potential. She states, "we can attempt to alter out whole culture, and especially our child-rearing patterns, so as to incorporate within them a greater freedom for and expectation of variations" (Mead, 1951, p.185 as cited in Muuss, 1975, p.112).

Mead also criticizes the American family for its too intimate organization and its crippling effect on the emotional life of the growing youth.  She believes that too strong family ties handicap the individual in his ability to live his own life and make his own choices.  She suggests that "it would be desirable to mitigate, at least in some slight measure, the strong role which parents play in children's lives, and so eliminate one of the most powerful accidental factors in the choices of any individual life" (Mead, 1950, p.141 as cited in Muuss, 1975, p.112). And, Muuss (1975) points out that even though Mead objects to the pattern of the American family that produces conformity and dependency in its children, she considers the family a tough institution and demonstrates that it is nearly universal.  Mead knows of no better way to produce wholesome individuals than through a tolerant family system in which "father says 'yes' and mother says 'no' about the same thing" (Mead, 1947, p.330 as cited in Muuss, 1975, p.112), and in which the adolescent can disagree with his parents without a resulting loss of love, self-respect, or increase of emotional tensions.

 Ruth Benedict's theory of continuities and discontinuities in cultural conditioning has important educational implications according to Muuss (1975). Our educational practices at home as well as in school should emphasize continuity in the learning process so that the child becomes conditioned to the same set of values and behavior in childhood that will be expected from him in adulthood.  The child should be taught nothing that he will have to unlearn in order to become a mature adult.  Changes in behavior, often constituting a discontinuity, are expected as the individual moves from elementary to high school, from college into the labor market, and from denial of sexuality before to sexual responsiveness following the wedding (p.113).

 Leta Hollingworth's Emphasis on the Continuity of Development

An influential theory of development has been espoused by Leta Hollingworth (1886-1939) in her book, The Psychology of the Adolescent (1928).  It is reported that she was even more pronounced than were Mead and Benedict in her attack on Hall's idea of adolescence as a period of "storm and stress." She dismissed his works as of little scientific or practical value.  Her views were influenced by the work of cultural anthropologists (Muuss, 1975, p.113).

Hollingworth emphasized the idea of continuity of development and the gradualness of change during the  adolescent period. She indicates that "the child grows by imperceptible degrees into the adolescent, and the adolescent turns by gradual degrees into the adult" (Hollingworth, 1928,p.1, as cited in Muuss, 1975, p.113). She challenged the idea that there were distinct stages and sharp dividing lines among the different "epochs," "stages", and "phases of development."

She also asserted that the sudden change in social status that results from puberty initiation rites and ceremonies of primitive people has become confused with the biological changes of organic development. She believed that there is no connection between the biological changes and the changes in social status.  She attributes these changes to social institutions and ceremonies only (Muuss, 1975, p.114).

 Kurt Lewin:  Field Theory and Adolescence

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) was a pupil of the early Gestalt school of psychologists at the University of Berlin.  He was influenced by Freud's psychoanalytic theory, specifically as it relates to motivation.  But Lewin's theory on adolescence is conceptually different from other theories.  His theory on adolescent development is explicitly stated in "Field Theory and Experiment in Social Psychology" (1939). His field theory explains and describes the dynamics of behavior of the individual adolescent without generalizing about adolescents as a group.  His constructs help to describe and explain, and predict the behavior of a given individual in a specific situation.  In a sense, the field theory of adolescence is expressed explicitly and stated more formally than other theories of adolescent development.

Field theory has successfully integrated the biological and sociological factors, which are frequently considered contradictory (for example, the nature vs. nurture issue).  Lewin makes explicit his position:  "the psychological influence of environment on the behavior and development of the child is extremely important" (Lewin, 1935,p.94); "psychology in general [is regarded] as a field of biology" (Lewin, 1935, p.35).

Fundamental to Lewin's theory of development is the view that adolescence is a period of transition in which the adolescent must change his group membership.  While both the child and the adult have a fairly clear concept of how they fit into the group, the adolescent belongs partly to the child group, partly to the adult group, without belonging completely to either group.  Parents, teachers, and society reflect this lack of clearly defined group status; and their ambiguous feelings toward the adolescent become obvious when they treat him at one time like a child and at another time like an adult.  Difficulties arise because certain childish forms of behavior are no longer acceptable.  At the same time some of the adult forms of behavior are not yet permitted either, or if they are permitted, they are new and strange to the adolescent (Muuss, 1975, p. 125).

The adolescent is in a state of "social locomotion," since he is moving into an unstructured social and psychological field.  Goals are no longer clear, and the paths to them are ambiguous and full of uncertainties--the adolescent may no longer be certain that they even lead to his goals.  Such ambiguities and uncertainties are illustrated will by the boy asking or hesitating to ask for his first date.  Since the adolescent does not yet have a clear understanding of his social status, expectations, and obligations, his behavior reflects this uncertainty (Muuss, 1975, p. 125).

For example, the adolescent is confronted with several attractive choices that at the same time have relatively impervious boundaries.  Driving a car, smoking pot, dropping acid, having sexual relations are all possible goals with positive valence, and thus they become a part of the adolescent's life space.  However, they are also inaccessible because of parental restrictions, legal limitations, or the individual's own internalized moral code.  Since the adolescent is moving through a rapidly changing field, he does not know the directions to specific goals and is open to constructive guidance, but he is also vulnerable to persuasion and pressure (Muuss, 1975, p. 125).

The self-image of an individual depends upon his body.  During the normal developmental process, body changes are so slow that the self-image remains relatively stable.  The body image has time to adjust to these developmental changes so that the individual knows his own body.  During adolescence changes in body structure, body experience, and new body sensations and urges are more drastic so that even the well-known life space of the body image becomes less familiar, unreliable, and unpredictable.  The adolescent is preoccupied with the normality of his body and how his body is perceived by others; he is concerned about and may actually be disturbed by his body image.  He spends considerable time studying his own image in the mirror and is concerned about the development of primary and secondary sex characteristics in relationship to age-mates.  This is understandable; obviously, the body is especially close to and vital to one's feelings of attractiveness, stability, security, and one's sex role.  Negative feelings about one's own body are related to a negative self-concept (Rosen and Ross, 1968) and may lead to emotional instability that can change one's orientation toward life.  Because of these various uncertainties adolescent behavior is characterized by an increased plasticity of personality that can lead to personality changes and even religious conversions (Muuss, 1975, p. 125).

Field theory defines adolescence as a period of transition from childhood to adulthood.  This transition is characterized by deeper and far-reaching changes, a faster rate of growth, and differentiation of the life space as compared with the preceding stage of late childhood.  The transition is also characterized by the fact that the individual enters a cognitively unstructured region that results in uncertainty of behavior.  Transition from childhood to adulthood is obviously a universal phenomenon, since children become mature adults in all societies.  However, the shift from childhood to adulthood can occur in different patterns.  It can take the form of a sudden shift, such as has been observed in primitive societies in which the puberty rites end childhood and signify the beginning of adulthood (Muuss, 1975, p. 126).  

According to Lewin, there are also cultural differences in adolescent behavior.  He attributes these differences to several factors:  the ideologies, attitudes, and values that are recognized and emphasized; the way in which different activities are seen as related or unrelated (for example, religion and work are more closely related in Mennonite society than in American society as a whole); and, the varying length of the adolescent period from culture to culture and from social class to social class within a culture. Moreover, the degree to which the child group and the adult group are differentiated in a given culture has far-reaching consequences for adolescent behavior.  The more clearly they are separated, the more difficult the transition (Lewin, 1942, as cited in Muuss, 1975,p.130).

 Roger Barker's Somatopsychological Theory of Adolescence

Roger Barker and others expanded and elaborated Lewin's theory of adolescent development in "Somatopsychological Significance of Physical Growth in Adolescence" (1953, as cited in Muuss, 1975,p.130). He uses the field theory to illustrate the effects of physiological changes on behavior during adolescence.  According to Barker body dimensions, physique, and endocrinological changes occur at an accelerated speed during adolescence as compared to the preadolescent years.  As a result, some corresponding psychological situations occur.

 First, "new psychological situations" arise during adolescence; and second, experiential psychological situations will take place in which "overlapping of the psychological field" occurs.  According to Barker, in the US, the child group is clearly separated from the adult group, for whom different forms of behavior are accepted.  Children have a social position equivalent to that of a minority group; this increases the difficulty of moving from one group to the other.  The possibility of moving from one social group to the other is determined informally by one's physique: looking like an adult makes it easier to get adult privileges (Muuss, 1975, p.132).

 Allison Davis:  Adolescence and Socialized Anxiety

Allison Davis defines "socialization" as the process by which an individual learns and adapts the ways, ideas, beliefs, values, and norms of his culture and makes them part of his personality.  He sees development as a continuous process of learning socially acceptable behavior by means of reinforcement and punishment.  Acceptable and unacceptable behavior are defined by each society, or its socializing agents, the subgroups, social classes, or castes.  Cultural behavior is acquired through social learning. Understanding the effects of social learning on adolescents is the crucial issue in Davis' theory (Muuss, 1975, p. 139).

Socialized anxiety serves as a motivating and reinforcing agent in the socialization process:  it brings about "anticipation of discomfort" and becomes a behavior-controlling mechanism. It is Davis' hypothesis that the effective socialization of adolescent behavior is dependent upon the amount of adaptive or socialized anxiety that has been implanted in an individual.  If an individual's socialized anxiety becomes strong enough, it will serve as an impetus toward mature, responsible, normal behavior.  It is implied that if socialized anxiety is too weak or too strong, the attainment of mature behavior is less likely (Muuss, 1975, p. 140).

The goals of socialization differ from culture to culture and from social class to social class within a culture. Social anxiety becomes attached to various forms of behavior depending upon the expectations, values, and definition of what is normal in a given social class. As an example, the  case is given that the middle class child acquires moral values, needs, and social goals different from those of the lower or upper class child.  Furthermore, since the middle class is more concerned with normality, success, morality, and status, the amount of socially instilled anxiety is greater than in the other classes.

It is the characteristic of middle-class youth that his social anxiety increases with the onset of adolescence, since he faces new developmental and behavioral tasks, such as preparation for work and heterosexual adjustment.  Furthermore, since the middle class is more concerned with normality, success, morality, and status, the amount of socially instilled anxiety is greater than in the other classes.  It is characteristic of middle-class youth that his social anxiety increases with the onset of adolescence, since he faces new developmental and behavioral tasks, such as preparation for work and heterosexual adjustment.  Furthermore, as he becomes increasingly aware of his own social needs -- having prestige, friends, being accepted by the peer group, relating to the opposite sex -- he becomes more sensitive to social cues and social pressures. Since he depends greatly upon social acceptance, prestige, and status, his social anxiety increases.   This produces an increased striving for socially desirable goals.  "Adolescents with a strongly developed social anxiety, therefore, usually strive for the approved social goals most eagerly and learn most successfully" (Davis, 1944, p. 208, as cited in Muuss, 1975, p. 140).

 Robert Havighurst's Developmental Tasks of Adolescence

According to Robert Havighurst, developmental tasks are defined as skills, knowledge, functions, and attitudes an individual has to acquire at a certain point in his or her life; they are acquired through physical maturation, social expectations, and personal efforts.  Successful mastery of these tasks will result in adjustment and will prepare the individual for the harder tasks ahead.  Failure in a given developmental task will result in a lack of adjustment, increased anxiety, social disapproval, and the inability to handle the more difficulty tasks to come (Muuss, 1975, p. 141).

Each task is the prerequisite for the next one.  For some of these tasks, there is a biological basis and consequently, there is a definite time limit within which a specific task must be accomplished.  The inability to master a task within its time limit may make later learning of that task more difficult, if not impossible.  Therefore, Havighurst believes there is a "teachable moment" for many developmental tasks.  Through its socializing agents and method of reinforcement and punishment, society attempts to help the individual learn those developmental tasks at their proper age levels (Muuss, 1975, p.142).

The developmental tasks for adolescence (from about 12 to 18 years) are:

Accepting one's physique and accepting a masculine or feminine role.
New relations with age-mates of both sexes.
Emotional independence of parents and other adults.
Achieving assurance of economic independence.
Selecting and preparing for an occupation.
Developing intellectual skills and concepts necessary for civic competence.
Desiring and achieving socially responsible behavior.
Preparing for marriage and family life.
Building conscious values in harmony with an adequate scientific world-picture.
  (Havighurst, 1951,pp.30-55, as cited in Muuss, 1975,p.142)

 Jean Piaget's Cognitive Theory of Adolescent Development

Jean Piaget began to look at the period of adolescent development later in his career with the publication of The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence (with B. Inhelder, 1958). Probably some of Piaget's notions about cognition, came from his work and experiences as an assistant to Alfred Binet in Paris, while Binet was developing his intelligence test. Piaget became fascinated with the thought processes children revealed in attempting to solve test problems.

Piaget outlines the developmental stages in cognitive development.  He discusses the concept of egocentrism in development.  The first and most pronounced period of egocentrism occurs toward the end of the sensorimotor stage.  The second burst of egocentrism appears toward the end of the preoperational stage and is reflected in a "lack of differentiation both between ego's and alter's point of view, between the subjective and the objective.  

According to Piaget, the final form of egocentrism occurs at the transition from the concrete to the formal stage as a result of enlarging the structure of formal operations. This high level egocentrism take the form of a naive but exuberant idealism with unrealistic proposals for educational, political, and social reforms, attempts at reshaping reality, and disregard for actual obstacles.  "The adolescent not only tries to adapt his ego to his social environment but, just as emphatically, tries to adjust the environment to his ego" (Inhelder and Piaget, 1958, p.343, as cited in Muuss, 1975,p. 186).

While the child at the concrete operational stage becomes able to reason on the basis of objects, the adolescent begins to reason on the basis of verbal propositions.  He can make hypothetical deductions and entertain the idea of relativity. "Formal thought reaches its fruition during adolescence.  An adolescent, unlike the child, is an individual who thinks beyond the present and forms theories about everything, delighting especially in consideration of that which is not" (Piaget, 1947, p.148, as cited in Muuss, 1975, p. 192). The adolescent can not only think beyond the present, but can analytically reflect about their own thinking.

The adolescent thinker can leave the real objective world behind and enter the world of ideas.  They are able to control events in their mind through logical deductions of possibilities and consequences.  Even the direction of his thought processes change.  The preadolescent begins by thinking about reality and attempts to extend thoughts toward possibility.  The adolescent, who has mastered formal operations, begins by thinking of all logical possibilities and then considers them in a systematic fashion; reality is secondary to possibility. "The most distinctive property of formal thought is this reversal of direction between reality and possibility....formal thought begins with a theoretical synthesis implying that certain relations are necessary and thus proceeds in the opposite direction....This type of thinking proceeds from what is possible to what is empirically real (Inhelder and Piaget, 1958, p.251).  This reversal of the direction of thought between reality and possibility constitutes a turning point in the development of the structure of intelligence, since it leads to an equilibrium that is both stable and fixed. (Muuss, 1975, p. 192).

Formal operations allow the adolescent to combine propositions and to isolate variables in order to confirm or disprove his hypothesis.  He no longer needs to think in terms of objects or concrete events, but can carry out operations of symbols in his mind (Muuss, 1975, p.193).

 Lawrence Kohlberg's Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Adolescent Morality

For Kohlberg, cognitive development precedes moral development. Morality is an idea of justice that is primitive, undifferentiated, and social as the adolescent moves through specific stages of moral thinking. In some individuals, it may reach an awareness of universal values and ethical principles.

Kohlberg distinguishes three basic levels of moral development:  the preconventional or premoral level; the conventional level; and the postcoventional or autonomous level.  Morality is an idea of justice that is primitive, undifferentiated, and egocentric in young children.  This becomes more sophisticated and social as the adolescent moves through specific stages of moral thinking; it may reach, in some individuals, an awareness of universal values and ethical principles (Muuss, 1975, p.311).

 Social Learning Perspectives on Adolescent Development

Re: Modeling, Imitation and Identification:  As children grow older they tend to imitate different models from their social environment.  The young child usually identifies with his parents and attempts to imitate their behavior, including language, gesture, and mannerism, as well as more basic attitudes and values. Identification with his teacher is not uncommon for the child entering school or for the preadolescent.  The child imitates speech patterns and mannerisms that he has observed in the teacher (Muuss, 1975, p. 235).  

Ideas about social or community issues the child expresses in dinner conversations and that are new to the family are often those of his teacher.  With the onset of adolescence parents and teachers frequently decline as important models, at least in regard to issues and choices that are of immediate consequences (Muuss, 1975, 235).

During adolescence it is the peer group and selected entertainment heroes who become increasingly important as models, especially if communication between parents and adolescents break down.  The adolescent peer group is particularly influential as a model in the use of verbal expressions, hair style, clothing, food, music and entertainment preferences, as well as in regard to decisions related to rapidly changing social values (Brittain, 1963, as cited in Muuss, 1975, p.236).

Some Summary Statements on Theories of Adolescent Development

There seems to be little disagreement on the fact that adolescence is a transition period between childhood and adulthood.  Two theorists, however, Bandura (1964) and Hollingworth (1928) believed that human development is a continuous process not divided into stages.  They believed that if adolescence has become a transition period for some individuals in our society, social conditions are responsible, not some intrinsic aspect of human development.

Lewin describes the adolescent as the marginal man and some other theorists seems to support his view.  Coleman (1961), in his book, The Adolescent Society, speaks of a teen-ager subculture, the adolescent society, which includes a large segment of the population for a fairly long period of time.  The transitional period is more noticeable if the child and adult groups are well defined, as they are in America today. This transition requires a reevaluation of one's relationship to the external world, to the social world, and to one's own internal, psychic world. (Muuss, 1975, p. 267).

It is observed that theorists such as Sherif (1947), Erikson (1959), and Friedenberg (1959), consider adolescence as the crucial period for the formation of the mature ego. Mead's research seems to support this idea as she states: "In most societies adolescence is a period of reexamination, and possible reorientation" (Mead, 1949, p.361, as cited in Muuss, 1975, p.267).

Piaget (1947) sees adolescence as a "decisive turning which the individual rejects, or at least revises his estimate of everything that has been inculcated in him, and acquires a personal point of view and a personal place in life."  There also is agreement by theorists that, during adolescence, the time perspective  expands, and past and future assume greater importance and become clearly differentiated. Piaget says that the adolescent can build theories and reflect beyond the present. And, according to Muuss (1975, p.267), this corresponds to a more definite planning of vocational activities, preparation for marriage, and the establishment of more specific and lasting life goals, including the need for achieving emotional and economic independence.

During adolescence, the irreality or fantasy level decreases in importance and is more clearly distinguished from reality.  Childlike play also decreases as obligations, responsibility, and social expectations increase (Muuss, 1975, p.267).

According to Muuss (1975), most theories postulate an important transitional phase of early adolescence between ten and fourteen years for girls and eleven and fifteen or sixteen for boys. What theorists no longer agree on is that there is a universal period of storm and stress.There is new evidence that adolescence is not typically a time of storm and stress but that experience a relatively stress-free period (Bandura, 1964; Offer, 1969).


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Related Links:

A Brief History of Adolescence

Teen Chicago:  A Brief History of Adolescence

The Medieval Child, Part 1: Childbirth, Childhood and Adolescence in the Middle Ages

The Medieval Child, Part 5: Childbirth, Childhood and Adolescence in the Middle Ages - The Learning Years

The Opportunity of Adolescence

Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Adolescent Development

Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture
See the Library of Congress online Exhibition about  the late anthropologist, Margaret Mead.  Learn about her life and contributions to our understanding about cross-cultural comparisons of human development.  Visit the section on "To the Field and Back."  See the following photographic essays: Samoa: The Adolescent Girl'; Manus: Childhood Thought; Making Wajangs; Sex and Temperament; Bali: Personality Formation; Iatmul: Personality Formation II.

Discussion Question:

Based on your careful reading and review of the above lesson on  the overview, history and theories of adolescent development,  outline and describe your own theory of adolescent development.  Which aspects of the theoretical explanations from this lesson do you find logical and realistic for you?  Provide your reasons why.  How do you see adolescent development being defined in the 21st century? Compare and contrast similarities and differences in adolescent development in the U.S. and abroad.

Compiled and written by Rosalyn M. King, February 2004.