Sunday, June 28, 2009


Adolescence is the period of psychological and social transition between childhood and adulthood. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines adolescence as the period of life between 10 and 19 years of age. In contrast, in the United States, adolescence generally begins at age 13, and ends at 20. "Adolescence" is a cultural and social phenomenon and therefore its endpoints are not easily tied to physical milestones. The word derives from the Latin verb adolescere meaning "to grow up." The ages of adolescence vary by culture. As a transitional stage of human development it represents the period of time during which a juvenile matures into adulthood.

Adolescence is not a universal state. Rather, it is as invention of modern societies that emphasize a transition between the carefree childhood years and the more complex responsibilities of adulthood. Most cultures regard people as becoming adults at various ages of the teenage years. For example, Jewish tradition considers males to be adult members of the community at age 13 and females at age 12, and this transition is celebrated in the Bat Mitzvah for girls and the Bar Mitzvah for boys. Young Catholics have the sacrament of confirmation and then are full members of the community. Usually, there is a formal age of majority when adolescents formally become adults. For example, Japan's celebration of this is called seijin shiki ("Adult ceremony"). However, in a traditional society like ours, adolescence is hardly a distinct period in person’s life. As soon as a child grows up to be able to do certain chores that most adults do, he is considered an adult. Some youngsters start taking all the responsibilities of a grownup as soon as they step into the teenage. Issue of adolescence is thus more applicable to the educated and the modern society.

Adolescence is characterized by profound biological, psychological and social developmental changes. The biological onset of adolescence is signalled by rapid speeding up of skeletal growth and the beginnings of physical sexual development. The psychological onset is characterized by acceleration of cognitive development and consolidation of personality formation. Socially adolescence is a period of intensified preparation for the coming role of young adulthood. It is a time of adjusting to the bodily changes, of new relationship with members of the opposite sex, and of emerging intellectual powers.

By virtue of schooling and disposition, adolescents often find themselves pondering and debating major social and political issues. Many find that adolescent years as a time of confusion and despair. They can have conflicts with parents, anxiety about scholastic performance, and pressure for peer recognition. However, not all encounter serious problems in personal adjustment, nor do they hold sharply negative attitudes towards their parents.

The conflicting opinions may result from the different ways that adolescents respond to the teenage years. Some react by challenging and testing authority, whereas others adjust relatively easily. Should there be a legal drinking age? Is premarital sex wrong? Adolescents debate these issues with great passion and a probing intellect. Risk-taking behaviour is very common at this age. It can involve alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use. Promiscuous sexual activity, which is especially dangerous in view of the risk of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and accident-prone fast driving are common.

What would prompt the adolescents to behave this way? One reason is that risk taking seems to be natural component of the teenage years. Adolescents often maintain an unrealistic sense of their own vulnerability. They believe that little enduring harm will come their way. Death and disability are things for the older people to worry about. Even more curious, however, is the tendency of the adolescents to assess incorrectly the likelihood that misfortune will befall on them. For example, they at times erroneously conclude that risks such as pregnancy following unprotected intercourse, or addiction from drug abuse are less likely to occur. Adolescents do not lack the logical abilities, but despite that, they often act irrationally, even to the point of endangering their own lives. Personal needs sometimes cloud the judgement of adolescents and lead them to engage in extremely risky actions.

At the beginning of adolescence, thinking usually becomes abstract, conceptual, and future oriented. Many adolescents show remarkable creativity, which they express in writing, music, art, and poetry. Creativity is also expressed in sports and in adolescents’ interests in the world of ideas, humanitarian issues, morals, ethics and religion. A major task of adolescence is to achieve a secure sense of self. Identity diffusion is a failure to develop a cohesive self or self awareness. Adolescent identity crisis is partly resolved by the move from dependency to independence.

Understanding adolescents is a difficult task. “No, I can do it myself. Don’t tell me how long my hair should be. Don’t tell me what to wear”. This negativism is a renewed attempt to tell parents and the world that young persons have minds of their own. Negativism becomes an active, verbal way of expressing anger; adolescents may seize almost any issue to express their independence. However, most teenage can negotiate the demands of school and family life with little disruption. Therefore, serious mood and behaviour disturbances during adolescence should be considered potential symptoms of mental illness and be investigated.

The school experience accelerates and intensifies separation from the family. More and more adolescents live in a world unfamiliar to their parents. Home becomes just a base; the real world is the school and the most important relationships, besides the adolescents’ family, are with persons of similar ages and interests. Adolescents attempt to establish a personal identity separate from their parents but close enough to the family structure to be included. Although adolescents tend to depend on peers for day-to-day support, the social support provided by the parents has a stress-buffering effect in emergency situations. Adolescents often view themselves through the eyes of their peers, and any deviation in appearance, dress code, or behaviour can result in diminished self-esteem. Parents must be aware of the sudden, frequent changes in friendships, personal appearance, and interests but must not show the authority to change that.

Parents of adolescents have their own problems. In addition to having to deal with the turmoil that accompanies the adolescent development, parents of adolescents are usually middle aged and must also make adjustment to work, to marriage, and to their own parents. Many difficulties surround adolescents’ need to assume increased independence from home, a move that can be threatening to parents who cannot let go and who want to maintain control of their children. Some parents may be unable to set limits of behaviour; others act out their hidden or unconscious fantasies through the lives of their children.

In spite of these possibilities, parents of adolescents report few major altercations and get along with their children. For most part, adolescents are receptive to parental approval and disapproval, and most adolescents and their parents can bridge the generation gap successfully. When they do not, the failure may arise from mental disorders in children, parents or both. Mental disorders are often associated with delinquent behaviour, rebelliousness, and academic failure – all of which may contribute to family disharmony.

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