The term may be applied to the emotional and behavioural states supposedly associated with becoming adult; the phase in the life-cycle before the physical changes associated with puberty are socially recognized; or the transition in status from childhood to adulthood.
Typically, in modern industrial societies, young people are sexually mature well before society acknowledges them as adults in other respects; and, because of education and training, they remain dependent on parents and guardians. Consequently, adolescence has been seen as a time of peak emotional turbulence (see, The Nature of Adolescence, 1980). Although few sociologists would dismiss the idea that physical change may of itself bring about behavioural change, or that young people do face a tension between sexual and social maturity, the value of the term adolescence is questionable. Comparisons with even the recent past show that children frequently had to become adults as soon as they could do useful work.
Anthropologists too describe numerous examples (especially in age-set societies) where the transition to adulthood is abrupt, marked by clear rites of passage , and relatively free from alleged adolescent problems. Surveys and other field studies in the industrialized West itself have cast doubt on the ideas that adolescence is typically any more stressful than any other stage in life or that the majority of teenagers are rebellious. The treatment of adolescence as a social problem may say more about the stereotypes of youth in the adult world and indicate a moral panic about youth culture (a critique along these lines will be found in, Growing Up at the Margins, 1986). For an overview of the literature see, The Adolescent in the Family (1991).

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.


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