Life in general has its up sides and downs, moments of turmoil and tranquillity. It isn’t different for any stages or moments in life. The concept that adolescence can be a time of turmoil is not a new concept in terms of popular understanding. It was believed that adolescence was a time of storm and stress (Heaven, 2001) and considered to be quite typical of adolescence, and hence not investigated as it was ‘normal’ (Peterson, 1988 cited in Heaven, 2001, p. 3). What are the reasons that this stage of life has such stigma? Who is feeling the turmoil?
In this essay I will be showing that this stage has a unique set of pressures on the individual that will lead to great changes. Many of these changes would be some of the factors that society and some social writers would see as a time of stress and storm, or a time of turmoil. Transition: childhood to adolescence to adulthood Adolescence is seen as a time of transition. Most social scientists can’t agree how long this transition is, nor when it starts or ends. Today it is even more difficult to define these ages as the stage of adolescence has ‘lengthened, both at the beginning and at the end’ (Coleman & Hendry, 1999, pp. 8).
It usually covers the second decade of life. The transition from childhood to adolescence is very evident, as many physical aspects will change. This stage also shows changes in intellectual growth of the individual. Adolescents will be able to engage in more complex and sophisticated self-concept (Coleman & Hendry, 1999). Children perceive things more as bad or good, right or wrong. Adolescents will start to feel and think differently. That is when questions such as ‘who am I? ‘ and ‘where am I going to in life? ‘ become more frequent.
But they will still lack the experiences to properly evaluate complex subjects. As their perception about hings change, they will engage with their parents, often starting an argument to help them establish what they really think about things (Figes, 2002). Figes (2002, pp. 132) will suggest that adolescents sometimes have arguments because ”they know no other way to make contact with their parents and make them hear what they really think or feel about things”. Each stage of life has its developmental tasks that a person must acquire or master in order to successfully move to the next stage. In order to move to adulthood the adolescent will face the problems, difficulties and developmental tasks that adolescence brings (Heaven, 2001).
Some of the tasks mentioned by various writers that I would think I experienced are: relationship with peers; emotional independence, preparation for a career, sense of morality (or ethical system) and development of a sex role identity. Heaven (2001) suggests that children that didn’t complete the developmental tasks of childhood successfully will be at a disadvantage as they enter their teens. Erikson (1968, pp. 162) says ”It is the ego’s function to integrate the psychosexual and psychosocial on a given level of development and at the same time integrate the relation of newly added identity elements with those already in existence… ‘. I would interpret this to mean that the new identity to be formed needs all the skills and achievement acquired in the previous stages.
Therefore some of the conflicts experienced by the individual in this stage could be a reflection of some tasks that were not successfully achieved in the previous one. Adolescents also oscillate between childish ways and their chronological age. Figes (2002, pp. 116) says that all the new performances of adolescence and the emotional consequences of all this new perception can be too much for an adolescent and that is when they ”find it deeply relaxing to be allowed to wallow in childhood again”.
Adults often expect rational consistent adult thought from adolescents as some of them look so grown-up physically, but it can take years till the physical, psychological and social changes come together (Figes, 2002). This transition can become very intense as some adults (parents, teachers, etc. ) will demand a constant level of maturity of thoughts, behaviour, and industry. The lack of understanding and tolerance in this situation would result in some clashes between the adolescents and adults. Identity formation
Identity involves the adoption of a sexual orientation, a set of values and ideas and a vocational direction (Coleman and Hendry, 1999). The identity process is not a new task, it is part of the individual since infancy, and doesn’t finish in adolescence. It reaches it final phase in old age. Erikson (1968, pp. 155) believed that the search for an identity would become increasingly acute at this stage, these new identifications would ”lead to commitments for life” He also stated or implied that some form of crisis is necessary for the adolescent to resolve the identity issue and to successfully defeat identity confusion.
Erikson (1968) believed that if the parents allow the child to explore, they will conclude their own identity. However, if the parents continually push him/her to conform to their views, the teen will face identity confusion. According to him identity diffusion would disable the ability of the adolescent to achieve, what I would call, a balanced identity. He calls one of those components of identity crisis ‘Negative Identity’. This is when the adolescent will choose an identity exactly the opposite to the ”family or immediate community” (Erikson, 1968).
It can lead to hostile behaviour from the adolescent and would, without any doubt, have serious consequences to all involved. Newman and Newman (cited in Heaven, 2001, p. 29) says that implicit in identity formation is role experimentation. Adolescents are aware of the different set of behaviours, roles, values and life styles. They are likely to experiment with a range of behaviours and roles as they set out to achieve their identity (Heaven, 2001). That is when some conflicts with parents may arise as some family norms may be challenged and it can lead to misunderstanding from both sides.
Heaven (2001) suggests that identity diffusion would be more than normal to occur at this stage as it would be natural for the adolescent to experiment with a wide variety of behaviours. Erikson (1968, 164) states that these activities and behaviours are simply ‘experimentation in fantasy’ and introspection, and serve ultimately to clarify personal identity. In a simplistic explanation I would say it is like trying on different sets of clothes and then deciding which one serves best. It seems that adolescents face many challenges on this search for a true identity. It is definitely not an easy exercise, in fact it can be very stressful.
The developmental tasks that teenagers have to confront such as physical changes, establishing effective social and working relationships, coming to terms with one’s sexuality and establishing an identity or preparation for a career can definitely cause lots of stress (Heaven, 2001). The level of stress caused can also depend on many other social and cultural aspects, and family relationship. It was always assumed that stress on adolescents was caused by hormones, but new studies in USA suggests that it is the increasing change that takes place in the mind that would create turmoil (Figes, 2002).
Family In adolescence the individual will confront the challenge of developing autonomy, the capacity to think, feel and act on their own. One aspect of autonomy involves the need for the adolescent to realize that her/his emotions are independent from those of his/her parents (Figes, 2002). Some may say that the development of independence is one of the key tasks for the adolescent (Coleman ; Hendry, 1999). This may cause some reactions with the people involved and that is when conflicts may rise and if badly handled could go to extremes.
Other factors would have a significant affect on this need of autonomy such as circumstances of the family, ethnic background, cultural, social and economic opportunities, gender and many other factors including the personality of the individual (Coleman ; Hendry, 1999). I would think that this need of independence from the teenager would raise some uncomfortable feelings in some parents, if not all parents. Feelings such as fear. Fear of losing the child, fear of losing control, fear of not being needed. The teenager’s need of independence could also be interpreted as rejection.
Talking to a friend that has a 16 year old daughter and is not currently experiencing a good relationship with her husband, she shared with me that she feels ‘rejected’ by her daughter. She doesn’t have her beside her as it used to be and her daughter prefers to go out more often with her friends than with her. The peer group is a very important part of the growing aspect of an adolescent and a big topic in its own right. Some of these aspects that I think important and relevant here are that it provides: a context for sociable behaviour, exploration of personal relationships and sense of belonging, a source of self-esteem.
Peer group also brings a sense of status. The relationship with parents is slowly changing, the adolescent is not yet part of the adult society, therefore a sense of status is lost (Heaven, 2001). Peer group facilitates the achievement of identity and is also a source of companionship (Heaven, 2001). Coleman and Hendry (1999, pp. 107) states that during adolescence ”Peer groups become more important in determining interest and influencing the behaviour and the personality of the individual’. It can work as a support. It seems that the peer group will somehow facilitate the independence of the adolescent from the adults.
We also have to acknowledge that it can have a negative influence that will cause stress on the adolescent, families and society. Discussing adolescence in class and in the process group, I remember that the question was raised if this time was a ‘rebellious time’ for us? If any of us remember rebelling against our families? Now it makes me think if the search for independence and own identity could be seen as a rebellion. As I’ve always considered myself a ‘nice’ teenager, I couldn’t think of my adolescence as being rebellious.
But after recalling some events in my adolescence I realized that becoming protestant, when 95% of my family is Catholic, was a way to find my own place, my emotional autonomy, and to ‘rebel’ against the identity that was imposed on me. I would say this moment was a peaceful rebellion, though my mother and other relatives were not impressed by my change and created some heated confrontations. Now, as I am older, I appreciate more some of the Catholic traditions, showing that when I decided to break away from it, it was more to do with an adolescent in search of identity then a complete disbelief in a theology/religion.
I wouldn’t say that the search for ones’ own identity and the task of autonomy would always be a conflict between the adolescent and the adult. Most writers say that the amount of teenagers that have a bad relationship with their parents is a minority. A study conducted in ten different countries found that most of the adolescents surveyed had good relations with their families (Heaven, 2001). Conclusion In Adolescence the individual faces so many changes and pressures that it wouldn’t be normal if stress or conflicts never happened. The developmental tasks of this stage involve leaving behind some behaviour of the previous tage, and adopting new behaviour and concepts that will be important for the future. It brings a greater sense of responsibility as some choices will be for life. It also brings physical changes that are like a re-discovering of self or even meeting a new self. Looking at all these transformations occurring, we can only assume that it is fact that it can be a time of turmoil for the individual. The fiction starts when some adolescent behaviour that is extreme and non-acceptable is generalized across or used to characterise adolescence as a whole.
Also parents, because of lack of understanding, tolerance, and their own personal issues, can blame the adolescent for their incapacity to deal with the real problems. Some adolescents can become the spot light because of their bad behaviour, but the root of their problem might not be the phase they are going through but a bad style of upbringing. For example no clear boundaries or respect is a common problem that is often showed on ‘Super Nanny’. It is also easier for governments to stigmatise this stage as problematic than to accept that there are not enough resources put towards this group.
The question is then how powerful or devastating would this turmoil be. They would certainly vary, as we have discussed above, there are many other influential facts that influence some of the adolescent’s behaviour. The analogy I compare this to is that of earthquakes. It is known that our planet experiences earthquakes every minute. The whole planet! But they are not all devastating and in the majority of time they are not even felt on the surface.
Coleman J, Hendry L. B. , (1999), The Nature of Adolescence, 3rd ed. , London, Routledge Erikson E. H. 1968), Identity Youth and Crisis, New York: W. W. Norton. Figes, K (2002), The Terrible Teens: what every parent should know, London, Penguin Heaven, Patrick C. L. (2001), The Social Psychology of Adolescence, 2nd ed. , England, Palgrave Publishers Ltd Bibliography: Brainbridge, D (2009), Teenagers: a natural history, London, Portobello Books Ltd Jacobs, M (2006), The Presenting Past, 3rd ed. , England, Open University Press Rayner, E. et al. , (1971), Human Development: an introduction to the psychodynamics of growth, maturity, and ageing, 4th ed. , East Sussex, Routledge