Chapter 3 Discussion Do you think you are an adult? Why or why not? Please be sure to compare yourself to others your age.  400 words CHAPTER 3 Notes Soc

Chapter 3 Discussion Do you think you are an adult? Why or why not? Please be sure to compare yourself to others your age. 

400 words CHAPTER 3 Notes
Social Transitions


A. In all societies, adolescence is a time of change in individuals’ social roles and status. The
social redefinition of individuals during adolescence has important implications for their
behavior and psychosocial development. This time of transition to more adult roles may
prompt self-evaluation and redefinition of the adolescent’s self-image. As adolescents
reach the age of majority (legal age for adult status), they begin to act and see
themselves in different ways and are treated differently by others. For example,
adolescents experience changes in identity, autonomy, responsibility, intimacy,
sexuality, and achievement.


A. Adolescence is longer today than it has ever been before. Youth start puberty earlier
and enter into adult roles of work and family later. In the middle of the 19th century,
adolescence lasted around 5 years—that’s how long it took girls to go from menarche to
marriage. By 2010, it took 15 years for the average girl to go from menarche to
marriage. For more than a decade, adolescents are caught between the world of
childhood and the world of adulthood. This extended time period has led to a more
vague and disorderly transition to adulthood, especially for youth growing up in poverty.
It also has important implications for how adolescents see themselves, relate to others,
and develop psychologically. Today’s adolescents are probably no less emotionally
mature than the adolescents of 100 years ago, but young people today are economically
“immature” because so much formal education is needed to assume adult roles.


A. Inventionists have argued that adolescence is more a social invention than a biological
or cognitive phenomenon. Many of these theorists view the behaviors and problems
characteristic of adolescence in contemporary society as a consequence of the
particular way that adolescence is defined and young people are treated rather than the
result of biological or cognitive factors.

B. The “Invention” of Adolescence: According to inventionists, adolescence as a distinct
developmental period did not exist until the Industrial Revolution. Before the 19th
century, children were treated as miniature adults, a source of labor for their families
(or to whomever they were apprenticed), and nurtured in the roles they would be
expected to fill in later life. The primary distinction between children and adults was
based on property ownership rather than age or ability.

C. The Impact of Industrialization: Industrialization of the workplace led to dramatic shifts
in job opportunities, patterns of work, and family life. Changes in the economy led to a
shortage of jobs, competition for unskilled jobs between adults and adolescents, and an
increase in crime. As a result, child protectionists, as well as adults concerned about
their own employment, removed adolescents from the labor force and placed them in
formal schooling.

D. The Origins of Adolescence as We Know It Today: It was not until the late 19th century
that adolescence came to be seen as a lengthy period of preparation for adulthood, in
which young people remain economically dependent on their elders. With these
changes came the rise of new terminology and ideas. Adolescents were now considered
“teenagers,” a term popularized about 75 years ago to connote a more frivolous and
lighthearted image. An important social change that led to the development of the
concept of teenager was the increased affluence and economic freedom enjoyed by
American adolescents. Advertisers recognized that teenagers represented an important
consumer group and began targeting ad campaigns toward the lucrative adolescent
market. A second term, “youth,” once used to refer to individuals between the ages of
12 and 24, is now a term generally used to refer to individuals between the ages of 18
and 22. The need for highly trained individuals in the workplace has lengthened the
period of formal schooling into college-level training and graduate school in preparation
to enter adult work and family roles.

E. Emerging Adulthood: A New Stage of Life or a Luxury of the Middle Class? This delay of
transition to adulthood is so prevalent in many industrialized societies that some
theorists have proposed a new life stage—“emerging adulthood”—which may last for
some individuals until their mid-20s. The main proponent of this idea, psychologist
Jeffrey Arnett, contends that the period between ages 18 and 25 is a unique
developmental period, characterized by five main features: (1) the exploration of
possible identities before making enduring choices; (2) instability in work, romantic
relationships, and living arrangements; (3) a focus on oneself, specifically on functioning
as an independent person; (4) the feeling of being between adolescence and adulthood;
and (5) the sense that life holds many possibilities.

F. Is Emerging Adulthood Universal? Research has shown that emerging adulthood exists
in few countries: the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the
wealthier nations of Western Europe. It is more often seen among affluent adolescents
who can “afford” to explore than among more working-class youths. Even in wealthy
nations, there is a great deal of variability among people in their mid-20s in terms of
emerging adulthood. Emerging adulthood relates to values and priorities as well as
economics. Some emerging adults live the way they do because they want to take some
time before assuming adult responsibilities.

G. Psychological Well-Being in Emerging Adulthood: There is limited research on
psychological development during emerging adulthood. The research that does exist
suggests that, for those who experience emerging adulthood, this is a time of increasing
well-being and positive mental health. At the same time, however, the period between

18 and 25 is a time during which a substantial number of people report serious mental
health problems such as depression or substance abuse. Some researchers classify
people from 18 to 26 as “succeeding,” “maintaining,” or “stalling” based on their
responses to questions about peer involvement, education, work, substance abuse,
romantic involvement, social conscience or political awareness, and financial autonomy.


A. Changes in social definition at adolescence typically involve a two-sided modification in
the individual’s status. Adolescents are granted some privileges and rights that are
typically reserved for the society’s adult members, but this increased power and
freedom is generally accompanied by increased expectations for self-management,
personal responsibility, and social participation.

B. Drawing a Legal Boundary: The attainment of adult status is one example of the double
shift in social status. In contemporary America, attaining the age of majority brings new
freedoms (e.g., the right to vote, the right to purchase and view X-rated films) as well as
new obligations (e.g., the expectation to serve their communities in cases of emergency
or need). Additionally, once an adolescent is designated as an adult, she or he is also
subject to a new set of laws and will be treated differently by the society’s legal
institutions than a child would be. Adolescents who engage in behaviors that are
considered illegal for their age but not for adults are said to be committing status
offenses (e.g., curfew, truancy). In addition, a separate juvenile justice system has been
created to handle adolescent crime and delinquency whereas adults are tried in the
criminal justice system. In general, sanctions are usually less severe in juvenile court;
however, this is not always the case. Several issues surrounding the legal status of
adolescents remain vague and confusing. Development in the adolescent years is so
rapid and variable that establishing a chronological age at which a defendant should be
prosecuted as an adult is often difficult. This problem is complicated by the fact that we
draw the adult/child boundary at different places for different purposes (e.g., driving at
16, voting at 18, buying alcohol at 21).

C. Adolescents as Criminal Defendants: The greatest disagreement among those wrestling
with this contentious issue of where to “draw the line” arises from the question of how
society should view and adjudicate young people who commit serious violent offenses.
There has been a trend to try more juveniles as adults in criminal court. As a result, the
issue of whether an adolescent is competent to stand trial has emerged. In a study of
11- to 24-year-olds, one-third of those aged 13 and younger and one-fifth of the 14- and
15-year-olds were as impaired in their abilities to serve as a defendant as were mentally
ill adults who had been found not competent to stand trial. Research also indicates that
juveniles, compared to adults, are more likely to confess to a crime than remain silent,
less likely to understand their rights when being questioned by the police, and less likely
to discuss disagreements with their attorneys.

D. Inconsistencies in Adolescents’ Legal Status: In general, the law tends to restrict the
behavior of adolescents when the behavior is viewed as potentially dangerous (e.g.,
buying cigarettes) but has supported adolescent autonomy when the behavior is viewed
as having potential benefit (e.g., using contraceptives).


A. Social redefinition is more like a process than a single, isolated event. The process of
social redefinition typically begins, in the United States, at 15 or 16 years of age and
continues well into the adult years. Some societies mark the transition to adulthood
with an elaborate initiation ceremony. Initiation ceremonies, or rites of passage,
typically mark the beginning of a long period of training and preparation for adulthood
rather than the adolescent’s final passage into adult status. In many societies, the social
redefinition of young people occurs in groups of peers of approximately the same age—
cohorts—that move through a series of status transitions together. These cohorts can
develop strong bonds, as in the case of class spirit in U.S. high schools and adolescent
Latinas celebrating their quinceañeras.

B. Common Practices in the Process of Social Redefinition: Although there is a good deal of
cross-cultural variability in specific practices, three general themes are usually found:
the real (e.g., outplacing or apprenticeship) or symbolic separation of the young person
from his or her parents, the accentuation of physical and social differences between
males and females, and the passing on of cultural, historical, and practical information
from the older generation. The segregation of male and female adolescents in
traditional societies may preclude many life course trajectories. This is especially true
for women, to whom formal schooling, dress choice, and even freedom of movement
may be denied. Contemporary societies have few formal ceremonies marking the
transition from childhood into adolescence. However, some contemporary ceremonies
are still practiced, such as the quinceañera and the Bar or Bas Mitzvah. The third aspect
of social redefinition, the passing on of information from the older generation, may
involve (1) matters thought to be important to adults but of limited use to children, (2)
matters thought to be necessary for adults but unfit for children, or (3) matters
concerning the history or rituals of the family or community. In some parts of the world,
initiation ceremonies also may include scarification, the intentional creation of scars on
some parts of the body that provide tangible proof of a transition to adulthood.
Although this may seem odd and alien at first glance, there are some parallels in
Western culture, including the body rituals of tattooing, piercing, and shaving.


A. Two important dimensions along which societies differ in the process of social
redefinition are in the clarity (or explicitness) and continuity (or smoothness) of the
adolescent’s passage into adulthood.

B. Variations in Clarity: There are few universal markers in our contemporary society to
delineate adulthood. Different schedules and life course trajectories may also blur the
lines of where the transition to adulthood occurs. More traditional cultures in other
parts of the world typically have more clearly defined social redefinition of adolescents
marked by ceremonies or initiations. Our contemporary culture often lacks discrete
markers of social redefinition at the onset of adulthood.

C. The Clarity of Social Redefinition in Contemporary Society: School graduation ceremonies
have become one of our most universal rites of passage in contemporary society, yet
this transition does not provide any clear indication of what adult responsibilities or
privileges a youth may have. In fact, we have different age boundaries for different
activities (e.g., driving a car, drinking alcohol, voting) and sometimes adolescents can be
treated differently in different contexts (e.g., treated like an adult at work but like a
child at home).

D. Adolescents’ Views of Themselves: As there are no consistent markers as to when
adolescence ends and young adulthood begins, adolescents living in the same society
can have varying beliefs about age-appropriate behavior and their own social status.
Studies of how people define adulthood in contemporary society indicate three
interesting trends. First, adolescents from industrialized societies place less emphasis on
the attainment of specific roles (e.g., spouse, parent, worker) and more emphasis on
character traits related to self-reliance as indicators of adult attainment than do
adolescents from nonindustrialized cultures. Parents in modern industrialized societies
emphasize psychosocial maturity as the defining feature of reaching adulthood. Second,
over time, there has been a striking decline in the importance of family roles as defining
features of the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Finally, the defining criteria of
adulthood have become more or less the same for males and females in contemporary
industrialized society, unlike the case in traditional societies or during previous eras.

E. The Clarity of Social Redefinition in Traditional Cultures: In traditional cultures, the
transition from adolescence to adulthood is often marked by a formal initiation
ceremony. Unlike the case in contemporary society where it is often difficult to
distinguish between initiated and uninitiated young people, in most traditional societies,
the differences between children and adults are clear. For example, in traditional
cultures, new types of clothing may be worn following initiation, or some sort of surgical
operation or scarification may be performed to create a permanent means of marking
the individual’s adult status.

F. The Circumcision Controversy: One practice involving the physical transformation of the
adolescent that has generated a great deal of controversy is circumcision. Male
circumcision during infancy is very common in the United States and has been related to
a decrease in health risks. There is no evidence that circumcision harms men
emotionally. On the other hand, female circumcision (female genital mutilation)—which
is rarely practiced outside of North Africa—carries no health benefits and is very risky
for young women (e.g., infection and chronic pain during urination, menstruation, and

sexual intercourse). After circumcision, it is virtually impossible for a woman to achieve
an orgasm during sex. Many international groups consider female genital mutilation to
be a human rights violation that should end worldwide.

G. The Clarity of Social Redefinition in Previous Eras: Compared to the 1960s, the transition
to adulthood appears much later. For example, the average age of marriage in the 1960s
was 20 years for women and 22 years for men. Today, the average age of marriage is 27
years for women and 29 years for men. In 1960, fewer than 10 percent of young adults
between the ages of 25 and 34 lived with their parents; in 2014, close to 15 percent of
this same age group lived with parents. In 1960, a high proportion of adolescents went
directly from high school into full-time employment or the military (with only one-third
of American high school graduates going directly to college); today, about two-thirds of
high school graduates go directly to college. In sum, three key elements of the transition
to adulthood—getting married, moving out of the parents’ home, and completing one’s
education—all occurred relatively earlier than they do today. However, if we are to look
back to the late 19th century, age of marriage for males was roughly the same (26 in the
late 19th century and 29 today). Also, the proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds living at
home was much higher early in the 20th century than it was during the 1950s (in 1940,
nearly 30 percent of this age group lived with parents or grandparents). As such, even
though the term may be new, “emerging adulthood” is not a new phenomenon.

H. Variations in Continuity: In addition to the clarity of the adolescent passage, societies
vary in the extent to which the transition into adulthood is gradual or abrupt. In a
continuous transition, characteristic of more traditional societies, the adolescent
assumes the roles and status of adulthood bit by bit, with a good deal of preparation
and training along the way. In a discontinuous transition, characteristic of contemporary
societies, the adolescent is thrust into adulthood abruptly, with little prior preparation.

I. The Continuity of the Adolescent Passage in Contemporary Society: Although
adolescents are expected to attain adult roles, we provide little training for these
responsibilities. For example, adolescents tend to be segregated from the workforce
and receive little training in school for the types of jobs they will hold as adults. As such,
the transition into adult work roles is fairly discontinuous for most young people in
industrialized society. In addition, adolescents have very little experience with adult
family roles such as being a parent. Adolescents also have little experience with decision
making and citizenship roles and, at the age of 18 when they are permitted to vote,
have received little preparation on how to participate. It is interesting that adolescents
are segregated from these adult activities for most of their childhood and youth;
however, they are expected to suddenly assume these roles on reaching the age of

J. The Continuity of the Adolescent Passage in Traditional Cultures: Societies in which
hunting, fishing, and farming are the primary work activities tend to exhibit a more
continuous transition between adolescence and adulthood. Children are typically not
isolated in separate educational institutions, and they accompany the adult members of

their community in daily activities. However, with modernization and globalization, this
continuous passage is dissolving.

K. The Continuity of the Adolescent Passage in Previous Eras: The transition from
adolescence to adulthood was more continuous during the 18th and 19th centuries than
it is today. For example, many families were engaged in farming, and adolescents were
expected to carry on the family trade, whereas other youths left home to work as
apprentices so that they could learn skills in preparation for adulthood work roles. In
addition, adolescents were more likely to assist with family responsibilities such as
caring for infants and monitoring younger siblings, which helped prepare them for more
domestic responsibilities.

L. Current Trends in Home Leaving: Individuals are living with their parents longer today
than in recent years due to the cost of housing and transportation. Although in the
1960s, living at home was deemed to be less independent and more immature, today it
is viewed as the norm. For the first time in more than 100 years, most 18- to 34-year-
olds in the United States live with their parents. People of this age who live with parents
do not have as steep a rise in the use of alcohol and drugs as those who go off to
college. Historic events such as the Great Recession in the first decade of this century
and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina may have temporarily altered the nature
of the adolescent passage.


A. We don’t know whether the prolonged and discontinuous passage into adulthood has
improved or worsened adolescents’ psychosocial development. It much probably
depends on access to resources. Many social commentators describe three transitions
to adulthood in the United States today: one for the “haves,” one for the “have nots,”
and one for those who are in between. Two specific societal trends are reshaping the
nature of the transition from adolescence to adulthood: (1) the length of the transitional
period is increasing and (2) as success in the labor force increasingly depends on formal
education, the division between those who have access to resources (e.g., money,
schools, information technology) and those who do not (e.g., those who are poor, less
educated) will continue to amplify. Also, as emerging adults continue to delay
assumption of adult roles and as the age of puberty continues to drop, the length of
adolescence will keep increasing. In China, India, and other developing countries,
economic improvements have led to more schooling, which in turn leads to greater
inequality within each country.

B. Special Transitional Problems of Poor and Minority Youth: Black, Hispanic, and American
Indian youth have more trouble negotiating the transition into adulthood than do their
White and Asian counterparts (which could be due to poverty, discrimination,
segregation, and disproportionate involvement with the justice system). Youngsters
from minority backgrounds make up a substantial and growing portion of the adolescent
population in America. Research suggests that, in general, foreign-born adolescent

immigrants have better mental health, exhibit less problem behavior, and perform
better in school than adolescents from the same ethnic group who are native-born
Americans. It appears that “Americanization” makes immigrant adolescents worse, not

C. The Effects of Poverty on the Transition Into Adulthood: Poverty inhibits the smooth
transition from adolescence to adulthood. The effects of poverty on the transition into
adulthood include increased likelihood of failure in school, unemployment, delinquency,
out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and teen pregnancy. Minority youth are more likely to grow
up poor. Because minority youngsters are more likely to grow up poor, they are more
likely to have transitional problems in middle to late adolescence. Black and Native
American youth are more likely to be exposed to violence.

D. What Can Be Done to Ease the Transition? As a means of making the transition into
adulthood smoother, a number of commissions have recommended that we reexamine
the structure of schools and expand work and service opportunities (both military and
nonmilitary) for young people—especially for those young people who are not college
bound. Others have pointed out that adolescents cannot come of age successfully
without the help of adults and that programs are needed to strengthen families and
communities and to bring adolescents into contact with adult mentors.

E. Mentoring: Mentoring programs have had a small yet positive effect on youth
development. Adolescents who have been mentored are less likely to have problems in
school and at home, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, and less likely to get into
trouble with the law. However, mentoring alone is not enough to meet the needs of at-
risk youth. Most experts agree that a comprehensive approach to the problem is needed
and that such an approach must simultaneously address adolescents’ educational,
employment, interpersonal, and health needs.


A. Poverty in the United States has become much more concentrated in the past four
decades. Because of growing numbers of poor families in economically and racially
segregated communities, researchers have begun to explore whether neighborhood
poverty, in addition to family poverty, is predictive of adolescents’ transition difficulties.
Different studies have found positive, neutral, or negative effects when families move to
more advantaged neighborhoods. It is possible that adolescents who move to wealthier
neighborhoods experience more discrimination than those who do not. Some evidence
shows that parents in poor neighborhoods monitor their children more closely, and
adolescents who are closely monitored tend to have fewer problems.

B. The Price of Privilege: Although poverty has a wide range of adverse consequences for
adolescents’ development, there is accumulating evidence that growing up in an
extremely affluent neighborhood may carry its own risks. Compared to teenagers in

middle-class communities, adolescents in wealthy neighborhoods report higher levels of
delinquency, substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. Pressure to excel in school and
in extracurricular activities may be a factor in these problems.

C. Impact of Poverty on Adolescent Development: Adolescents growing up in impoverished
communities are more likely than their peers from equally poor households, but better
neighborhoods, to be sexually active at an earlier age, to achieve less in (or even drop
out of) high school, to be involved in criminal activity, and to become pregnant.
Furthermore, these effects of poor neighborhood on adolescent behavior, achievement,
and mental health are above and beyond effects attributable to growing up in a poor
family or attending a poor school. The absence of affluent neighbors, rather than the
presence of poor neighbors, seems to place adolescents in impoverished communities
at greatest risk.

D. Processes of Neighborhood Influences: Three mechanisms have been suggested to
explain how neighborhood conditions might affect the behavior and development of
adolescents: collective efficacy, the impact of stress, and limited access to resources.

E. Collective Efficacy: This term means the extent to which neighbors trust one another,
have similar values, and count on each other to monitor youth activities. Poverty in
neighborhoods breeds social isolation and social disorganization. As a consequence, it is
easier for deviant peer groups to form and to influence the behavior of adolescents in
these communities.

F. The Impact of Stress: The stress associated with poverty undermines the quality of
people’s relationships with one another and interferes with parents’ ability to be
effective at parenting. Furthermore, adolescents who are exposed to violence, which is
pervasive in poor neighborhoods, are more likely to engage in violent behavior, to think
about killing themselves, and to report symptoms of depression, PTSD, hopelessness,
and substance abuse. One study reported that adolescents who witness gun violence
are twice as likely to commit violence in the future. Growing up in violent
neighborhoods may even affect brain development by interfering with self-control,
delay of gratification, and empathy. Not all adolescents exposed to neighborhood
stressors are affected equally.

G. Limited Access to Resources: Adolescents who grow up in poor neighborhoods have
access to fewer resources than do those who grow up in more advantaged communities
(e.g., lower quality of schools, health care, transportation, and fewer employment
opportunities and recreational services). Where there are high-quality institutional
resources, there are often positive social relationships as well.

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