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Discuss the concept of adolescence as a social construct Essay

Adolescence describes the transitional stage in a teenager’s life, from childhood to adulthood, where an individual evolves physically, psychologically, emotionally, cognitively and socially. It is a defined social category that is expressed through immaturity and unpredictability and allows an individual to learn and discover their sense of self and identity. The idea of adolescence came into perspective after children were expected to take on adult roles as soon as they were mature enough to, going straight from puberty to adulthood. As society changed and moulded, so did the ideas about life stages, which is evident in Erikson’s theory.

Adolescence is the perfect example of our modern societies ‘social construction’. A social construct is a sociological theory based upon categorised groups in modernised cultures, devised by social constructionists who view knowledge of reality as ‘established’. Adolescence was invented because of these social constructions in westernised cultures which depend entirely on the society in which it is used. Although the concept of adolescence is commonly used and referred to in westernised cultures, it does not exist in most developing countries as they aren’t exposed to the resources which educates them about it. Instead of going through adolescence, teenagers in developing countries go straight from childhood to adulthood and have no time to develop interests or a sense of identity.

Erik Erikson established a theory about the life stages of a human, starting from infancy and ending at maturity (65+). Through the use of a ‘maturation table’, Erikson was able to emphasize a wide and cohesive set of life skills and abilities that function together within an individual. Although he discussed all of the life stages, he focused on the adolescent period more thoroughly as he felt that it was a crucial stage for an individual to develop their identity. The ‘identity versus role confusion’ is a crisis which is typically evident during early to middle adolescence. It outlines the struggle an individual faces in finding stability between developing a sense of forming a unique identity while still being accepted and “fitting in” with society.

Erikson believed that when teenagers adequately navigated their way through this crisis, they would transpire into having a clear understanding of their individual identity and easily share this new ‘self’ with others. However, if an individual is unable to navigate their way through this crisis period, they may be uncertain of who they are which can result in a lack of understanding, leading to disconnection from society and the people around them. If youth become stuck at this stage they will be unable to become emotionally mature adults, according to Erikson’s theory. This period of an individual’s life allows them to investigate possibilities which will lead them to discovering their own identity based upon the result of their explorations.

A westernised culture that embraces the life stage of adolescence are the Indigenous Aboriginals of Australia. The aboriginals embrace adolescence by engaging in a tradition known as “Walkabout”, which passes a boy from childhood to adulthood. Although this tradition has been around for centuries, some Aboriginals in today’s society still partake in it but have adjusted some of the regulations. Walkabout refers to the journey an adolescent boy undertakes, alternating from a laid back playful child to a responsible and mature man. Throughout this deeply spiritual and reflective stage of an Aboriginal boy’s life he will experience a greater connection to the land and nature, which ultimately becomes a part of their identity as a man. At the beginning of time the ancestors created paths for the men to follow while going on Walkabout, leading them through songs and ceremonies that connected them to important waterholes, food sources and landmarks.

These paths were known as ‘songlines’ and essentially enhanced their cultural and spiritual connection with the land and their ancestors. After 6 months of living in the wilderness and exploring who they are as a person, they return with a sense of wholeness within themselves and with world around them enabling them to pass through adolescence and into adulthood. Sub-Saharan Africa lies south of the Saharan desert and is one of the most challenging places for an adolescent to live. Most of the teenagers that live in Sub-Saharan Africa aren’t given the opportunity to experience adolescence as they tend to go straight from being a child to being an adult and taking on fully fledged adult responsibilities. The health and safety of an adolescent girl in this area can be placed at risk, as they are often forced to abandon childhood before they’re ready, limiting their chances to grow as a person, gain an education and a sense of identity.

Being a young girl in Africa, it is not only unfortunate, but also very common to fall pregnant and have a baby at the age of 16 or younger. Due to this, many girls have to leave school and are forced into the world of adulthood. Enduring motherhood at a young age can make a girl particularly vulnerable to violence and most girls that live in Sub-Saharan Africa may experience abuse at least once in their life. Sexual violence and pressured sex is common, especially among female adolescents and young women. Younger mothers are more likely to experience complications or death due to pregnancy and childbearing. In Australia, teenagers experience what it’s like to go through adolescence by developing a sense of identity, achieving independence, developing a positive state of mind and discovering skills for future life stages.

Although all these things can positively impact the period of adolescence, some teenagers may use this to their advantage and can endure in some dangerous behavioural activities. The most common adolescent activity that most Australians experience, is schoolies. Schoolies marks the end of tertiary education and adolescents embark on this by going on a holiday with their friends of choice, partying and experimenting with alcohol and even drugs. From youth to adulthood, schoolies week is seen as a transitional period of an individuals life which marks the transition from the discipline of school to the plunge of freedom that they partake in. In conclusion, adolescence is a period of ones life where an individual can embark on new experiences, gain a sense of identity, learn about themselves and discover who they are as a person. Although not all people go through adolescence, it is a major growing period for a person’s life and if they choose to embrace this positively it will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

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