There is debate within the scientific community about whether or not youth culture exists. Some researchers argue that youth’s values and morals are not distinct from those of their parents, which means that youth culture is not a separate culture. Others note that we must be cautious about extrapolating a current effect to other periods of history. Just because we see the presence of what seems to be a youth culture today does not mean that this phenomenon extends to all generations of young people. Additionally, peer influence varies greatly between contexts and by sex, age, and social status, making a single “youth culture” difficult, if not impossible, to define.
Others argue that there are definite elements of youth society that constitute culture, and that these elements differ from those of their parents’ culture. Janssen et al. have used the terror management theory (TMT) to argue for the existence of youth culture. TMT is a psychological concept that hypothesizes that culture originates from an attempt to cope with the knowledge of their mortality. Society does this by adopting a worldview and developing self-esteem. Researchers test TMT by exposing people to reminders of their mortality.
TMT is supported if being reminded of death causes people to cling more strongly to their worldview. Janssen et al. tested the following hypothesis: “If youth culture serves to help adolescents deal with problems of vulnerability and finiteness, then reminders of mortality should lead to increased allegiance to cultural practices and beliefs of the youth.” Their results supported their hypothesis and the results of previous studies, suggesting that youth culture is, in fact, a culture.
Schwartz and Merten used the language of adolescents to argue for the presence of youth culture as distinct from the rest of society. Schwartz argued that high school students used their vocabulary to create meanings that are distinct to adolescents. Specifically, the adolescent status terminology (the words that adolescents use to describe hierarchical social statuses) contains qualities and attributes that are not present in adult status judgments. According to Schwartz, this reflects a difference in social structures and the way that adults and teens experience social reality. This difference indicates cultural differences between adolescents and adults, which supports the presence of a separate youth culture.
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