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Adolescence & the human individual Essay

During childhood, children basically accept parental authority (Smentana, 1989) and an equilibrium is established in which parents largely determine and control relationships with their children within a context of acceptance and availability (Steinberg and Silverberg, 1986). However, in the state of approaching adolescence and especially during puberty, parent-child relationships are transformed in a number of ways (Collins, 1990).

These changes entail increased assertiveness by both parents and children, decreased perceptions of acceptance, inhibited communication, increased incidence of conflictive exchanges, decreased expressions of physical affection and positive feelings among family members, and adjustments in the amount and kind of influence that children exert in family decision making.

Difficulties with communication derive in part from sensitivities and embarrassment associated with pubertal changes and this, combined with the adolescent’s socio-cognitive development and querying of the inequalities in the parent child relationship, often result in tensions and heated exchange (Hill, 1988). Most families, while they sustain close bonds during children’s teenage years, experience such an escalation of conflict, particularly during the early stages of adolescence.

Although much of the conflict has been described as “mild bickering, disagreements and conflicts over everyday issues and emotional stress during early adolescence” (Smetana, 1988), its effects can be debilitating. The role of parents is made more difficult by the legal and status ambiguity of the adolescent period. In today’s society, adolescence is an indeterminate period of transition with no rite of passage to mark the distinction between childhood and adulthood. It has been suggested that this has detracted from the capacity of some young people to function as successful adults (Campbell and Moyers, 1988).

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There is a lack of clarity in the status and legal rights of adolescents which sends confusing messages to parents and teenagers in their relationships with each other. However, several writers have suggested that these apparent perturbations in relationships may serve the positive function of facilitating adolescents’ independence and diminishing dependence on parents. Via conflicts, family members allow themselves to express distinctive and separate views (Grotevant and Cooper, 1986). It is true that during adolescence, a boy or girl must break, or at least loosen, the ties that bind him or her to home and parents.

However, one should not assume that the complete break with, or indifference towards parents or open conflicts with them are a sign of maturity. Quite the contrary is true. Release from home authority is necessary, but revolt is probably not, although a proportion of each adolescent generation leaves home completely as a result of familial conflicts (Henricson and Roker, 2000). For the majority of youth, while once dependent upon their parents, adolescents begin to substitute their friends as the centre of their lives. The centrality of friends and friendship in the life of adolescents has been frequently stressed.

It has been claimed that friendships are the most prominent features of the social landscape during adolescence and acceptance by peers generally, and especially having one or more close friends, may be of crucial importance in a young person’s life (Coleman and Hardy, 1990). Friendship among adolescents fulfils important tasks, such as providing much of the social context that allows proper performance of actions which will be accepted and rewarded by the peer group, strengthening the self and reaffirming its worth and value.

Adolescents use the peer group to express their divided feelings and incoherent images in accordance with their emotional needs and to reinforce their behaviour as they conform to peer norms and behaviour styles (Tatar, 1995). Adolescents perceive popularity and attainment of social status among peers as beneficial and positive, reflecting their desirability as a friend. Adolescents also form larger, more loosely organised groups called crowds. Unlike the more intimate clique, membership into the crowd is based on reputation and stereotype.

Whereas the clique serves as the main context for direct interaction, the crowd grants the adolescent an identity within the larger social structure. Adolescents are very aware of the differential social status conferred upon different groups, and this knowledge can affect self-evaluation: categorisation of the self as a member of an unpopular or lower status group can be detrimental to feelings of self-worth and self-esteem (Denholm, Horniblow, and Smalley, 1992). Susceptibility to peer pressure is reported to peak between the ages of twelve to sixteen years (Tarrant, North, Edridge, Kirk, Smith, and Turner, 2001).

Peer conformity is a complex process that varies with the adolescent’s age and need for social approval and with the situation. Adolescents reported that they felt greatest pressure to conform to the most obvious aspects of peer culture, such as, dressing and grooming like everyone else and participating in social activities. Although peer pressure toward misconduct peaked in early adolescence, it was relatively low compared with other areas (Brown, Lohr, & McClenahan, 1986).

Due to their greater concern with what their peers think of them, early adolescents are more likely than younger or older individuals to give in to peer pressure. Although, when parents and peers disagree, even young adolescents will not consistently rebel against their families. Instead, parents and peers differ in their spheres of greatest influence. Parents have more impact on adolescents’ basic life values and educational plans, while peers are more influential in short-term, day-today matters, such as type of dress, taste in music, and choice of friends (Berk, 2000).

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