Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

100 Years of Adolescence and Its Prehistory from Cave to Computer

Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

100 Years of Adolescence and Its Prehistory from Cave to Computer

Article excerpt

The motions of the heavenly bodies could be charted according to Ptolemy just as correctly as according to Copernicus.

-Burtt (1923, 24)

Adolescence is the passage from childhood to adulthood. No developmental theory can explain early adulthood without some understanding of the adolescent passage, and all theories credit this passage with final consolidation of adult personality, character, sexuality, and the development of the self. Whereas the biological event of puberty clearly marks the beginning of adolescence, the end of adolescence and entry into adulthood has many more cultural determinants.

The digital revolution has moved us out of the postindustrial age into the information age, influencing every aspect of our lives. The information age, also referred to as the digital age or digital era, "is characterized by technology which increases the speed and breadth of knowledge turnover" (Shepherd 2004, 1). Not only is knowledge turnover very high, but due to functionalities of the Internet and computer programs, knowledge turnover can occur "out of the control of humans, making it a time in which our lives become more difficult to manage" (Shepherd 2004, 1). The accelerating pace of change has had a tremendous impact on the transition from adolescence to adulthood for adolescents and their parents. Concern in the popular literature about "boomerang kids" (Newman 2013) and "failure to launch" (Mykyta 2012) is one indication of the general population's anxiety about today's adolescents' transition to adulthood.

The boundary between adolescence and adulthood is a poorly charted region of development. A contemporary formulation of the transition from late adolescence to adulthood should incorporate more modern understandings of development and the scientific findings from sociology, paleontology, and evolutionary biology. In this paper, I present some of these new findings and propose ways in which we can apply them to our understanding.

What is adolescence?

How one defines adolescence and the end of adolescence varies depending on the field of study. For the paleobiologist, it is that part of the life cycle between the onset of reproductive capacity and the end ofphysical growth. When doing cross-species studies and paleontological studies of various species of Homo, skeletal criteria (dentition, bone changes, etc.) are used for determining the beginning and end of biological adolescence (Thompson and Nelson 2011). For contemporary biological researchers, working with living subjects, puberty is "the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis that culminates in gonadal maturation. Adolescence refers to the maturation of adult social and cognitive behaviors" (Sisk and Foster 2004,1040). Whereas puberty defines entry into adolescence, there are no set biomarkers for the end of adolescence (Arnett 2015) and the beginning of young adulthood. In the early psychoanalytic literature, puberty also marks the onset of adolescence, but when adolescence ends is a more complex situation.

Blos (1966), in his classic work On Adolescence, divided adolescence into three stages. Early adolescence, from eleven to thirteen, starts with puberty initiating rapid physical growth. There is a greater sexual interest, a growing cognitive capacity for abstract thought, expanding intellectual interests, and more complex moral thinking. Psychologically, there is a struggle with a sense of identity, a desire for independence, a return to childish behavior when stressed, moodiness, rule and limit testing, and greater interest in privacy. The early adolescent tends to be present oriented, with limited thought about the future.

Middle adolescence, from fourteen to eighteen, is marked by the completion of puberty, growth in the capacity for abstract thought, and setting goals. Interest in moral reasoning and thinking about the meaning of life continues. Psychologically, there can be an increase in selfinvolvement alternating between grandiosity and low self-esteem, a continued adjustment to changing body size, an increased distance from parents, and concerns about being normal. …

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