Guns, Violence, and Identity among African American and Latino Youth

By Deanna L. Wilkinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Setting the Empirical Context

Youth violence must be understood within the context of human development and life course pathways. Adolescence is a time of stressful development, manifested by changes in physical appearance, social status, and cognitive abilities. It is a developmental period characterized by physical stress, underdeveloped coping skills, and high vulnerability (Van Gundy, 2002; Hamburg, 1974). It is a prolonged period, beginning with hormonal changes and ending with the transition to adult social roles, typically employment. In modern American society, this period extends well into the early twenties reflecting shifts in family, economic, and educational aspirations (Furstenberg, 2000). Cognitive ability shifts during adolescence from concrete to abstract thinking. Growth in cognitive functioning occurs gradually as youth gain experience with diverse, often contradictory sets of issues. The pace of development varies widely among individuals.

Adolescence is marked by a series of social transitions, including entry into junior high school and differentiated school tasks, increasing use of the peer group as a critical reference group for exploration of social roles, exploration of opposite-sex relationships, and changing relations with parents and other adults. Youth begin spending considerably less time with parents and other adults and considerably more time with peers. Adult expectations of teenagers are changing at the same time that adolescents' perceptions of self also are undergoing basic changes. It also is a time of pursuit of some universal goals of adolescence: social affiliation, task mastery, social identity, and autonomy (Van Gundy, 2002). Furstenberg (2000) argues:

“this phase of the life course establishes a youth-based social
world that is age segregated, partially buffered from adult
control, and relatively turned in on itself. This transformation
encourages the development of a youth culture that is impelled
to distinguish itself from adulthood and can establish its own
system of rewards. To a great degree, the problematic features
of adolescence and the transition to adulthood are structurally
created and maintained by social institutions that isolate youth
from adults; ironically, this is done to prepare them for future
roles (Furstenberg, 2000: 897).

-7-

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