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Characteristics of Adolescent Society

Coleman's Work on Adolescence

In 1961 James Coleman published a book on the adolescent society, whereby he stated that adolescents were cut off from adult society and in a sense had their own society. In his book, Coleman focused his attention to the fact that adolescents were disinterested in school and more interested in cars, dating, music, sports, and other areas not related to school.

Incidentally, Coleman found it more striking that it was schools that were responsible for preparing students to be successful in the world. Along with this need for being part of the social scene, self esteem rated as being a distinguishing characteristic of the adolescent society. It would seem that adolescents are constantly striving to feel of part of something and usually that is linked with the need to feel cool or popular. Consequently, that often entails doing things that would make one appear popular in the eyes of the peer group.

Characteristics and Expectations

It is during the time of adolescence that the most growth occurs both physically and mentally. Adolescents are faced with the fact that their bodies and minds are changing and oftentimes this results in low self esteem due to changes in their appearance (ie. Acne). At the same time, adolescents are often pressured to do things they typically might not do and will conform in order to feel a part of the group. When all of this is combined it leads to issues in other aspects of the teen’s life (home, school, etc.).

However, these are not the only characteristics of adolescent society, as teens are still caught between the struggle to listen to their parents while finding their own identity (Santrock, 2007). This is one of the biggest challenges facing the adolescent and ultimately is what leads to defining who they are and what they will become. This is what makes this the adolescent stage different from other stages, as when one is younger their roles are defined by expectations set forth by their parents. In addition, the stage of young adulthood marks a new, secure beginning in which roles are also newly defined. Thus, it is no wonder adolescents become confused by the newfound responsibilities placed upon them.

In conclusion, adolescents are often misunderstood by many adults and young adults who forgot what it was like to once be that age. There are often stereotypes that come with being an adolescent, especially in today’s society where there are more expectations placed on many adolescents. It would seem that some adolescents today struggle with taking care of responsibilities that adults normally would, yet they are still criticized by some of us older adults. Therefore, we should remember to take a step back and reflect on who we were at that time and how we felt when judged in order to put ourselves in their shoes.

The Development of Self Esteem in Adolescence

Self image or self esteem is one of the most challenging tasks in adolescence. Adolescents are often influenced by the peer group that they associate with. In a way, adolescents need to be accepted by a peer group in order for them to begin to develop an identity. I believe Erikson’s theory on identity crisis best explains how this process works. Erikson’s theory on identity crisis states that adolescents start to “synthesize” new roles so they can accept themselves and their environment (Vanderzanden, 2002). Sometimes, they will over identify with a particular peer group, thus losing their sense of individuality.

Additionally, Erikson’s theory focuses on how adolescents go through a crisis; A period where they must make an important decision. Due to this, I feel that an adolescents self esteem is most influenced by the perceptions of others. In fact, VanderZanden (2002) states that girls are more afraid to make mistakes at this time and equally so, easily become when scolded by others (VanderZanden,p.403). At this time, girls are more focused on connections with others, whereas boys are independent and competitive (VanderZanden, 2002). In a recent study conducted about adolescent self image, attitudes, and behavior, the relationship between helping and self esteem was examined. In this study Switzer and Simmons (1995) found that adolescents who engage in activities which promote group cohesiveness report more positive self concepts. In addition, girls reported feeling better about themselves as a result of this.

Another important factor in the development of self esteem focuses on physical appearance. According to Marcote, Fortin, Potvin, & Papillion (2002) puberty tends to be a stressful time for adolescents in general, but even more stressful for girls. More girls report wanting to become thinner due to the changes in physical appearance. However, boys report that puberty is more of a positive experience, as it signifies masculinity. In fact, problems in the perceptions of how puberty changes a girl physically can lead to the negative outcome of depression or an eating disorder (Marcote, Fortin, Potvin & Papillion, 2002). Anorexia tends to make the adolescent girl feel more in control of the changes taking place, thus enhancing her self esteem about her body. Finally, girls feel the constant pressure from the media to be thin, as this is a sign of attractiveness. Vanderzanden (2002) reports that an “unrealistic ideal of beauty for women” (p. ) is what adolescent girls are trying to emulate.

Lastly, academic self concept is reported as being a problem during the turbulent years of adolescence. Many adolescents face self esteem issues due to problems in school. A recent study compared adolescents with learning disabilities to those without learning disabilities (Stone & May, 2002). Stone & May (2002) state that ‘students with LD have a significantly less positive academic self concept than their average achieving peers.” It seems that students who have the additional baggage of being labeled learning disabled are more self conscious of themselves. However, learning disabled students are not the only ones who experience this problem. VanderZanden (2002) states that adolescent boys are reported as having more behavioral difficulties, thus they perform lower in school.

In conclusion, adolescents have very fragile psyches, therefore it is important to boost their concept of self through various activities and methods. It is during this time that adolescents are experiencing who they want to become and how they will become that person. There are many activities which can help promote positive self concept. For boys, much of the focus is on competitive sports, as this is what boys thrive on. On the other hand, girls may benefit more from volunteering or activities which focus on friendships. Overall, it is important to remember that adolescents are miniature adults, therefore they need to be treated with the same respect and dignity that you and I are. In doing so, adolescents will be able to become productive citizens who are self confident in their abilities. Finally, it is also important to discourage girls from feeling the need to be svelte. Girls should know that they will be accepted for who they are and what they offer to society. If we teach them this, we will be enabling them to feel more comfortable with their body.

Moral Reasoning in Adolescence

One theory that is adept at describing adolescent morality is Kohlberg’s theory on moral development. Kohlberg’s theory states that there are three different levels which a person moves through. The three stages of moral development consist of pre-conventional, conventional, and post conventional.

In the first stage, judgment is based on needs and perceptions. Individuals perceive that they must obey rules to avoid punishment. The second stage is characterized by a moral belief that expectations of society and laws are taking into consideration before a decision is made. Individuals in this stage gauge how a decision will affect society and laws. The last stage is characterized by the perception that judgments are based on personal principles, which are not always defined by the laws (Anderson, M., 2002).

When children are about 10 or 11 years moral thought begins to shift from one of consequences to one based on judgment of intentions. The younger child would tend to look at how much damage had been done (ie. breaking an expensive vase) whereas an adolescent thinks about the motive behind the action (ie. intentional or a mistake) (Crain, 1985). This sets the tone for an emergence of more advanced moral judgments during this age. In fact, a study was done on adolescence at different stages throughout childhood and adolescence and the researchers found that, in general, younger children obey authority figures more often, while adolescents tend to group think and follow the expectations, values and norms of society (Crain, 1985).

How this relates to adolescents centers on the fact that it is during this time when many moral issues come up. Adolescents are often faced with peer pressure to engage in criminal behaviors, use drugs, engage in sex, and more. As a result, being able to determine what is morally right and wrong is a crucial skill that needs to be developed during this age. In addition, many adolescents are not faced with moral issues prior to the critical adolescent years and having not had that experience puts them at a disadvantage when they do reach this age. In fact, the pressures that adolescents face today tend to be more profound than years prior due to many issues within the family unit. While the adolescent is beginning to explore their own identity, they are still children in a sense and need to be molded through the process.

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For instance, my daughter is faced with issues of peers who engage in criminal behavior, drug use (which tends to be highly prevalent in middle school), sexual promiscuity, and lack of interest in academics. Just this year she was transferred from a Christian school to the public middle school. In the beginning of the year she retained the values or attitude that she held while at the Christian school. However, that quickly changed as she was exposed to all sorts of things. Many of her friends in the beginning smoked and also had boyfriends. My daughter knew that she was not allowed to have a boyfriend yet made a decision to follow the paths her peers had taken. Even though we did not know immediately, we eventually found out and ended this. From this experience it would seem that despite what morals she was taught at home and while attending Christian school she let slip due to peer pressures. Therefore, I can see how parental support plays a significant role in helping their growing adolescent to make sound moral decisions despite what the peer group does.


Marcotte, D., Fortin, L., Potvin, P., & Papillion, M. (2002). Gender differences in depressive symptoms during adolescence: Role of gender typed characteristics, self esteem, body image, stressful life events, and pubertal status. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 10, 1.

Santrock, J.W. (2007). Adolescence, 11th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Stone, C.A. & May, A.L. (2002) The accuracy of academic self evaluations in adolescents with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 4.

Switzer, G.E. & Simmons, R.G. (1995). The effect of a school based helper program on adolescent self image, attitudes, and behavior. Journal of Early Adolescence, 15, 4.

VanderZanden, J.W. (2002). Human development. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.


Pac on July 05, 2017:

” an adolescent culture which shows little interest in education and

focuses the attention of teenagers on cars, dates, sports, popu-

lar music, and other matters just as unrelated to school."

Its funny the blatant disregard of these things as educational. There are plenty of occupation surrounding dating,, music, sports, and cars. I understand that schools try to deliver a comprehensive basic education... But the curriculum is out dated and needs to better address more current and common student interest. Many subjects taught in high school may be beat left for higher learning. It may be best to allow student to acquire an interest in subjects rather then force feeding them, and labeling this who won't comply as having ADD... Their attention will always be with things they want to practice and learn, not what the school thinks is best to.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2012:

Fascinating read and perfectly delivered! I taught the little buggers and half the time had no idea what propelled them through life. Great job!

Krystal from Los Angeles on March 06, 2012:

Teens certainly do have their own society! Thanks for giving me a glimpse into this world. I am not sure I even understood it when I was a teen myself!

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