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1. Transition And Psychological Functioning
Adolescence is a period in life that begins with biological maturation during which people accomplish a series of developmental tasks raised by the many biological–physical changes, cognitive changes, and social–emotional changes. It begins roughly at 10 to 13 years and ends—depending on cultural and educational conditions—at 18 to 22 years of age. The following period in life, early adulthood, is a time of establishing personal and economic independence, career development, and of selecting social contexts.
In earlier historical times transitions from youth to adulthood were fairly clearly marked with rites. The purpose of initiation rites in preindustrial societies was to cushion the emotional disruption arising from the transition from one life status to another. In the case of the transition to adulthood, these rites formally ended dependence on parents and served as an introduction to the life of an adult. For example, according to some psychoanalytic perspectives, ceremonies related to sexuality and separation from mothers are necessitated by the conﬂict between fathers and sons over who will
dominate the women. To make clear the adults’ supremacy and to ensure the allegiance of the young males, adults typically put the youth through a series of trials at which they were superior to the youth. Most trials included tests of strength, endurance, power, and courage, and—depending on tribe—mutilations. Fe- male adolescents were also exposed to physical pain during the transition to adulthood. For example, genital mutilations were meant to sensitize them to the greater role that sex will play in their lives. These mutilations also made them recognizable to the members of the tribe. The ceremonies often ended in giving the new adult member a new name, usually that of a close ancestor. Seebald (1992) delineates three functions that rites of passage serve: (a) informing the individual of his or her new rights; (b) announcing the new status to the community; and (c) anchoring youth to the group emotionally by instilling a profound sense of belonging to that community.
Entry into adulthood is far more complex for adolescents today, largely due to the need for many more years of formal education and hence prolonged dependence on parents. No speciﬁc rituals exist in present Western societies to aid youth through this change. Two general types of transition, intrinsic and role transitions, are distinguished. An intrinsic transition involves new skills and competencies and a qualitative change of the representation of the world. A role transition is exclusively bound to chronological age and social roles, and involves a new status, mainly legitimized by the social environment. Both types of transitions can be described as opening opportunities for further development. If, however, a lack of developmental opportunities occurs on a continual basis and if it occurs within important transition domains, then it is detrimental to the individual.
Psychological stress during transition occurs when people are confronted by demands that exceed their capacities. The fact that something important is at stake, and that the situation is uncontrollable, leads them to perceive that the situation as more of a threat than a challenge. Hence, psychological functioning during transitions consists in an interplay between demands and resources on personal, social, and environmental levels. If the demands exceed a person’s resources, the level of functioning decreases. A continuous misﬁt between demands and resources leads to suboptimal or problematic transition from youth to adulthood.
1.1 Four Principles Underlying Transitions
Four principles are crucial in understanding development in a lifespan perspective, especially the transition from youth to adulthood. First, individual development is carried forward in such a way that the earlier development has implications for a person’s pattern of functioning at a later time (Rutter 1994). So the question is, which processes and structures are instrumental in increasing stability in behavior and which of them are instrumental for changing this behavior. In both these cases, two patterns are inﬂuential: On the one hand, biological processes, social and societal expectations and individual actions play a role, and on the other hand, a person’s objective means.
The accentuation principle is a second component. According to Elder and Caspi (1990) stressful or challenging experiences tend to emphasize and strengthen pre-existing characteristics. Negative critical life events and the lack of opportunities have a consequential negative impact, especially on vulnerable individuals. These events accentuate pre-existing characteristics rather than give rise to new behavior. So personal consistency and behavioral stability is increased.
Third, the increasing stabilization of development across the lifespan is founded in the person’s self-concept. As many developmental psychologists have pointed out, experiences have effects in life only through a cognitive transformation. People think about themselves and what happens to themselves. The patterns of individual interpretations and thoughts are condensed in a self-concept (Harter 1996). The self-concept has a clear bias toward assimilation, i.e., people act on the world in congruence with their self-concept. Once the self-concept is established it works as an organizer of subsequent experiences and is rather robust against change.
The fourth principle takes into account that individual development always occurs in a speciﬁc environment. The environment is crucial in its inﬂuence and in the degree to which it is contingent on the individual’s actions. Psychological theories about learning and development were for a long time almost exclusively concerned with this respect, i.e., the contingencies between environment and action. The fundamental learning principle assumes that the contingent positive effects of a person’s behavior increase the likelihood of the speciﬁc behavior.
1.2 Transition As A Turning Point And In A Lifespan Perspective
It follows from such a conceptualization that development is almost stable and invariant across time (Caprara and Cervone 2000). However, there are turning points which call for new behavior (Caspi and Moffitt 1993). A turning point removes a person from the known structure. On the one hand the individual does not have prior experiences to deal with the new situation, but is forced to act in it. On the other hand, the social environment has not provided the speciﬁc individual with experiences, but is inevitably connected to the individual. In this respect, a new learning pattern must be established that has the potential for a persistent change. Rutter (1996) differentiates among three categories of possibly lasting turning point effects: (a) those that discontinue or open opportunities; (b) those that involve a lasting change in the environment; and (c) those with a lasting effect on a person’s self-concept. A large amount of empirical evidence supports the characterization of early menarche, schooling, geographical displacement, teenage pregnancy and parenthood, marriage, army experiences, and work as typical examples of turning points. It is noteworthy that a turning point in general provokes a chain of experiences. It is not a singular event, but a chain of events that causes an existing developmental path to change direction.
There is another body of literature which refers to lasting changes during transition, i.e., the lifespan perspective in developmental psychology. Within this framework change and stability across the course of a life has been demonstrated as multidirectional in ontogenetic change and is markedly inﬂuenced by sociocultural conditions in a given historical period. Empirical evidence exists for a continuous dynamic interplay between gains and losses in adaptive capacities across the life course. Individual plasticity was here demonstrated as a key concept, i.e., the within-person variability and potential for different forms of behavior and development (Baltes 1987, 1997).
2. Domains Of Transition: Developmental Tasks
Havighurst (1948) introduced the concept of developmental tasks in order to describe transitions. Developmental tasks are learning tasks across a lifespan. Successfully solved developmental tasks in the context of real demands enable people to learn new skills and competencies which are necessary for the satisfactory and constructive mastering of life within a given society. Success in solving tasks at earlier stages increases the probability of successfully solving subsequent tasks. People are expected to solve a series of developmental tasks across different life periods in order to be accepted in society. However, not all developmental tasks of a speciﬁc life period have to be solved at the same time. Within which time range and in which order developmental tasks are solved is subject to individual differences as well as to cross-cultural variations and sociohistorical shifts.
2.1 Three Sources Of Developmental Tasks
2.1.1 Physical Maturation. Physical maturation is the basis of developmental tasks and varies little across cultures. For example, in most cultures puberty gives rise to the search for new relationships with sameand opposite-sex peers.
2.1.2 Societal Expectations. Societal expectations are the main source of cultural relativity of developmental tasks, typically reﬂected in age norms. This means that a person is expected to solve a speciﬁc developmental task within a certain period. Therefore, the individual’s developmental stage can be described as one in which he or she is able to deal with culturally set demands. Cultural norms are also reﬂected in ‘early,’ ‘on time,’ and ‘late’ development in various transition domains, as, for example, deciding on a job or preparing for a family. Expectations of the timing in role transitions exist for the individual as a private person (e.g., reaching emotional and economic independence from parents, taking responsibility for further decisions) as well as a public person (e.g., age-related norms for different civic rights).
Societal expectations of time ranges in solving developmental tasks are subject to historical change. For example, less than 10 percent of youth attended senior high school in the USA at the end of the nineteenth century compared to almost 90 percent 100 years later. Another example: two-parent farm families were by far the most prevalent family type over decades (Hernandez 1993). A decrease of this family type started in the nineteenth century, and in 1990, less than 5 percent of children lived in two-parent farm families. In parallel, two-parent nonfarm families with a full-time working father and a full-time homemaker mother rapidly increased, resulting in the most prevalent family type between 1910 and 1970. This family type almost disappeared in the 1990s, being replaced by dual-earner families. Since the 1970s, one-parent families have become more prevalent. For the rest of the Western world, the pattern of family structures also changed, but in different time frames compared to the USA. It goes without saying that the family structures in non-Western settings changed, too, but in ways different from those described above. These and other patterns of societal change such as the divorce rate, numbers of births to unmarried women, number of siblings, and education had lasting effects on the timing of the transition from youth to adulthood (Grob et al. 2001).
2.1.3 Individual Goals And Values. Individual goals and values are the third source of developmental tasks. In general, people try to organize their actions in congruence with their purposes and goals. There are goals that are mainly the same for all individuals, for example to decide on a career or to reach independence from parents, and others which differ across individuals in obvious and important ways, for example becoming expert in petrography.
2.2 Developmental Tasks In The Transition From Youth To Adulthood
For adolescence, Havighurst proposed nine developmental tasks, i.e. (a) accepting one’s physique and a masculine / feminine role; (b) forming new relations with peers of both sexes; (c) achieving emotional independence from parents and other adults; (d) achieving assurance of economic independence; (e) selecting and preparing for an occupation; (f ) developing intellectual skills and the concepts necessary for civic competence; (g) desiring and achieving socially responsible behavior; (h) preparing for marriage and family life; and (i) building conscious values in harmony with an adequate scientiﬁc view of the world. The eight developmental tasks for young adulthood were (a) deciding on a partner; (b) living with a partner; (c) starting a family; (d) raising children; (e) maintaining a (family) household; (f ) starting a professional career; (g) taking societal responsibility; and (h) ﬁnding an adequate social network.
The superordinate theme across adolescence and young adulthood, however, is what Erikson (1968) calls identity and intimacy. During adolescence individuals begin to search for who they are, what they are all about, and where they are going in life. As part of this search for an identity, the adolescent experiments with a variety of roles, some sexual, others ideological, and still others vocational. Each of Erikson’s eight stages of development across the lifespan centers around a salient and distinct emotional concern stemming from biological pressure from within the individual and from sociocultural expectations. Concerns or conﬂicts may be resolved in a positive or healthy manner or in a negative or unhealthy way. The characteristics for the transition from youth to young adulthood are described by Erikson with two central themes, i.e., identity versus identity confusion in adolescence and intimacy and isolation in young adulthood.
The empirical evidence on how adolescents manage the transition to adulthood stems among other ﬁelds in research on identity. Four identity stages were identiﬁed which are: identity diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement (Marcia et al. 1992). Individuals who achieved identity, for example, are committed to adult roles by having passed developmental work. Identity statuses are seen in developmental sequences, but not necessarily in the sense that the one is the prerequisite of the other. Identity achievers appear to be healthier than other individuals, and score higher on achievement motivation, moral reasoning, career maturity, and social skills with peers (Kroger 1993). The actual formation of an adult identity does not occur until late adolescence. Identity achievement is primarily reached in the sphere of occupation, whereas commitment in the area of political and ideological identity is often not evident for a considerable proportion of young adults. Thus, the challenge of identity forming in given domains is not resolved at one point in time, but continues to reemerge again as the individual moves through late adolescence and early adulthood.
3. Further Research
Further research is needed to identify which factors generate discontinuity and continuity in transitions from youth to adulthood within and across cultures. Factors that may result in discontinuities in the transitional processes are: (a) variations of social expectations at different historical times due to economic and societal shifts; (b) changes in the speciﬁc life contexts and life experiences of adolescents and their families; and (c) the emergence of new developmental tasks at different ages and times as, for example, increased pressure on self-determination and individualization. However, there are also factors that may generate continuity, such as; (a) the genetic disposition of the individual, (b) the continuing inﬂuence of early experience, and (c) a contingently rewarding social environment. Determining which parts of the pattern—i.e., biological, historical, social, and individual conditions—contribute to which aspect of successful development in various cultural settings and within cultural subsettings is a task for future longitudinal studies.
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