Transition From Youth To Adulthood Research Paper

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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.

References:

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  10. Hernandez D J 1993 America’s Children: Resources from Family, Government, and the Economy. Russell Sage Foundation, New York
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