Adolescence … can be seen as a problem that society has created.
Montgomery, 2007, p. 70
How does a comparative perspective help us appreciate that the experience of adolescence is determined by social and cultural forces?
This paper will look at and discuss the above statement and subsequent question using a range of published and also KE308 resources. Looking at and understanding this range of theoretical perspectives on youth is the key to understanding how these viewpoints have shaped research and contributed toward the creation of policies and practices that are nationally recognised in present day youth work. By comparing and contrasting the social cultural and economic forces which govern the identification and associated behaviour of adolescents, it will identify the differences in context, both nationally and internationally, and show how the stereotypes with which we often identify youth is based on a range of assumptions that should be challenged.
Adolescence cannot be based on any scientific structure; as much as a chronological age cannot produce a fixed outcome (Kehily., 2007), yet all too often these assumptions are the basis of an opinion on what constitutes “Youth”. By looking at adolescence in a social anthropological light identifies the term youth in a much broader context; looking at the behaviour, beliefs and family lives, combined with the political beliefs and financial affluence of the community within which a person has grown up. (Kehily., 2007) This in turn acknowledges the diversity that exists throughout the world and that, although human beings may share some biological similarities, fundamentally the wide range of other areas mentioned are actually what shape a person, their beliefs and their subsequent behavioural patterns.
The cultural perspective of what actually constitutes an adolescent must also be taken into account, as must be the way in which the community identifies with the term. Children growing up will learn by example and what their general community shows them, obviously this differs greatly the world over. To study this proficiently, anthropologists have used fieldwork, and by immersing themselves within a community and studying their culture, ethnography, can give a more detailed and accurate account of how that community or culture actually views differing areas of a set age or stage. (Kehily., 2007) A good example of this is the difference between Britain and the Kiswahili people of Tanzania. In Britain we generalise youth as ending around the age of eighteen, some may even say 21 years. However in Tanzania, a girl’s youth is clearly recognised as ending at 9 and a boy’s at 13. (Kehily., 2007.P54,)
This affirms the identification of adolescence as a social construction. This was echoed in an ethnographic study conducted by an anthropologist who studied the lives and cultural differences of young Samoans, comparing them with that of North American youths. (Mead, 2001) American youths were viewed as troublesome and difficult; however this was viewed as a societal problem as opposed to a family problem. Samoan youths, by contrast, were seen as nothing of the sort and Mead concluded that the problem with American youths was one of sexual conflict and repression, whereas Samoan youths, who were actively encouraged to have a range of sexual partners with very little restrictions. This community of adolescents displayed none of these associated behaviours. (Mead, 2001)
The impression that adolescence is a time of stress is a western opinion and not a globally accepted opinion. This cultural perspective sheds light onto the extreme differences of both opinion and experience that is part of the diversity of the planet. American psychologist G Stanley Hall suggested and brought to the forefront that adolescence was a stage of development that should be considered as the transitional period between childhood and adulthood, inferring the idea