Among many other transitions or stages of life. Transition from childhood to adulthood is probably one of the biggest transition people have to make, so this seems an appropriate point to this essay. At the onset, we will be looking at the transition from childhood to adulthood, the term ‘adolescent’, the biological changes that occur in relations to the social context in which this transition is taking place, the psychological factors and the societal impacts.

And onwards, we will take a look at the specific features of this stage using Erikson’s model and Marcia’s concept of identity status found among adolescents and also the interaction of biological inheritance and environment. And the nature and nurture discourse that has shaped what we think of as adolescent.

From these points of view it will become clearer that concept of adolescent in industrialized societies is really not universal at all but it is simply one way adapted by one kind of society in dealing with the transitional phase between childhood and adulthood.

As said above, there are variations in meanings in different cultures of what is seen as the period of transition from childhood to adulthood.

This is viewed in very different ways. The significance of adolescent is different in pre-industrial and non-industrial (developing) cultures. In these cultures, the transition tends to be shorter and very brief and less change is involved (Beckett, 2002). In this societies we are looking at, both the children and adults partakes in the same daily chores and routines, for example in the Hausa culture in the northern part of Nigeria, girls can be married at 11 and boys become bread winners. And in other war-torn countries boys serve as soldiers at 12.

However, in Britain the full rights and responsibilities of adulthood are not legally acquired until the age of 18, which may last for five years or longer (Beckett, 2002).

Beckett (2002) argues that adolescent in some ways is a modern western invention. And on that background, the rest of the essay will be examining primarily the occurrence of adolescent in western industrialized culture and the challenges of identity formation in ethnic minority children.

Then we will go further to look at what is specific about adolescent? Why is it being referred to as a ‘tunnel’ into which young people disappear, exhibiting certain kinds of character? They are then ‘lost to sight’ for a few years. And according to this metaphor you never know what is going to emerge at the other end. (Herbert, 2002)

The transition of becoming a more sexual being ( biological development) and to negotiate new relationships, growing ‘pains’ or awareness of adult tasks, autonomy and to having social class and identity, all needs adjustments. Some are biological and others are cultural.

Biology is a major factor in adolescent and it is common to all cultures. This is a time when a period of rapid growth occurred. This change is both physical and biomedical. Though it’s been argued that these biological changes do not occurred at the same time, or in the same sequence, for boys as for girls (the growth spurt starts earlier in girls), and the substantial differences in the timing of these changes from one person to another even among same sex cannot be over-emphasis. (Beckett, 2002).

In an affluent society like Britain, the early onset of fertility in girls (menstruation) can be associated to changes in diet, although other factors may interfere the timing of this fertility, that is, exceptionally physical active girls may experience delay.

Moffit et al (1992) cited by Beckett (2002) explains the relationship between biology and social factors in a way that culture and society do not just respond to these biological events but they also influence these events themselves.

Different theoretical lenses have been used to understand adolescents, among which, are Piaget’s stage of ‘formal operations and ability to deal with complex abstract ideas as adults’. Then we have Bowlby’s stage at which attachment to parent-figures are loosened to from new adult attachments’, Freud’s theory on time of genital stage, the last stage of psychosexual development, time when individual’s sexual interest is originally directed towards an opposite sex’. And Erikson’s work on developmental stages model divided up the whole lifespan into eight stages of which the fifth was about adolescence. And the specific features of this stage summed up what is now call the ‘characteristics crisis’ of adolescence and by that it refers to ‘ identity versus role confusion’ (Beckett, 2002)

Identity formation is a key factor of this stage in life as defined by Erikson and largely agreed by most writers as central in adolescence hence the framework for discussion in this essay, but not necessarily the only way of looking at this stage of life course.

Erik Erikson’s (1902-1994) psychosocial stages is marked with crisis, which individual must resolved to move on to the next phase. This correspond with Freud’s model in its conception of stages and its suggestion that there are characteristic issues that have to be resolved at each stage before a person is fully capable of moving on.

From Erikson’s model, each stage has a favourable and an unfavourable outcome. The result of outcome for any individual at this stage of life depends on how well the particular crisis of that stage was successfully negotiated. (Beckett, 2002). An unfavourable outcome in one stage will impede success in the next stage.

In adolescence, as with other stages, unresolved crises or ‘challenges’ from earlier years may need to be fought again, and may hinder successful negotiation of the current crisis. An example may include that ‘ a spiral decreasing in confidence at later stage may have arisen from lack of constructive exploration of possibilities for the future at the early stage. This can make a huge impact on what constitutes ‘intimacy vs isolation’.

An adolescent transition that is successfully negotiated could in turn equip an individual for the challenges of adulthood by providing sense of identity; young people needs a secure sense of themselves in order to be able to negotiate a demanding peer pressure relationships.

Erikson thought that during the adolescent stage, a combination of rapid growing awareness of adult roles leads to a questioning of the ‘sameness and continuity’ relied on earlier, ‘old beliefs (certainties) and habits’ simply do not work anymore and fresh ones are needed. He thought that, in an extent in western culture, sexual and occupational identity was crucial, and he viewed these as being the domains in which a new secure identity would certainly need to be negotiated (Beckett, 2002).

Secure identity formation is so crucial at this stage because the outcomes as Erikson puts it helps an individual to make decisions about ‘who they are’, and the individual will develop an ability to see themselves as a consistent person with a well-defined personality within the society. On the other hand, an individual who is unsuccessful in negotiating this stage may get stuck and remained largely with confusion over whom and what one is.

Erikson argued, this can result in over-identification with peer groups, or problematic sub-cultures like cults, drug and criminal groups on the basis that any identity is better that none.

Progressing from these it might be helpful at this point to briefly look at what partly constitutes identity formation in adolescents, ways in which families and adults can help or obstruct the process of identity formation in adolescent using Marcia’s concept of identity status. James Marcia (1993) cited by Beckett (2002) defined four different kinds of ‘identity status’ as it relates to adolescents. These four are: Identity Diffusion, Identity Foreclosure, Moratorium and lastly, Identity Achievement.

According to James Marcia, two of these statues (Identity Diffusion and Moratorium) are identify by lack of commitment to particular goals or value, while the other two are characterized with commitment.

Using Marcia’s categories of identity status, a group of researchers (Adam et al., 1994 cited by Beckett, 2002) suggested that patterns of identity diffusion would tend to be characteristic of young people from rejecting and detached families.

And identity foreclosure would tend to be a pattern with child-centred, conformist families. Beckett (2002) argues that commitments entered into prematurely in order to avoid the anxiety of leaving matters unresolved may when revisited later be seen as an example of foreclosure.

Stage of moratorium and subsequent identity achieving would be better at reaching by young people from warm and supportive families that encouraged independence. (Adams et al., 1994 cited by Beckett, 2002).

As you can see, the family, as much as other variations of the entire society have impact on young people’s development. It has been assumed for some time that the family has a major influence on the development of children (Maccoby & Martin, 1983 cited by Petersen and Leffert, [n.d]). And family structure and parenting style adopted have been found to have influence on adolescent outcomes.

In commonality, children in single-parent families tend to have less positive outcomes than those in two-parent families ((Maccoby & Martin, 1983 cited by Petersen and Leffert, [n.d]).

Having talked about the factors influencing identity formation that takes place in adolescent, the next focus will now be the psychological factors of this life course.

No doubt, adolescence can be traumatic for some young people owing to the overwhelming transition that might be taking place and it can as well be disruptive for their parents too, but it is by no means necessarily so.

Contrary to perceived wisdom, adolescence is not always characterized by severe emotional disturbance. Of course, there is substantial minority of parents who will need to help their children themselves.

Looking back at the view of G. Stanley Hall in 1904 that adolescent is necessarily a stage of development associated with emotional turmoil and psyche disturbance. This view became so deeply rooted, which was reinforced by a succession of psychoanalytically minded writer that it remains to this day. (Herbert, 2002). The notion that most adolescents suffer from psychological disorders is misrepresentation and damning.

The ‘storm and stress’ conceptualization view of adolescence, while surely not immune from its share of growing pain, is not disproportionately defined by severe emotional disturbance. Psychological problems are a little commoner during middle childhood, but the difference is not great: some 10 – 15 percent of adolescents experience significant psychological problems, but these figures are close to rates at other stages of development (Graham and Rutter, 1993 cited by Herbert, 2002).

Still on emotional disturbance, Herbert (2002) argues that there is a distinction between those difficulties which primarily lead to emotional disturbance or distress for the young people themselves (anxiety, phobic, fear, shyness, depression, feelings of inferiority and timidity) and those which mainly involve the kinds of anti-social behaviour (aggression, lying, stealing and disobedience) which disrupt the wellbeing of others.

Often, those developmental changes tend to take positive directions over the adolescent years in all aspects of biological, cognitive and psychosocial change, it must be noted that rates of emotional and behavioural problems related to psychological and social stress also increase. For most children these kinds of problems manifest themselves briefly at certain periods and then become minimal or disappear completely argues Herbert (2002).

Herbert (2002) noted that from research, for most part, young people who suffer emotional disorders become reasonably well adjusted adults, and in a sense these difficulties are the emotional equivalent of ‘growing pains’. They come and go; nevertheless, they do persist, and can reach levels of intensity which may cause all round suffering.

This metaphor, ‘growing pains’ as been used few times in this essay, but how does it reflects the diversity of the modern migratory patterns that have ensured that almost every culture, with its associated language, religion and other cultural practices, is represented in the United Kingdom?

Reasoning from the background that major part of the identity formation takes place in adolescent. Not surprisingly, therefore, ethnicity has been found to be a more important identity issue for those from minority cultures than it is for those from the majority culture (Phinney and Alipuria, 1990 cited by Beckett, 2002).

No doubt, identity formation can present particular challenges, a different kind of ‘growing pains’ I must say for young people who are members of the ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom. As part of the ‘growing pains’ of ethnic minority teenagers, they may be faced with competing and different models of adult identity that is normative to the majority culture, that is, the western culture.

An ethnic minority teenager has to define his or her own identity not only in relation to the popular culture but in relation to his family and ethnic’s culture which perhaps subscribe to different values in relation to marriage, sex, the role of women, family, religion and so forth. Phinney and Alipuria (1990) cited by Beckett (2002) found out in their study; self-esteem among young people from ethnic minorities in particular to be correlated with their interest in and commitment to their own ethnic identity.

Mullender (1991) cited by Owusu-Bempah (2002) describes a project, The Ebony Project, designed specifically to improve the self-confidence of black youngsters who ostensibly feel confused about their racial identity as a consequence of being adopted or fostered by white families. And this confusion still lingers among some of this group of ethnic minority teenagers.

There is a whole wide variation of challenges faced by adolescents from minority ethnic groups. Occupational role, for example as described by Beckett (2002) is generally accepted as being an important part of adult identity. And, if this is so, went further to acknowledge that the task of establishing such an identity is more difficult if the ethnic minority young people face racial discrimination in the job market.

Having looked partly at the attending facets on this life course termed ‘Adolescence’; it is obvious to anyone working in the social, health or educational services that there are some very real problems in adolescence, as there are for every other stage of development.

There is also the challenge (often an ambiguous one in the society) to be ‘grown up’ and the unwitting self-fulfilling prophecy about adolescence as a period of emotional turmoil and psychic disturbance. Practitioners coming in contact with adolescents who need help must avoid taking a jaundiced view of adolescence.

There is also the challenge parents of adolescents goes through. These parents face particular pressure in their perception of some of the awful risks their children may confront at that period of life course e.g. sexually transmitted disease, the exploitation of naiveté, unwanted pregnancies and innocent emotions. There lies also the danger of trying out drugs or the implications of youthful flashing.

Practitioners’ knowledge and acknowledgment of these challenges while engaging appropriate social work methods and skills will greatly impact upon the ability to reframe the parents’ gloomy perception of adolescence. The implication for practitioners is provide support while engaging parents and children to foster a good relationship and honest lines of communication which are best placed to sensitize the adolescents to danger and strengthen their resolve not to overstep the bounds of reasonable behaviour and risk taking(Herbert, 1987b cited by Herbert, 2002).

Also part of the challenges that practitioners faced working with this client group may have resulted from the evidence that began to accumulate since the late 1940 about the dramatic rise in psychosocial problems in teenagers (Herbert, 2002).

The needs of this clients group requires from the Social Worker an acceptance of the essential continuity of important aspects of their personality from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood.

In addition, transition and changes are features of adolescence, and an understanding of these processes being acknowledged by the Social Worker can be benefit to harassed young people and their parents.


This essay has been able to look at the transition from childhood to adulthood, the term adolescent, its meanings in different societies, the relationship between biology and social factors and different models used in explaining adolescence and the Erikson’s model as the framework for this essay, tying this with identity formation and Marcia’s concept as it extends to the role of family in influencing development in adolescents.

We are also able to gain a different view of the psychological factors influencing this stage of life course and as it affect ethnic minority children and why identity was an important issue for this group of adolescents. And lastly, the challenges of parents with adolescents and the implication for practitioners especially social worker.

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