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The word adolescent derives from the Latin term adolescere, which is
translated as “growing into maturity”. According to Coleman (2006) adolescence
is the transitional period between puberty and adulthood in human development.
During this period individuals are subjected to physical, psychological and
emotional changes. Amid this process of development adolescents are confronted
with many challenges which are experienced simultaneously. Spear (2000) points
out that this is as a period of heightened stress. Stanley G Hall (1904) was
the first to consider the storm-and-stress issue in relation to adolescent
development. Hall (1904) proposed that storm and stress was an imminent part of
adolescent development. He analyses storm and stress through three key aspects;
conflict with parents, mood disruptions and risky behaviour. This essay will
consider whether adolescence is a period of storm and stress. It will begin by
exploring adolescence through its historical and cultural context. Furthermore,
it will critically analyse the different approaches to adolescence and the
extent to which they characterise adolescents as a time of storm and stress.
Some of the main theorists that will be used in this essay are Stanley Hall,
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sigmund and Anne Freud, Erik Erikson and Margaret Mead.

 

During the Middle Ages adolescence was disregarded as a life stage.
Childhood and adolescence were considered as two sides of the same coin (Dubasa
et al, 2013). The first person to establish a difference between the two was
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau (1962) described adolescence as a change in
humour, frequent anger and a mind in constant agitation. ?In the 18th century,
the period of adolescence was first seen in middle and upper class children as
the time spent in education went on longer and children stayed home for an
increasing part of their lives. After World War II, adolescence became a
generic phenomenon (Dubasa et al, 2003) and the 20th century saw the Emergence
of adolescence as a distinctive category. Piaget et al (2000) concluded that
there were four different stages in the cognitive development, he states that
adolescents go through the Formal Operational Stage, from the age of around
eleven to sixteen or more. According to Koop et al (2003) despite the
historically changing view of adolescence and social context in which they
developed, stereotypes of adolescents certainly remain parallel to those of
today and act as the foundation of our present-day representations of
adolescence.

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Stanley G Hall (1904) was the first to acknowledge the storm and stress
hypothesis in relation to adolescent development. However he was not the first
in the history of Western thought to observe the emotional and behavioural
distinctiveness of adolescence. Adolescence as a period of stress and storm can
be traced back as far as writings of Plato and Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle
(9999) described adolescence as a period which focuses on the struggle between
reason and passion. They describe adolescence and youth as being “heated by
nature as drunken men by wine”. Furthermore they typified youth as prone
to “contradict their parents” and “tyrannize their
teachers”. Similarly, Rousseau (1962, pp. 172-173) used a metaphor in
describing adolescence: “As the roaring of the waves precedes the tempest,
so the murmur of rising passions announces the tumultuous change…. Keep your
hand upon the helm,” This supports the notion that adolescence is a period of
heightened stress (Spear, 2000) and what Hall (1904) refers to as a period of
storm and stress.

Hall was influenced by the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. He
thought along the lines of Darwin’s natural selection and that an individual’s
growth and development reflects the evolutionary history of its species. Hall
then applied that to adolescent behaviour. ?In his 1904 book on adolescence, he
suggested that storm and stress was an imminent part of adolescent development.
He defined adolescence as a period of “storm and stress, a time of
universal and of inevitable upheaval”. To Hall, adolescence depicted a
period when early human beings went from being beast-like to being civilized.
?His storm and stress hypothesis refers to the decreased self-control seen in
adolescents (the “storm”) versus the increased sensitivity in adolescents to
differing arousing stimuli around them (the “stress”). Hall claimed that this
change in human development was due to the transformation of human society in
the decades following the Civil War. ??There was a bundle of upheaval and
disorder in reflection to a stage in the human evolutionary past. This stage is
also seen in the adolescence stage which is why Hall believed that this
resulted in adolescents experiencing a lot of storm and stress as part of their
development. For Hall, storm and stress affected adolescent behaviour in three
ways; conflict with parents, mood disruptions and risky behaviour.

Adolescents have a tendency to be rebellious and to resist adult authority.
In particular, adolescence is a time when conflict with parents is especially
high. Hall (1904) viewed adolescence as a time when “the wisdom and advice
of parents and teachers is overtopped, and in truer natures may be met by blank
contradiction” (Vol. 2, p. 79). As adolescents seek autonomy, they tend to
rebel against authority figures. In other words this conflict occurs as
adolescents crave independence but the parents still consider them as children.
The majority of college students surveyed by Holmbeck and Hill (1988) agreed
with statements such as “adolescents frequently fight with their
parents.” This conflict is more likely to occur if the adolescent is
depressed (Cole & McPherson, 1993) or an “early maturing girl”
(Collins, 1990) and when the adolescent is experiencing other problems such as
substance abuse (Petersen, 1988). Parents tend to perceive adolescence as the
most difficult stage of their children’s development (Buchanan et al., 1990)
and this conflict makes adolescence difficult not just for adolescents but also
for their parents.  

 

Hall (1904) viewed adolescence as “the age of… rapid fluctuation of
moods” (Vol. 1, p. xv), with extremes of both elation and depressed mood.
Mood disruptions occur due to the biological changes of puberty. ?Hormonal
changes and the psychological stress of adolescence can cause uncontrollable
shifts in emotions. A study by Larson and Richards (1984) looked at how
adolescents’ emotions vary in the course of a day and how these variations
compared with the emotions recorded by preadolescents and adults using the same
method. The study entailed adolescents to carry beepers throughout the day and
they had to record their thoughts, behaviour, and emotions when they are beeped
at random times. The results of this research supported the storm-and-stress
claim that adolescence is a time of greater mood disruptions. Adolescents report
experiencing extremes of emotion more often than their parents do. Larson and
Richards (1994) saw this increase in mood disruptions as due to cognitive and
environmental factors rather than pubertal changes. They emphasized that it is
not just that adolescents experience potentially stressful events, but how they
experience and interpret them, that underlies their mood disruptions.  

 

Neurological connections combined with emotional immaturity causes
adolescents to seek stimulation lead to increased risk-taking behaviour during
adolescence. ?Adolescents have higher rates of reckless, norm-breaking, and
antisocial behaviour than either children or adults. Buchanan and Holmbeck
(1998) reported that college students and parents of early adolescents viewed
adolescents as more likely than elementary school to have problems such as
being rebellious and risk taking behaviour. Some risky behaviours included
criminal behaviour, unprotected sex, underage drinking and drug use. This
behaviour usually occurs in later adolescence. Hall (1904, pp, 404) quoted in
his book that “a period of semi criminality is normal for all healthy
adolescent boys. Adolescents are more likely to cause disruptions of the social
order and to engage in behaviour that carries the potential for harm to
themselves and/or the people around them.  

 

Freud’s theory of psychosexual development (1968) also portrays adolescence
as being fraught with internal struggle. Internal struggle occurs between
biological (sex) drive and cultural constraints. Conflict between the ID and
the Superego leads to period of conflict turmoil and psychological
disequilibrium. Like Hall, psychoanalytic theorists viewed adolescent storm and
stress as rooted in the recapitulation of earlier experiences, but as a recapitulation
of ontogenetic oedipal conflicts from early childhood (Bios, 1962). This
recapitulation of Oedipal conflicts provoked emotional volatility, depressed
mood (as the adolescent mourned the renunciation of the Oedipal parent), and
conflict with parents (in the course of making this renunciation (Freud, 1968,
p. 18).Unfortunately the work of Freud is heavily criticised; his work is based
on a small number of case studies and is therefore regarded as unreliable and
cannot be generalised to the whole population. This theory may have been
applicable at the time is was developed but not applicable to today’s society. Anna Freud (9999) viewed
storm and stress as universal and immutable, to the extent that its absence
signified psychopathology. She viewed adolescents who did not experience storm
and stress with great suspicion. In her words “To be normal during the
adolescent period is by itself abnormal” (1958. p. 267).  

?

Defence mechanisms are psychological strategies that are unconsciously used
to cope with anxiety arising from unacceptable thoughts or feelings. Certain
defence mechanisms are used by healthy persons throughout life and only become
pathological when they are constantly used leading to abnormal behaviour where
the physical or psychological health of the individual is severely affected.
Adolescents use defence mechanisms in order to deal with the internal conflict
while they are going through ‘storm and stress’. Some of the defence mechanisms
include rationalisation, repression, displacement and identification. But the
question is how significant are these defence mechanisms? Defence mechanisms
are one of the commonest ways adolescents to cope with unpleasant emotions. An
example would be the identification defence mechanism. In adolescents in identification
would be away from a parent towards an external figure. The Focal theory
(Coleman and Hendry, 1999) suggests that adolescents manage their issues by
dealing with only one at a time. Adolescents spread the process of adapting
over a number of years, attempting to resolve only one issue at a time so the
resulting stresses are rarely concentrated all at one time. Coleman’s focal
theory states that most adolescents can cope with changes or difficulties that
may occur in their lives, as they have the ability to focus on each new problem
as it arises.

 

Erik Erikson (1950, 1963) proposed a psychoanalytic theory of psychosocial
development comprising eight stages from infancy to adulthood. During each
stage, the person experiences a psychosocial crisis which could have a positive
or negative outcome for personality development. His ideas were greatly
influenced by Freud, going along with Freud’s (1923) theory regarding the
structure and topography of personality. The fifth stage is identity vs. role
confusion, and it occurs during adolescence, from about 12-18 years. This stage
plays an essential role in developing a sense of personal identity which will
continue to influence behaviour and development for the rest of a person’s
life. Erikson (9999) argues that this stage may cause an adolescent to suffer
“storm and stress”. During adolescence, children explore their independence and
develop a sense of self. ?Many adolescents begin to change and rebel. They
explore new ideas about themselves and their place in the world. Erikson (9999)
said that this exploration is part of a psychosocial crisis, or a developmental
period when a person has to resolve a conflict in his or her own life. In
adolescence, many people find that the tension between the internal forces of
the self and the external forces of society is particularly high. Those who
receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration
will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and feelings of
independence and control and those who remain unsure of their beliefs and
desires will feel insecure and confused about themselves and the future.
Despite the fact that Erik’s work has face validity, he can be criticised for
being too vague about the causes of development.

 

The biological approach argues that the agitation in adolescence is
universal and is not affected by time and social context. The process of
development initially starts with puberty. During puberty, the young person
achieves their adult size and appearance alongside all the underlying
physiological processes (Tanner, 1962). Current evidence indicates that
biological changes make some contribution in respect to mood disruptions.
?Buchanan et al., (1992) suggests that hormonal changes during puberty
contribute to emotional volatility. However, research has shown that the
biological changes of puberty alone do not make adolescent storm and stress
either universal or inevitable. However, scholars in this area emphasize that
the hormonal contribution to adolescent mood disruptions appears to be small
and tends to exist only in interaction with other factors. ?Furthermore too
little is known about the role of biological factors to make definitive
statements at this point about the role they may play in adolescent storm and
stress.  

 

Numerous possibilities exist concerning biological influences on storm and
stress and the interaction between biological and cultural factors. Rather than
viewing storm and stress as being both inevitable and rooted in biology, it is
probably more accurate to recognize six basic premises about adolescent
biology. Firstly the biological changes of adolescence are inevitable and
ubiquitous. Adolescent biological changes drive various mechanisms of
adolescent behaviour an Adolescent biological changes are shaped by
environmental influences. Furthermore individual differences in adolescent
emotional behaviour changes are domain specific and vary in intensity. There
are also individual differences in the age of onset and duration of periods of
adolescent change and lastly individual differences in the duration and
intensity of transitions in emotional arousal are functional moderated by emotion
regulation skills. Based on the six premises they put forward, Hollenstein and
Lougheed suggest that the traditional storm and stress hypothesis of
adolescence is likely obsolete. Alternatively, Hollenstein and Lougheed suggest
that the ‘4T approach’ represents a better way of understanding how adolescents
develop and change over time. The four T’s are typicality, transactions,
timing, and temperament.  

 

The idea of adolescence being a period of storm and stress is not universal
and is affected by time and social and cultural context. This can be
established by the fact that not all cultures experience adolescent storm and stress
to the same degree and in fact some cultures do not experience it at all.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead (1928), opposed the claim that inclination towards
storm and stress in adolescence is universal and biological. Her study of
adolescents in Samoa (1928) found that most traditional cultures experience
less storm and stress among their adolescents, compared with the West. However
the validity of Mead’s work has been questioned. Thus the chaotic experience of
adolescents is not biologically determined but rather reflects the role of the
cultural context in promoting these types of changes. This was also confirmed
by Schlegel and Barry (1991), in their analysis of adolescence in 186
“traditional” (preindustrial) cultures worldwide. They reported that
most traditional cultures experience less storm and stress among their
adolescents, compared with the West. A key difference between traditional
cultures and the West, as Schlegel and Barry (1991) observed, is the degree of
independence allowed by adults and expected by adolescents. ?Even in
traditional cultures, adolescent storm and stress is not unknown. The research
suggests that storm and stress is milder and in some cultures non-existent in
in comparison more extreme in western cultures. ?

 

Albert Bandura (1964) also challenged this claim of storm and stress with
his study on the adolescent experience. His research illustrated that the
majority of youth did not experience adolescence as a turbulent time and those
who did also indicated a stressful childhood experience. This implies that the
period of adolescence does not bring about the turbulence, factor such as
childhood experience contribute to storm and stress in adolescence. Bandura
(1964) also denoted that it is rare that the mass media present adolescents as
being anything but stormy. In turn this created a distorted view of child
development and this expectation of adolescence often becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy. ?Furthermore Marcia’s theory of identity achievement (1980) also
contradicted the notion of adolescence as a time of crisis. Marcia claims that
adolescent identity formation has two major parts: a crisis and a commitment.
?He defines the crisis as a time of upheaval where old values are being
reconsidered. The end outcome of the crisis contributes to a commitment made to
a particular role or value.  

 

To conclude, the claim that adolescence is a time of storm and stress is
based on many theories of adolescent development. The term storm and stress was
coined by Stanley G Hall (1904) who used it to describe the period of
adolescence as a time of turmoil and much difficulty. According to hall storm
and stress is composed into three key elements; conflicts with parents, mood
disruptions, and having higher rates of risky behaviour. ?Storm and stress is
not just a myth but instead it is a real part of life for adolescents and their
families (Arnett, 1999). The biological approach argues that the turbulence in
adolescence is universal and is not affected by time and social context. The
process of development starts with puberty. Factors such as biological changes
can lead to mood disruptions. However research has shown that the biological
changes of puberty alone does not mean that adolescent storm and stress either
universal or inevitable. By automatically assuming all that adolescents go
through this phase as they become adults seems to be overly simplistic.
Alternative studies show that not all cultures experience adolescent storm and
stress to the same degree and in fact some cultures do not experience it at all
(Mead, 9999). In spite of attempts by Mead, Bandura and other theorists to
dispute the storm and stress hypothesis, the debate that G. Stanley Hall
started still continues after nearly a century.

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