This module is aimed at getting us to think about the implications of knowledge. It requires us to start and finish on the idea that every time we apply a knowledge about adolescence (psychology) or youth (sociology) there are effects. Knowledge is not an objective God which defines the nature of adolescence or youth objectively with no, or little effect, people apply knowledge and that application has effects. A famous educational thinker, Michael Apple, touches upon this in the preface of Nancy Lesko’s (2001) text: Act Your Age!:
Apple (2001) draws our attention to the relationships institutions have with young people. He argues that how young people see themselves (their identities) are shaped by these relationships. He prompts us to realize that the definitions we have about young people can be “as much a part of the problem as they are part of a supposed solution”. So, he is drawing our attention to knowledge and the implications that can happen in our relationships with young people if that knowledge is problematic. Institution 1 – the media – how does that portray youth Have students look at headlines and reflect on the what effect these headlines have on youth Institution 2 Academia Have students talk about the psychological time of adolescence – how is it defined through psychology – is it possible that psychological knowledge might pose problems for youth as well - explain
Academic theories are written by adults, not young people, and are an attempt by adults to define youth and adolescents through their difference to adults. We can take this to mean that these theories generally emphasise the difference between adolescents and adults –young people are not adults because they: biologically are still becoming adults, psychologically are coming to terms with a developing adult identity, and socially are learning to find their independence. Often developmental theories focus on the ‘lack’ of adult traits in adolescents. That is adolescents do not have the necessary traits to be defined as adults. Furthermore, as we have already discussed, academic theories often focus on the risk of adolescence – the vulnerability of the young person and the potential risk that that young person could pose to society. For example, Hall’s (1905) theory did not just talk about adolescence as a time of vulnerability for the adolescence – he also connected that vulnerability to the future of civilised society. So developmental knowledge does not just provide adults with a tool to understand young people, it also provides adults with a tool to be able to control the development of young people. Through definitions like ‘dependence’, adults are able to argue that young people need adult society to aid them in achieving healthy developmental outcomes. For the most part this is true and helpful but these theories, which adults tend to assume to be universal, are not appropriate for all young people and the effect of applying these theories is the risk of stereotyping all young people. Furthermore, although these theories may be helpful many young people are marginalised through these theories.
A history of psychology, with regard to children and youth, is closely connected to a history of industrial society. Indeed, if we look back over history, we will find that a times of structural change and instability contemporary societies tended to associate risk and deviance with young people and minority groups. Psychology was one knowledge that allowed for a definition of the problem and the discovery of solutions. Another knowledge that has emerged alongside psychology has been risk knowledge. Although the evidence of this knowledge predates the industrial revolution, we can find on closer inspection that, during the beginnings of industrial society, people started to associate risk with dangerous populations rather than feats of adventure and dare (Douglas, 1992). The birth of industrial society occurred in the late 1700s and early 1800s. During this time changes in the structure of society were also reflected in the crimes of society. Movement of families and the creation of the class structure – the advent of child labour Psychology provided the middleclass population a tool to aid in the ‘betterment’ of workingclasses. However, there was also another edge to psychology. Alongside increased urbanization, there was an increase in the crime rate, in particular, property crime The advent of population statistics allowed the governing middleclasses to associate risk with the workingclass population (Pratt, 1997). The advent of psychology and mass education allowed for workingclass children to be taken out of the workplace and off the urban streets into the school yard where they could be controlled through socialization and the supervision of adult teachers (Donzelot, 1979).
If we move on in history to the late 1800s and early 1900s we can see the same pattern emerging where an economic depression led to social instability. Alongside these changes, there was a rise in deviance particularly by young people who, in effect, were sandwiched between the end of compulsory schooling (due to age) and the beginning of working life. Alongside these changes, the popularity of eugenics saw governing populations in industrial society attribute deviance and/or pathology to minority groups in society (women, ethnic groups, and workingclasses) and, within psychology, Granville Stanley Hall (Hall, 1905)discovered a new developmental period which he called ‘adolescence’. Rather than associated deviance with the structural changes in society, Hall associated adolescent deviance with an inner turmoil he labeled “storm and stress” (p.xiii).
Granville Stanley Hall has been given the label of the ‘father of adolescence’. Hall discovered adolescence at the end of the 19th Century. Indeed, it was Hall who first used the term ‘adolescence’ to describe a period of development. At that time western societies were going through economic and social turmoil and young people were seen as a problematic population group as they engaged in crime and deviance. Hall combined two theories to describe these young people (Lesko, 2001) evolution theory and recapitulation theory. In effect, we could now say that Hall combined myth or folklore (recapitulation theory) with a newly emerging science (evolution). Through combining these theories, Hall was able to describe a problem (that on the face of it seemed quite social – changes in the economy of western countries were leading to problems with young people) as a psychological problem (the inner turmoil of adolescence). Not only could we attribute Hall with the birth of adolescence but we could also attribute him with the development of youth stereotypes – stereotypes that remain with us today. Hall saw adolescence as a problematic time of “storm and stress” (p.xiii). He was the first to argue that young people were developmentally different to adults – before Hall young people transitioned directly from child to adult. Hall also argued that the developmental difference and vulnerability of adolescents posed a risk to adult society which adult society needed to guide and control. In effect, Hall’s theory led to the marginalisation of young people from adult society – but it also had other effects. Click through the following flash animation to see Hall’s theory at work.
The basis for Hall’s theory was a combination of recapitulation theory and evolutionary theory. Basically, recapitulation theory was a theory of the ranking of the world’s races or ethnicities. Recapitulation theory stressed that the development of civilizations was like a tree – where cultures developed out of savagery into a more civilized position. Cultures were thought as having to go through a turbulent adolescence as they slowly evolved into a civilized position. By combining recapitulation theory with evolutionary theory, people were able to argue that races which could not attain to a civilized position would simply die off – a survival of the fittest scenario.
Hall took the basis of these theories and replaced the terms with developmental ones – civilised with adulthood, savagery with childhood, and the transitional and turbulent moment as adolescence. Nowadays, we would see Hall’s logic as quite absurd as it seems totally illogical to equate human development with cultural development. However, at the time it was highly logical (Beals, In Progress).
In recapitulation theory civilisation equated with technology whereas savagery was closely connected to nature and the wild. At that time, popular Victorian conceptions of childhood also saw childhood connected with nature and adulthood connected with learned technology. So Hall’s transition in his theory was quite logical and made clear sense to his audience. However, it also had implications for young people from minority groups and cultures.
In effect, the first effect of Hall’s was the stereotyping of all young people as different to adults and problematic. Hall did not see adolescence as a time of promise but, rather, as a time of concern. He argued that all young people had to succumb to raging hormones and as a consequence Hall found that all young people had a propensity to deviance. For Hall, it was only through guidance and control that adult society could counter the effects of adolescence. Additionally, Hall’s theory also positioned some young people as more problematic than others … groups who would be seen later as being trapped in dependency and adolescence.
Lesko (2001) argues that through Hall’s theory many cultural and minority groups (working class, women, etc) would be trapped through definition in childhood or adolescence. To see this in action we need to look at the original recapitulation theory as it applied to races. In recapitulation theory, colonial society needed to encourage ethnic minorities to aspire to become civilized. Across colonial countries, this often happened through policies of assimilation. Assimilation is the attempt of one culture to integrate a minority culture within its own. We can see an extreme example of this in the lost generation in Australian history where young aboriginal children were taken from their birth parents and based into borstals or Caucasian families to learn the ways of the ‘white man’ and to marry Caucasian partners (in order to breed the aboriginal blood out of them). We can also see assimilation in history of New Zealand where, in the past, Maori people were banned from speaking Maori and made to go to Maori schools in order to become civilized. These cultural groups were never fully assimilated through these policies. Instead, there differences were exasperated as they experienced inequalities from a variety of dimensions. Returning to Lesko’s (2001) point on recapitulation theory, she argues that ethnic minority youth, through Hall’s ideas, can never really achieve adulthood – that, because of their cultural difference, they will always be trapped in childhood or adolescence. We can see evidence in her argument throughout the history of psychology in western societies where cultural minorities tend to be always shown as a risk group and lacking the abilities of their Caucasian peers. Lesko argues that the same problem is evident for young women and lower socio-economic groups as Hall’s theory was based on male youth and middle-class groups. Many of us would argue that Hall’s theory is no longer relevant. But, we still do use references to Hall’s theory in our everyday commonsense knowledge of youth – even though it has been long recognized that he based his theory on a problematic model of civilization. Hall’s ideas have also been reinforced through other popular theories of human development.
Spend a moment thinking and reflecting about the use of risk factors as commonsense. What are your feelings about how risk factors are being used or misused?
The birth of adolescence
The Birth of Adolescence: GS Hall
Dr. Fiona Beals
We need to be thinking about the
implications of knowledge for each time
when apply it to young people
“The ways in which adolescents are treated during their
teenage years create tensions that last forever.
Class, race, and gender identities are formed in
interaction with institutions. If the definitions of youth
that we build into our policies and programs in schools
and elsewhere are as much a part the problem as
they are a part of a supposed solution, then we risk
creating identities that will come back to haunt us for
generations to come”
(Michael Apple, 2001)
Written by adults
Defines ‘youth’/‘adolescence’ as different to ‘adults’
Young people are typically seen as developmentally
lacking adult traits
Young people are seen as a risk (at risk and a risk)
Developmental knowledge allows adult and adult
institutions to control the development of young people
Developmental knowledge also marginalises some
The Birth of Industrial Society
Changes in the structure of
society were reflected in the
crimes of society
Increased deviance in
Increased deviance in
Calculations of Risk
Reflections of the
Increased crime of the
The rise of the adolescent
The birth of adolescence
G. Stanley Hall
Combination of myth and scientific truth
Explained a social condition psychologically
The birth of stereotypes
The ‘problem’ of adolescence
‘Storm and stress’
Needing guidance and control
Stereotyped all young people as different to
adults and problematic
Propensity to deviance
Positioned some young people as more
problematic than others … groups who would be
seen in the years following as being trapped in
dependency and adolescence
"When I became interested in this subject, I found teachers and
social workers who would point directly to this child or that one
and say he was well on his way to becoming a serial murderer or
some other kind of criminal. In some instances, they would make
these disturbing predictions within the child's hearing. They
would give up on children as young as five and seven years old,
allowing them to drift through their classrooms or placements,
hoping the child would not harm anyone while under their watch.
'I just hope I'm not around when he explodes,' one teacher said to
me of a child I tutored. She believed that there was nothing she
nor anyone else could do to straighten him out. 'Whether it's
genetics or environment, it's over for this child. Move on to
I did not believe that was true. After writing this book, I know it is
not. The problem is adults allowing children who are already well
on their way to sociopathic behaviour - children who clearly
exhibit ominous warnings - to continue freely down such a path.
Just as disturbing are the parents who turn a blind eye or are in
denial of their children's bullying or maladaptive behavior,
attraction to violence, or interest and accumulation of weapons,
especially guns. In my research, I could see the patterns of
behavior that led professionals to proclaim that a child was a
ticking bomb. But I came to believe that it was a self-fulfilling
prophecy only if nothing was done for the child"
(Toth, 2002, 282-283)
“In classrooms around New Zealand, right now, there are a
number of children whose destiny is already in place –
unless a miracle occurs in their life, they will come to
prison … And the age of these children? … the children I
am thinking of are currently 5, 6 and 7 years of age. They
are children who occupy the thoughts of teachers as they
try to change the destiny already visible; children who will
struggle every moment of their life simply because of the
reality into which they were born”
(Lashlie, 2002, 12)
Beals, F. (2000). Youth-at-risk: definition, identification, intervention and prevention. In School of
Education (Ed.), Victoria-Police Education Programme: EDUC 114 understanding human
development and behaviour. Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington.
Beals, F. M. (2004). Education, Lily's Medicinal Compound for Today's Wayward Youth. Paper
presented at the Conference Name|. Retrieved Access Date|. from URL|.
Beals, F. M. (2006a). Digital Connections: Alternative methods of building connections with young
people. Paper presented at the Conference Name|. Retrieved Access Date|. from URL|.
Beals, F. M. (2006b). Reading between the lines: Representations and constructions of youth and
crime in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Unpublished Doctor of Philosophy (Education) thesis, Victoria
University of Wellington, Wellington.
Beals, F. M. (In Progress). It's not just empowering: The implications of psychology and risk
knowledge in explanations of youth crime.
Beals, F. M. (Work in Progress). Socialisation, Risk, and Education: Youth-at-risk in Education.
Teachers College Record.
Epstein, R. (2007). The case against adolescence: Rediscovering the adult in every teen. Sanger,
California: Quill Driver Books.
Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Fairclough, N., & Wodak, R. (1997). Critical Discourse Analysis. In T. A. Van Dijk (Ed.), Discourse
as Social Interaction: discourse studies: a multidisciplinary introduction (Vol. 2, pp. 258-284).
London: Sage Publications.
Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). London:
Fowler, R. (1991). Language in the News: discourse and ideology in the press. London:
France, A. (2007). Understanding youth in late modernity. Maidenhead, United
Kingdom: Open University Press.
Gordon, C. (Ed.). (1980). Power/Knowledge: selected interviews & other writings 1972-
1977 by Michel Foucault. New York: Pantheon Books.
Lesko, N. (1996a). Denaturalizing Adolescence: the politics of contemporary
representations. Youth & Society, 28(2), 139-161.
Lesko, N. (1996b). Past, Present, and Future Conceptions of Adolescence. Educational
Theory, 46(4), 453-472.
Lesko, N. (2001). Act Your Age! A cultural construction of adolescence. New York:
Poynting, S., & White, R. (2004). Youth Work: challenging the soft cop syndrome.
Youth Studies Australia, 23(4), 39-45.
Shaw, J. (2005). Body Mind Spirit: You shake that fist! Tearaway Retrieved 19 May,
2005, from http://tearaway.co.nz/Article.aspx?PostingID=4384
Stereotype. (2006, 19 November). Retrieved 21 November, 2006, from
White, R., & Wyn, J. (2007). Youth and Society: Exploring the social dynamics of youth
experience (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Wyn, J., & White, R. (1997). Rethinking Youth. London: Sage Publications.
Wyn, J., & White, R. (2000). Negotiating Social Change: the paradox of youth. Youth &
Society, 32(2), 165-183.