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Encyclopedia > Preadolescence
A separate article is about the punk band called The Adolescents.

Adolescence is the transitional stage of development between childhood and full adulthood, representing the period of time during which a person is biologically adult but emotionally not at full maturity. The ages which are considered to be part of adolescence vary by culture, but in the United States, adolescence is generally considered to begin around age 13, and end around 24. "Adolescence" is a cultural and social phenomenon and therefore its endpoints are not easily defined tied to physical milestones. The word derives from the Latin verb adolescere meaning "to grow up." The time is identified with dramatic changes in the body, along with developments in a person's psychology and academic career. In the onset of adolescence, children usually complete elementary school and enter secondary education, such as middle school or high school.

During this period of life, most children go through the physical stages of puberty, which often begin before a person has reached the age of 13. Most cultures regard people as becoming adults at various ages of the teenage years. For example, Jewish tradition considers people to be adult members of the community at age 13, and this transition is celebrated in the bar (or bat) mitzvah ceremony. Usually, there is a formal age of majority when adolescents formally become adults. For example, Japan's celebration of this in January is called the coming of age (or 成人式) (see Japanese calendar).



Puberty, occurring during adolescence, is the stage in the human lifespan when a child begins to develop adult secondary sex characteristics as their hormone balance shifts towards an adult state. Briefly, this is caused by the pituitary gland that secretes hormones into the blood stream which trigger growth in the gonads: the girl's ovaries and the boy's testicles. In female adolescents, the first menstrual period is called menarche.

In most Western countries, the average age of menarche fell in the last century, primarily because of improved nutrition and increased caloric intake. Girls tend to go through puberty a year earlier than boys.


The word preteen describes a child a bit younger than a teenager: perhaps between the ages of about 8 and 12. The neologism tween has the same meaning. This word comes from the age being between that of a child and a teenager. The term also appears in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien with a different meaning: the ages between 20 and 32; the fictional hobbit has a longer life cycle and is considered mature at 33.

Preteens are increasingly a specifically targeted market segment by business, because they tend to maintain the preferences they develop at this age. Even mobile phones are targeted toward this group. Also, tweens tend invariantly to be financially dependent (and less autonomy is expected of them, in the United States, than of teenagers) they have access to parental income that is often more abundant than that of most teenagers and young adults.


A teenager or teen is a person whose age is a number ending in "-teen" in the English language: that is to say, someone from the age of thirteen to the age of nineteen. The word is of recent origin, only having appeared in the mid 20th century. In Western culture, a distinct youth culture has developed. This culture is often considered inferior to the mainstream culture, or in rebellion against it, and is thus often referred to as a subculture or counterculture. By the early 21st century this counterculture has been divided in several branches, often by teenagers themselves. These sub-cultures include teen-"goths", -"punks", -"rockers", -"gangstas", and so forth. A new general term to describe normal modern teen behaviour has spawned in Finland and already widely spread into Sweden and Estonia, the term pissismi. Pissismi means in short everything both parents and many of teen sub-cultures (notably the teen-goths) look down on. This is basically creating of a self-image that is based on mainstream behaviour and style offered by popular youth series and MTV, while simultaneously thinking one is cool and unique.

In Japan, the term joshikousei (女子高生, meaning female high school students) has become widely used for females strictly in the ages from 16 to 18. They are often noted for their obsession with clothes, pop culture and mobile phones. They are often the target of sexual fantasy and ridicule of their obsessions. Prostitution by them, called enjo kosai (援助交際) in Japan, has become a permanent social issue in the late 1990s.

List of famous teenagers

List of people who achieved fame when they were teenagers or preteens

Psychology of adolescents

Maturity in body leads to an interest in sexual activities, sometimes leading to teenage pregnancy. Since they may not be emotionally mature enough or financially able to support children, the latter is usually considered problematic.

At this age there is also a greater probability of drug abuse and alcohol abuse, or mental problems such as schizophrenia, eating disorders and depression. The emotional instability among some adolescents also sometimes causes youth crime.

Search for a unique identity is one of the problems that adolescents often face. They start to ask metaphysical questions about the meaning of life.

At this age, role models such as sports players, rock stars and movie and television performers are very popular, and adolescents often express a desire to be like their chosen role model. For this reason, people who are considered role models are often heavily criticised for their behaviour, because of the perceived danger of adolescents copying them.

Social significance

In commerce, this generation is seen as an important target. Cellular phones, contemporary popular music, movies, television programs, video games and clothes are heavily marketed and often popular amongst adolescents.

In the past (and still in some cultures) there were ceremonies that celebrate adulthood, typically occurring during adolescence. Genpuku (translated as coming of age) in Japan is an instance.

Teenagers have also been an important factor in many movements for positive social change around the world. The popular history of adolescents participating in these movements may perhaps start with Joan of Arc, and extend to present times with popular student activism.

Legal issues

In many countries, those over a certain age (perhaps 18, though this varies) are legally considered responsible adults. Those who are under the age of legal responsibility may be considered too young to be held accountable for criminal action. This is called the defense of infancy.

The issue of youth activism is of growing significance around the world. Youth-led organizations around the world have fought for social justice, the youth vote seeking to gain teenagers the right to vote, secure more youth rights, and demand better schools through student activism.

Youth are also becoming more involved in community leadership, governance, and service. Volunteerism among youth is at a record high, while student voice in schools and youth voice in communities is being engaged in community organizations, government boards, and in youth-serving nonprofit staffs and leadership.

The sale of selected items such as cigarettes, alcohol, videos, and video games with sexual or violent content, is often prohibited based on age. Such age restrictions vary widely. In practice, it is common that young people engage in underage smoking or drinking, and in some cultures this is tolerated to a certain degree. In the United States, teenagers are usually allowed to drive at 16, but cannot legally purchase or consume alcohol until 21. In Europe it is more common for the driving age to be higher (18, usually) while the drinking age is lower. The traditional age of full majority in the U.S. is 21 and, until recently (see: Twenty-sixth amendment) people were not legally allowed to vote until this age. At present, citizens may vote at 18 and usually can run in local and state elections at that age (and sometimes do; in rare cases, high school students have run for school board positions). One must be 25, however, to serve in the House of Representatives and 30 to serve in the Senate or to serve as the President of the United States.

Given the supposed emotional immaturity of adolescents, many countries consider those under a certain age to be too young to engage in sexual intercourse and other sexual activities, even if they are physiologically capable. See age of consent. This issue has been most famously dramatised in the book Lolita (and subsequent movies). Clinically pedophilia (or underage sex) is defined as interest in children before puberty, yet in practice it may also include interest in adolescents, with their maturing bodies. In many countries, sex with adolescents has become a social issue and is considered a serious sex crime. Countries without such laws may be targets for child sex tourism.

Pornography involving those under a certain age, typically 18 (see child pornography), is also considered unacceptable and strictly prohibited in most countries. In the past (and still in poor countries), female adolescents were sometimes forced to engage in prostitution and slavery, even at a young age.

Fiction about teenagers

Nonfiction about teenagers

  • Giroux, H (2003) The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear
  • Giroux, H (1994) Channel Surfing: Racism, the Media, and the Destruction of Today's Youth
  • Giroux, H (1995) Stealing Innocence: Corporate Culture's War on Children
  • Giroux, H (1996) The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence
  • Guilloud, S (2002) Through the Eyes of the Judged: Autobiographical Sketches by Incarcerated Young Men
  • Males, M (1997) The Scapegoat Generation: America's War on Youth
  • Males, M (1999) Framing Youth: Ten Myths About the Next Generation
  • Males, M (2001) Kids & Guns: How Politicians, Experts, and the Press Fabricate Fear of Youth
  • United Nations (2003) World Youth Report (http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/wyr/index.html)
  • Postman, N (1991) The Disappearance of Childhood
  • Kitwana, B (2003) The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture
  • Grace, L (2000) The Teenage Liberation Handbook
  • Fletcher, A (2004) Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to School Change (http://www.soundout.org/MSIGuide.pdf)
  • Dworksy, A (1984) Adolescence: the Wasted Years.
  • Checkoway (1997) Adults As Allies to Youth (http://www.wkkf.org/pubs/YouthED/Pub564.pdf)
  • Innovation Center (2001) http://www.theinnovationcenter.org/product.asp Broadening the Bounds of Youth Development: Youth as Engaged Citizens]
  • Welton, N & Wolf, L (2002) Global Uprising: Stories from a New Generation of Activists
  • California Adolescent Health Collaborative (2001) Involving Youth in Public Policy
  • Dominick, B & Ebrahimi (1999) Liberating Youth
  • Marques, E, Haid, P, & Brown, J (1999) Re-focusing the Lens: Assessing the Challenge of Youth Involvement in Public Policy
  • Cervone, B (2002) Taking Democracy In Hand: Youth Action For Educational Change in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Marques, E & Brown, J (1999) Taking Notice: An Annotated Sampling of Youth Organisations
  • NA (1997) Teens: Little Respect in a Big World?. Crimson and Gray Online
  • Males, M (1999) The "Harper's Index" of Myths About American Teens
  • Hyatt, B (1985) The Oppression and Liberation of Youth
  • Hutchinson, E (2001) Too Young To Vote, But Not To Be Executed
  • McPherson, K, Sisson, M, & Fletcher, A (2001) When Youth Have a Voice, School Climate Changes
  • University of the Poor. (2002) Young People's Liberation Policy

See also

Compare with

  Results from FactBites:
Teaching Judo to Preadolescents (880 words)
Preadolescence is an important period in a child's life.
In time the preadolescent should be able to build his own confidence level through participation and an increase in knowledge in judo.
At the preadolescent level the coach is apt to be confronted with behavior patterns of severe immaturity.
  More results at FactBites »



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