Turmoil and stress- is this inevitable?

Adolescence marks the transition between childhood and adulthood and involves many physical and psychological changes that may cause stress and turmoil. Hendry and Kloep (’99) proposed that adolescence is a time for several shifts to take place, shifts may be normative maturational, normative society-dependent or non normative such as parental divorce, family bereavement or illness. It may be the case that non-normative shifts make the transition particularly difficult to cope with and are more likely to result in stress and turmoil.

In Western society adolescence serves as a moratorium, it delays adulthood to free the adolescent from responsibility to help the transition, whereas in some societies the transition occurs in an initiation ceremony. Hall (1904) proposed that each person’s psychological development recapitulates both the biological and cultural evolution of human species and that this mirrors the volatile history of humans over the last two thousand years. This is the ‘storm and stress’ theory and would suggest that adolescence is inevitably a time of turmoil and stress. There is some evidence to suggest that adolescents have very intense and volatile emotions and other indicators of ‘storm and stress’ are mental disorder and delinquent behaviour.

A study to support this storm and stress theory was carried out by Csikszentmihalyi and Larson (’81), 75 Chicago high school students were given pagers to wear and every 2 hours over a week they wrote down what they were doing and how they felt about it. It was found that mood swings were very rapid, teenagers could go from being sad to happy in less than an hour whereas adults tend to take several hours to reach extreme moods, this suggests that it is very stressful being a teenager. However, as this study was only carried out in Chicago the findings cannot be generalised to other cultures, and mood swings are not necessarily a sign of inner turmoil. This study relies on subjective judgement by the students to describe their moods so results may not be reliable.

Rutter’s Isle of Wight study (’76) seems to contradict the idea that adolescence will always cause turmoil and it was found that although there was a small peak in mental disorder in adolescence the claims that it was a time of ‘storm and stress’ for everyone are greatly exaggerated. Rutter used over two thousand 14 and 15 year olds in his study, parents and teachers filled out behaviour questionnaires about them. Two sub samples were taken from the group, one consisting of those with extreme scores on deviancy questionnaires and a smaller randomly selected group. Both male and females showed a slightly higher instance of mental disorders in 14 and 15 year olds than in 10 year olds or adults.

This shows that there may be a small group of adolescents who experience inner turmoil but that mental disorder is not seen in the majority of people. Most of those with mental disorder in adolescence already had the mental disorder as a child and of those developing a mental disorder in adolescence most were experiencing very stressful circumstances at the time. Mental disorder is a rather extreme measure to assess storm and stress, many teenagers will experience some degree of stress and turmoil but this will not lead to mental disorder in the majority, only a small minority will experience mental illness. In this study the sample size was very large so results should be reliable. However, original data collected about adolescents was from parents and teachers so may be biased.

Research by Caspi et al (’93) suggests that whether adolescence is stressful or not may depend on when puberty occurs. The teenage years are necessary for the child to physically develop into an adult and the changes associated with puberty such as a growth spurt, extra body hair, menarche and growth of breasts in girls, wet dreams and the voice breaking in boys are maturational normative shifts. Adolescents may become very critical of their changing self as they are confronted by cultural standards of beauty in evaluating their own body image, this may lead to dieting and non-normative behaviours such as eating disorders (Davies and Furnham ’86).

The time at which changes occur may be important in determining how the adolescent feels about the transition. Caspi studied children in Dunedin in New Zealand, who were studied every 2 years between the ages of 3 and 15. It was found that girls who mature early are at risk of early delinquency (breaking windows, getting drunk, prank phone calls and stealing at school), tend to associate with people who carry out these behaviours and show more delinquent behaviours in later adolescence such as shoplifting, smoking marijuana, car theft or using weapons. This study showed that only those in mixed sex schools were at risk. Results cannot be generalised because the sample was only taken from a small area. In boys off time puberty was linked to increased alcohol consumption.

Another purpose of being a teenager is to allow time for role change and new relationships to form. During adolescence the child-parent relationship must change into a young adult-parent relationship, with the adolescent steadily gaining more freedom. Adolescents strive for …

Girls may find the transition of adolescence more stressful because during puberty they will gain body fat and move further away from their cultural ideal. Girls also have to deal with menstruation which is negatively associated with blood and discomfort. …

In the opening years of the 20th century, G. Stanley Hall gave a broad definition of modern adolescence using both the psychological and physical parameters. In his two volume work, ‘Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, …

The immune system is made up of cells and chemicals that seek and destroy bacteria and viruses. When someone is experiencing a stressful situation, all the body’s resources are diverted and this suppresses the immune system by stopping the production …

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