In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adolescence

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Adolescent Brain Development

Education Adolescence
Alan Davis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0111


Adolescence (from Latin, adolescere, to grow up) is the period of transition from childhood to adulthood, beginning with the onset of puberty, and lasting through sexual maturity and the termination of physical growth, with societal recognition of adult status. Accordingly, as a construct, adolescence reflects both the universal biological stage of development associated with puberty, and societal norms associated with childhood and adulthood and the transition from one to the other. Both the biological and social processes of development take place within larger systems that are subject to change. For example, shifts in the onset of puberty have been associated with changes in diet, and shifts in employment patterns and work requirements have delayed access to full-time work and economic self-sufficiency associated with adulthood. Consequently, the transition to adulthood has aspects that are situated in time, place, culture, and social position. Adolescence emerged as a field of study within the field of psychology with the work of G. Stanley Hall (see Hall 1904, cited under General Overviews) at the beginning of the 20th century, and from the onset was problematized as a period during which youth were prone to take risks, experience strong emotional shifts, and engage in delinquent or self-destructive behaviors. By the 1930s anthropologists, including Margaret Mead, were studying the transition to adulthood in non-Western cultures, with an emphasis on the cultural contexts of development, including ceremonies and rituals, group norms and customs, and social structures. The themes of deviation from trajectories toward adult norms of productive employment, stable relationships, and emotional stability that dominated early work grounded mainly in psychology and biology remain common in research on adolescence, but there is also a movement away from approaching adolescence as inherently problematic. There is also a growing consensus that the study of adolescence should be grounded in interactional processes within complex systems. Changes in the developing individual at all levels of scale involve interaction with the environment, and the environment is at once physical and social. As changes in technology and economic systems have led to prolonged schooling, the study of adolescence has also become strongly associated with secondary and post-secondary education and the normative assumption that adolescent youth should be enrolled in schools and progress along expected academic trajectories.

General Overviews

The works in this section provide overviews and introductions to the subject of adolescence. The first major academic work on the topic was Hall 1904, a two-volume work that, in the early 21st century, is mainly of interest as a historical marker of where the field was at its onset. Lerner and Steinberg 2009 provided the best available scholarly overview at the time of its publication. The leading textbooks on adolescence in the United States are Santrock 2016, Steinberg 2017, Arnett 2013, and Cobb 2011. Of these, Arnett 2013 is distinguished by its global perspective, drawing on anthropology as well as psychology, and Steinberg 2017 is particularly comprehensive. All four books are highly regarded, and each provides a comprehensive overview of the topic. See also Arnett 2006.

  • Arnett, Jeffrey. 2006. G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence: Brilliance and nonsense. History of Psychology 9:186–197.

    DOI: 10.1037/1093-4510.9.3.186

    An in-depth overview and critique of Hall 1904, a classic two-volume work on adolescence that introduced the topic as a subject of scholarly and scientific research.

  • Arnett, Jeffrey. 2013. Adolescence and emerging adulthood: A cultural approach. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson.

    This is a comprehensive overview of adolescence, but with greater emphasis on cultural variations in adolescent development than present in other textbooks. Arnett’s identification of emerging adulthood as a distinctive period of growth and development also distinguishes this text.

  • Cobb, Nancy. 2011. Adolescence. 7th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

    This is a comprehensive and positively reviewed textbook on adolescence.

  • Hall, G. Stanley. 1904. Adolescence: Its psychology and its relations to physiology, anthropology, sociology, sex, crime and religion. 2 vols. New York: Appleton.

    This work represents the first major treatise on adolescence as a field. Although Hall emphasized problematic aspects of adolescence and made many assertions no longer supported by science, several aspects he associated with adolescence remain familiar, including heightened sensation seeking, mood swings, delinquency, influence of media, and influence of peers.

  • Lerner, Richard, and Laurence Steinberg, eds. 2009. Handbook of adolescent psychology. 3d ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780471726746

    The handbook presents “state of the art” research summaries from a scientific perspective. Following an overview, it organizes twenty-four chapters into three major sections: foundations of the developmental science of adolescence, social relationships and social contexts in adolescence, and challenges and positive youth development.

  • Santrock, John. 2016. Adolescence. 16th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    A best-selling textbook on adolescence, presenting a comprehensive overview of the field.

  • Steinberg, Laurence. 2017. Adolescence. 11th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    This is a very highly regarded textbook on adolescence by one of the most highly regarded scholars in the field.

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