Introduction to Middle Childhood and Adolescence
School of Family and Consumer Sciences 400.404/504    Instructor: D. Witt

The course deals with the physical, biological, and social/emotional development from pre-teen (from age 8-10) to teenager (from age 11-22 or so).
These are periods of great personal, physical, emotional and cognitive change.  In just a few short years, a person can be taken from innocent to expert, from helpless to helpful,
In terms of our main theoreticians, these ages cover:

  • the cognitive development stages of Concrete Operations to Formal Operations (Piaget)
  • the psychosocial developmental stages stages from school age (industry vs. inferiority) through adolescence (identity achievement vs. role confusion) to young adulthood (intimacy vs. isolation) (Erikson)
  • the biological developmental stages of the end of childhood, entry into puberty/sexuality and on into an adult physical existence.

Because no one develops in isolation, there are important social influences constantly at work during this time.  Thus, we must consider variables like family, peers, culture, and school.

This is a rough and rocky period of growth for children - and an extremely interesting one.  Many of you are just coming out of adolescence yourselves. Some of us never quite make it out, and some say that becoming a complete adult requires staying in touch with some of the playfulness we discovered in childhood.

As a group, young adults today emerging from these processes are demonstrably more achievement, money and college oriented , more likely to volunteer for community projects, growing up earlier, pushed into adult situations, more likely to have maturational difficulties, more likely to be working at a job earlier in life, more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, more financially dependent on parents for longer periods into adulthood, more likely to have experienced the use alcohol and drugs, show more interest in sexuality at earlier ages, more aware of some of their rights, more unaware of their citizenship responsibilities, more likely to be exploited, more interested in physical fitness and more likely to be over or underweight , more influenced by media, more sexually forgiving or permissive, and more preoccupied with self.

Adolescents are often preoccupied with media, music and fashion.  These parts of the culture provide "role equipment" necessary for them to perform their achieved roles.  Because virtually all popular culture has a commercial component, children and teenagers have become target markets for the industry.  Technology, coupled with commerce can have positive and negative effects on the growing child.
So we will examine all this as it is aimed at teenagers to gives us some insight as to their developing selves.

Setting the stage for development, an example:
Here's a short example of the child growing up in a rapidly changing and confusing world. In 1948, the term "teenager" first appeared in life magazine. After WWII teenagers became a bona fide commercial and social grouping, with their own values, attitudes, and social behaviors. Earlier in the 1940s, Les Paul invented a viable electric guitar which would make rock and roll possible. Elvis releases "That's Alright Mama" in 1954. The first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched into geocentric orbit by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957, the same year that Buddy Holly and the Crickets, from Lubbock, Texas, debuted their first record album of songs.

I was born in Lubbock in 1948. The social response to these disparate innovations was a real departure from the normal environment for a child's development. After the Great Depression and the world war, parents were adjusting to a new period of affluency (more family resources), the economy was adjusting to record profits and expanding into new markets, including popular music aimed at teenagers. and the educational system was historically retooled to respond to the threats of new war technology from the Soviets. My peer group and I were viewed as the bright and hopeful future for our families and for our society.   There was also the danger that we were going to hell in a hand basket - via sex, drugs and rock and roll.  As a result of all this, I have a perspective on the world and myself that is almost completely influenced by my training and my life in an environment characterized by change.


  • Middle Childhood is defined  as the period of development from about age 8 to 10and is further defined by Erickson and Piaget, among others.
  • Adolescence is defined as the period of development from age 11 to 22 and derives from the Latin verb adolescere meaning - to grow up, to grow into maturity.
    The words puberty and pubescence are derived from Latin roots pubertas meaning the age of manhood and pubescere to grow hairy (Muus, 1982).
  • The true meaning of adolescence goes beyond mere definitions and depends on who one asks - Parents, Teachers, Scientists, and people who stand to make money off this target population.

The Discovery of Adolescence 1890-1920
G. Stanley Hall - the father of the study of adolescence - was influenced by Darwinian theory of evolution and Haeckel's recapitulation theory. In his attempt to understand the inheritance of behaviors, Hall uttered a famous quote: "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" - meaning that, beginning at conception, each individual develops through all the evolutionary stages from prehistory to modern times.

Hall introduced the debatable notion of adolescence as a period of storm and stress (Sturm und Drang) where thoughts and feelings and actions oscillate between conceit and humility, goodness and temptation, happiness and sadness, kindness and cruelty. These mood swings, in an adult, would be diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder, but for adolescents, this is said to be quite normal.

The Study of Adolescence in the 20th Century
Three life-course developmental issues that dominate discussions of human growth:

  •  nature-nurture—the influence of biological inheritance or environmental experience
  • continuity-discontinuity—development as gradual, cumulative change or distinct stages
  • early-later experience—whether early or later experiences dominate development.
These issues are still under study. However, in terms of nurture, modern times has placed the lives of adolescents in jeopardy:
  • Periodic wars (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Middle East),
  • Development of Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Toxic waste issues
  • Environmental difficulties, Global Warming
  • Incurable sexually transmitted diseases
Stereotyping Adolescents
A stereotype is a broad category that reflects our general (and uninformed) impressions about people. For example, all African-Americans people have rhythm, all Latino men are all good lovers, the Irish are prone to alcoholism, all redheads have bad tempers, all big people are jolly, all teenagers are rebellious and selfish.  The adolescent generalization gap Adelson's concept of widespread generalizations about adolescents based on information about a limited, highly visible group of adolescents.Studies are showing that most adolescents, especially those with competent parents are good people who aren't overloaded with deep emotional turmoil or other social short-comings.  For example, in international studies, 73% of the teens sampled had healthy self-images, expressed confidence about their sexual selves, and positive feelings toward their families, and felt they could cope with troubles as they come along.

The Nature of Development
This refers to stages through which each person will pass during their lifetime. Development means a pattern of movement or change that begins at conception and continues through out the life cycle. Most development involves growth, maturation, and involves several processes at once.
  • Biological processes - changes in the individual's Physical nature due to genetic determination in the areas of brain growth, skeletal development, and the development of endocrine and hormonal processes leading to sexual maturity.
  • Psychological/cognitive processes are the individual's development of thought processes, the capacity to understand increasingly abstract and complex ideas, and the person's ability to express these ideas to others.
  • Social processes - involve changes in the adolescent's relationships with others, emotions and personality. All three processes occur simultaneously, each one determining the others, each development is mitigated by the others.
  • Periods of Development - we can divide, for purposes of discussion, human development into eight stages (Erikson). This strategy allows us to understand developmental change in discrete categories. However, we must always be aware that this is a device, and not the actual nature of humans, such as: Prenatal -> Infancy -> Early Childhood -> Middle & Late Childhood -> Early and Late Adolescence -> Early, Middle and Late Adulthood -> Death.
  • Maturation and Experience - Growth and development occur because of the interplay between physical maturation and the experiences that come with age. This is the resolution of the nature-nurture controversy - that growth is equally influenced by biology and social relationships. It is important to view biological development in the context of the times in which it occurs - social time, historical time, as well as lifetime.
  • Continuity and Discontinuity Slow, cumulative growth toward maturity - continuity distinct stages of maturity - discontinuity 
A Lifespan Perspective on Adolescence and the Size of the Population
Throughout the course, we will try to keep three themes in mind:
  • Gender Differences - boys and girls, growing up in the same environment, have different aspects and meanings of the environment emphasized
  • Cultural Diversity - an individual's racial, geographic, ethnic, social class heritage comprises their total cultural heritage, which continues to influence development throughout life.
  • Lifespan Perspective - middle childhood and adolescence are segments of life with connections to past and future development - but these are not the only influences..
In terms of the size of the United States population:

  • 24% of the U.S. population are under the age of 18. By 2050 that becomes 23.14% of a larger population (an increase in 10 million people under 18 years of age)
  • 75 million people under the age of 18 - estimating 20% in poverty equals a little over 15 million living in poverty.
    With no changes in social or economic policy, the numbers are estimated to become, by 2050, 101 million people under 18 with 20.3 million living in poverty
  • The U.S. population is "aging"
    • in 1982 average age in the U.S. was 30.6 years of age
    • in 1990 - 32.9
    • in 2000 - 36.3
    • by 2030 - 40.8
While the changes in age look relatively small, on this national scale, the impact of an aging population on adolescents might be dramatic.  As the birthrate declines and the population gets older there will be fewer people to work, fewer customers to buy goods and services, a slower economy. Lawmakers will continue to seek votes from older voters (This means promising to meet their needs instead of the needs of younger adults and their children. Young people will continue to face lower relative wages, higher prices for consumables, higher college tuition, and might face a lower standard of living as a group.
Changes in Population Diversity
In 1950 the percentage of the population as a whole that was considered "minority" was 10.7%.   Today that percentage is closer to 19-20% overall and will likely climb to 25% by 2080.  Thinking in terms of geographical differences and rural vs. urban differences, these changes in diversity make for very real social differences and changes in the culture.  We are seeing political leadership becoming more diverse, as is economic, educational and religious leadership. Louis Wirth (1945) defined minority as a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in a society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination. Minority status carries with it the exclusion from full participation in the life of the society, by this definition. Minorities can be set apart by: race religion nationality or other characteristics, such as: age gender disability, or by BEING ADOLESCENT.

More diversity makes for vaccinations against discrimination and unequal treatment. The Assimilation argument that minorities are absorbed, over time, into the larger society was to be accomplished largely through public schools. This worked for most all Caucasian groups - Irish, Polish, Hungarians, leaving people of color unassimilated in many ways until more recently. The Acculturation argument suggests that assimilation to the social system occurs only to the extent that strong cultural ties to one's own group can be diminished.  Our economy is partially based on target markets, some of which are comprised of minorities, most of which are not.  Thus, we can have much in common with African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans by eating the same food, singing the same songs, experiencing similar family lives, living under the same rules, having the same chances in life to achieve, learn, and work.

The truth probably is that we are all facing many of the same challenges and opportunities.  The ability to individually recognize and capitalize on what life will bring us depends, almost completely, on the quality of our environment as we develop from infancy, through childhood and adolescence, and on into adulthood.

Next time, we will begin our study of how this all works from a theoretical perspective, looking at theories of human development.