English Issue > 2003

An Annual English Selection - 2003 - 44 - Supplement

Adolescence, Post-Adolescence, Youth : Revised Interpretations




pp. 163-188


The terms adolescence, post-adolescence, and youth are often employed as near-synonyms to designate the life period between childhood and adulthood. In fact, the terms are linked to distinct sociological interpretations, though these may be only implicit. This article aims to clarify those interpretations, first on the basis of an article by Parsons, who, in 1942 proposed one of the first sociological analyses of “ youth culture ”, defining adolescence as a culture of irresponsibility. The theme of “ post-adolescence ” developed later out of this idea. Other studies, on the contrary, sought to establish a radical distinction between adolescence and youth, the latter defined as “ a new life period ”. Critical review of this thesis leads to revising it on two important points. First, though “ youth ” is distinct from adolescence as defined by Parsons, it does not constitute, or not as fully as had been believed, a clearly separate life phase relative to those preceding and following it ; indeed, the primary characteristic of adolescence is that it establishes continuity between those phases. Second, international comparative studies conducted in the last few years show extraordinary country-to-country variation in the cultural dispositions and institutional arrangements that organize this life phase.



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