In many western cultures, though, it seems clear that stressful conflicts are often a part of adolescence. Some of these conflicts pit the teenager's movement toward adulthood against the limits imposed by society. Our society forces adolescents to go to school, limits the labor they can do, and governs them with laws that apply to minors but not to adults. Society controls the age at which adolescents may vote, drink, drive, enlist in the military, and even enter into contracts. Often these age limits bear little relation to the biological or psychological development of the adolescents involved.
The part of the life cycle known as adolescence did not become recognized as a "life phase" until the nineteenth century. In fact, that Keniston (1970) proposed the recognition of yet another "life phase": youth. Youth is essentially a period of "student hood"; it exists only for those who move on to post-secondary education before settling into full-time work. Whatever the length of the period, the time it affords can be valuable. It can serve as a kind of lull, a time for serious experimentation without the need for a long-term commitment to a single course of adult life. Because the peer group is no longer such a dominant influence, the individual has a new freedom to develop individually- to shape a personal perspective on life and a sense of direction before tackling the challenges of true adulthood.
Early and Middle Adulthood
The longest part of the life cycle- the period from about the early twenties to the early sixties- is actually the part that developmental psychologists have studied least. Why? Perhaps because the dramatic transformations of infancy, childhood, and adolescence distracted them from the often subtle changes of adulthood. Perhaps also because many of them saw adulthood as a time of stability, not a period of development. Recently, this viewpoint has been challenged, particularly by the life-span developmental psychologists. These researchers are committed to the view that development occurs at every point along the life span, including adult¬hood. Consequently, they have made the full life span- from conception to death- a focus of study.
Biological change in Adulthood:
During their twenties, most people reach their peak of strength, agility, reaction time, and manual dexterity. All four attributes decline gradual¬ly over the next decades, but most people are reasonably healthy and physically sound into their fifties and sixties. Muscular strength, for in¬stance, peaks between the ages of 25 and 30, but there is only about a 10 to 15 percent loss of strength by age 60. Aging also revamps our physical appearance, as visitors to any 10 or 20 year class reunion can testify. Weight is redistributed, hairlines may recede, hair grays, skin texture changes as drying and wrinkling begin, and often the structure of the face becomes modified. In women, one of the most dramatic physical changes is menopause, the cessation of menstruation. This usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55; it signals the climacteric- the end of ovulation and the termination of reproductive capacity. There is no parallel event for men; men can produce viable sperm at all ages, but their reproductive capacity does decline gradually over their adult years.
In thinking about biological changes in adulthood, it is important to keep an important fact in mind: Not all of the changes have a direct impact on behavior. For example, some research has shown that it is only among very unhealthy adults that heart and lung functioning are highly correlated with performance at work or activities at home. Generally, the physiological changes that accompany early and middle adulthood seem not to have major effects on work or other behavior, except where physical performance expectations are very high, as in professional athletics.
“How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?” This question, posed by folk philosopher Satchel Paige, raises an important point for psychologists to consider Age, and especially “old age,” is partly a matter of subjective perception. The boundary between middle and old age is not clearly marked by any physical or intellectual transformation. The attainment of "old age" is a gradual process marked by subtle changes in physical appearance, and the timing varies from one individual to the next.
An adult is a human being or living organism that is of relatively mature age, typically associated with sexual maturity and the attainment of reproductive age. In human context, the term has other subordinate meanings associated with social and legal concepts; for example, a legal adult is a legal concept for a person who has attained the age of majority and is therefore regarded as independent, self-sufficient, and responsible (contrast with "minor").
Adulthood can be defined in terms of physiology, psychological adult development, law, personal character, or social status.
A young adult, according to stages of human development, is generally a person between the age of 20 - 40, whereas an adolescent is a person between the age of 13 - 19, although definitions and opinions vary. The young adult stage in human development precedes middle adulthood. A person in the middle adulthood stage is between the ages of 40 - 65. In maturity, a person is 65 years old or older.
The most dramatic life transitions that people in our culture make. One of these is the transition from childhood into adolescence. In a stunningly short time, the child takes on an adult like physique and intellect and is dubbed a "teenager." Some theorists portray the adolescent's world as especially peaceful, a time to make decisions about who one is and how one is to live one's life. Others portray adolescence as a time of great stress- as a struggle to keep one's psychological balance in the face of the crisis of puberty.
A second transition we will consider is the movement into the responsible world of the true adult- the world of careers, marriage, and family. Finally, we will consider the aging process and the period we call old age. This period, as we shall see, involves some kinds of decline; but it also offers the prospect of intellectual mellowing and a special quality called "wisdom."
"It's when you have to pay adult prices for movies, but you can't see adult movies." With these words, a 13-year-old named Dawn summed up her views on early adolescence- a time when society sends mixed signals to youngsters. Technically, adolescence is the period from the beginning of sexual maturity (puberty) to the completion of physical growth. The psychological impact of the transitional adolescence may differ across individuals and perhaps even across cultures.
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