Adolescence is the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. Social scientists have traditionally viewed adolescence as a time of psychosocial “storm and stress”—of bearing the burdens of wanting to be an adult long before becoming one. Sociologists today are more likely to view adolescence as a positive time of opportunities and growth, as most adolescents traverse this transition without serious problems or rifts with parents.
Freud called the period of psychosexual development beginning with puberty the genital stage. During this stage sexual development reaches adult maturity, resulting in a healthy ability to love and work if the individual has successfully progressed through previous stages. Because early pioneers in development concerned themselves only with childhood, Freud explained that the genital stage encompasses all of adulthood, and described no special difference between adolescent and adult years.
In contrast, Erikson noted that the chief conflict facing the adolescent at this stage is one of identity versus identity confusion. Hence, the adolescent is posed with the psychosocial task of developing individuality. To form an identity, adolescents must define personal roles in society and integrate the various dimensions of their personalities into a sensible whole. They must wrestle with such issues as selecting a career, college, religious system, and political party.
Researchers Carol Gilligan and Deborah Tannen have found differences in the ways in which males and females achieve identity. Gilligan has noted that females seek intimate relationships, while males seek independence and achievement. Deborah Tannen has explained these differences as being due, at least in part, to the dissimilar ways in which parents socialize males and females.
The hormonal changes of puberty affect the emotions of adolescents. Along with emotional and sexual fluctuations comes the need for adolescents to question authority and societal values, as well as to test limits within existing relationships. These needs become readily apparent within the family system, where adolescents' desire for independence from parents and siblings can cause a great deal of conflict and tension at home.
Societal mores and expectations during adolescence restrain the curiosity so characteristic of young children, even though peer pressure to try new things and behave in certain ways is also very powerful. Additionally, teenagers experience a growing desire for personal responsibility and independence from their parents, along with an ever‐growing, irresistible interest in sexuality.