Module 2: perspectives on working with young people: facilitator's guide

3.1 Historical perspectives on adolescence

Page last updated: 2004

Changing perspectives on childhood and adolescence

The idea that children go through a developmental stage called 'adolescence' before reaching adulthood is a relatively new concept.
  • Use of children in the workforce in the nineteenth century meant that children aged as young as six were rapidly introduced into an adult world.

  • In the late 1800s, schooling was mainly targeted towards young children.

  • Most working class children over 13 were sent into the adult world of the labour market.

  • In the 1940s the school leaving age was extended to 15 as an intervention to prevent juvenile delinquency and to clear the streets of young people (Bessant et al., 1998).
Current developmental stages of transition between childhood and adulthood varies according to socio-economic background, culture, levels of education and family values and beliefs.

The concept of adolescence is therefore socially constructed and is a relatively new phenomenon.

Adolescence will continue to change and develop according to the values, beliefs and expectations of families, communities, governments and global trends.

Brainstorm/group activity

Ask learners to discuss the following statement in groups and write down three major difficulties.

Question - The Western concept of adolescence may create difficulties for young people from different cultural backgrounds. Comment on this statement.